Education and discrimination: a student’s tale

Coming towards the end of her time in secondary education, disabled student Chloe Smith looks back on her mixed experience.

Growing up, your typical path is laid out for you – go to school, get your GCSEs, then go to college to get A Levels, and then, you head off to university before getting a job. Basically, from the off you’re told – stay in school.

But how can you stay at a school which won’t accommodate you? Let me explain – I’ve had many experiences in education that haven’t been the best, starting in secondary school, including being told by my teaching assistant in a Welsh school that I was ‘brain dead’ and ‘useless’ because I asked her the way to classroom as I was new and didn’t know my way around the school very well, but also because an aspect of my disability is having difficulty with directions. This led to my parents having to appeal against the school who wanted me to keep this teaching assistant, when I understandably didn’t want her, and having 6 months off school while this battle was being fought.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it – for the first half of my experience in education, until about Year 9 in secondary school – I was constantly left out. Granted, the schools I attended were in old buildings, but it got so bad that instead of going to my PE lessons, I was told to go and read in the library. I also couldn’t attend most lessons where the class needed to use a computer suite, because my teachers always booked the suite that was up a flight of stairs – so the student in the wheelchair was really thought about.

School has always been important to me – I enjoy the learning side of things, and hope to go to university next year. But for most of my academic life, things have been a constant battle. Even when I moved schools in Year 9, and didn’t have those access issues anymore. I faced the one school lift constantly breaking down and leaving me stranded on the ground floor, unable to go to all but one or two lessons for weeks, and peers that were downright cruel and ableist.

But it’s 2015 now, so surely things have improved for disabled people in education? Well – January this year, I was faced with a fire escape plan that would have left me, a wheelchair user with asthma, at the top of the stairs in a burning building while the able-bodied students escaped first. I’ve had teachers make ignorant comments because they don’t know a thing about disability. Meanwhile another young girl, Amber Kirk-Ford, is having to crowdfund to be able to take her A-levels, as the local authority won’t fund them because she’s attending an online institution to accommodate her mental illnesses.

The education system has come a long way in how it treats and accommodates disabled students, that can definitely be said. But at the same time, there’s a lot that it needs to do so that disabled students can achieve an education – at whatever level they’d like to, without ever having to be left out, singled out, faced with ignorance and cruelty, or be unable to get a free education like everyone else.

My time in the education system hasn’t been great, but I’ve been very lucky in having an amazing support network that has helped me keep my passion for learning alive, and helped me stay in education when things got difficult. Others aren’t so lucky.

Changes have to come and fast – because disabled people shouldn’t have to go through battles just to get an education. Sure, school is stressful for everyone, but disabled people in particular have to go through so much more stress, and are faced with so many more hurdles during their time in the system , which just shouldn’t be there in 2015.

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