Disability Topic of the Month: Experiences in Education
Hello Readers. My name is Toni-Marie. For the purpose of this blog I will tell you a little bit about my disability as I feel it is relevant. I have had cerebral palsy quadriplegia and scoliosis of the spine since birth. This means that I am a full-time electric wheelchair user.
This month at Revitalise our Topic of the Month is education, so I wanted to share my experiences on the topic with you! Without further ado, here is my education journey…
My schooling began at the age of three when I went to a local so called “special school” for children with a variety of physical disabilities. When I got to about seven, I became very aware of having lots of physiotherapy, swimming, doctors’ appointments, hospital appointments and all manner of different assessments. In my opinion, I can see quite clearly that the balance was definitely in favour of achieving an ‘acceptable level’ of physical mobility. This was often to the detriment of my education at the time.
In fact, when I reached the age of about ten, I came home from school and said to my Mum that I was bored because I had been out to feed the ducks all afternoon. She took it upon herself to ring round all of the local primary schools in our area in the hope that one of them would consider taking me as a pupil. It was a Thursday and, after just one call to a local primary school, she was told to bring me to the school the very next day.
I literally started at the primary school on the Monday after my Mum’s call! The Headmistress arranged for some builders to put a wider doorway into the toilet so I could use it independently, as well as a ramp up into the cafeteria area. This was all done over the weekend before I started.
From day one I absolutely loved it! It was a tiny village school with approximately 34 students and two teachers, one of whom was the Headmistress. I quickly settled in and learnt more in one year there than the previous three years at my old school. I made friends easily and I was never picked on because of my disability. In fact, one friend in particular used to come to school half an hour earlier every day, just so she could help me to take my coat off and get ready for my first lesson!
After careful consideration, at secondary school age I decided that I would prefer to be amongst other young people with disabilities. My main reasons for this decision were:
1. Just the sheer size of a typical integrated/mainstream school. I was worried that I would physically struggle to get to every lesson on time.
2. In the integrated school (both disabled and non-disabled students) that I visited I felt that there was still a feeling of segregation rather than integration.
3. I was worried about how I would react to feeling under pressure academically. Given that I had missed out on large sections of my education due to medical interventions, I wanted to focus on learning and not struggling to “fit in”.
With all of these factors in mind, it was entirely my own decision to go to a boarding secondary school for pupils with a disability. I think my Mum was beside herself at my decision to begin with – but in my heart I knew that the time had come for me to spend some time with other people who had similar issues to my own.
I genuinely loved the school. When I consider what an environment like that gave me it definitely helped to shape my future choices. Being at boarding school meant that the pupils bonded to a far greater degree and the teachers learnt far more about how their skills and time could help each individual pupil.
I also got the chance to leave the boarding school for one day a week to do a few GCSEs. This turned out to be a good decision, not least because I did far better than I was expected to do. But it also gave me the chance to be exposed to things like having to physically manage far greater distances and ensuring that all my equipment and books were in the right place at the right time.
Overall, this time away at boarding school was some of the best times that I had whilst in education. This was largely due to some pretty forward-thinking teachers who believed in me and my ability, as well as the unique opportunity to build such strong friendships.
And so on to higher education in Coventry. This was a period of many firsts for me! It was an environment which was specifically designed to support those with all manner of different types of physical disabilities. It had halls of residence attached to it with 24-hour care and nursing support.
It was here that I was exposed to all of the different options regarding my education; A-levels, diplomas, degrees – you name it and it was all well within my grasp. It provided the opportunity to work closely with a neighbouring university as well as spend time with non-disabled students.
It was an amazing time for me both academically, socially and in terms of my personal growth. I made some amazing friendships, had my first boyfriend, fell truly in love for the first time and I was often to be found in fits of giggles at an inappropriate time!
I would just like to finish by mentioning my teachers and thanking them for helping me to become the person that I am today! You all showed me that I was capable of more than I thought I was. Many of you have left a lasting impression on me and continue to have a positive impact on my life!
Read more about my life with cerebral palsy and how I strive to overcome challenges that I face at Living a Blessed Life with Cerebral Palsy.
Always see your ability in disability!
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: The views expressed are the author’s own.