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Date published

1 November 2018

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How it all started

It seemed like it was going to be a good year. I was invited to a literary gathering as a published writer, and got into art college. They both promised disabled access and equality, and were funded for it. The art college had no wheelchair ramp. The staff refused to ask the students to keep the doorways and floor clear. Each day had to ask passersby to go find a porter to let me in the fire exit, and once in, couldn't get into my studio more than a couple of times a week due to stuff piled across the doors and on the floor - and even in my space. The (sponsored) literary event turned out to be upstairs with no lift. The team assured me they'd find somewhere else 'soon', and they'd had no idea anyone needed access (apparently there are no disabled writers or publishers around, which is true in that there are none upstairs in that pub) But their staff quietly and embarrassedly revealed their bosses had absolutely no intention of moving, because they liked that pub.

What I did to try to overcome it

In both cases I tried to deal with it myself, I tried speaking to everyone involved, I tried to do it nicely. I asked the art college's Student Disability Service to deal with it, health and safety officer to deal with it, and in the end, after a year, I wrote to the dean himself. The wheelchair ramp was installed the next month. But the staff refused point-blank to address the access within the college. The porters helped move things, even the secretarial staff helped, but the tutors and head of dept told me it was not their problem, and I was becoming very annoying. In my final year, having paid for but not had access to most of my degree timetable and opportunities, and by now suffering also from bullying by classmates who had been told I'd complained about their mess, I was desperate enough to to report them. The college 'investigated' my urgent report - six months after I graduated. By asking the staff if it was true. They all denied it and said I was mistaken, or a troublemaker.

How it made me feel

Enduring years of a daily reminder that I am an unwanted outsider with no rights, and that nobody has to help me even if it is their job to help me, and that my safety was in the hands of people who found me an irritant has damaged me severely. I can't cope with the nightmares and panic attacks from even the thought of having anything to do with that college, the staff, the other graduates and the art galleries they run, which is preventing me from working in my own city.

The outcome

The university's own 'investigation' found I was mistaken (wtf?!) I had of course all my photographic proof, and the porters would have given pretty damning evidence on my behalf, but I was too physically and emotionally broken to take it to court or to the media. It wouldn't retrieve my health, or school fees, or opportunities and education, and it certainly wouldn't have made me any less of a pariah. Of course, if I'd been able to attend the literary salon I might have been able to tell my story to other writers and journalists, but I couldn't get up the stairs...

Final thoughts

I found out that disability legislation does not work. Nobody can counter a popularity contest, or authority, or take on a whole department in a respected institution (not even via health and safety, it turns out), its just words on paper. I also found out what it took to make me wish I was dead rather than disabled.

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