Support for people with disabilities comes in many different forms. It’s not until you become disabled that you realise exactly what that is. Everyone has seen disabled parking, lifts, and ramps, however support comes in a variety of other forms too. Government welfare includes Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to help individuals with disabilities cover the additional costs that are associated with having a disability. Universities have dedicated services for students with disabilities that include coming up with ‘inclusion’ plans to ensure your full participation in university life isn’t hampered, and Disabled Students Allowance provides support to cover the study-related costs you may have due to your disability
2.How to access that support.
Finding the support available is one thing; accessing it is often an entirely different thing altogether. Often this involves meetings, assessments, and a tree’s worth of paperwork. There are resources online that give you an idea of what to expect, and how to best approach these steps towards accessing the support you need. Paperwork in particular can be a challenge, however you can ask for support from both your friends and family, and specialist organisations which provide advice for specific procedures. Make sure you have all the medical evidence required, including letters confirming diagnoses and discussing the specific ways in which your disability affects you.
3.How to ‘come out’ to your friends and family.
Not everyone reacts well to you developing a disability. People you would never expect may accuse you of lying for attention or as an excuse. For me, this was the hardest thing about developing a disability as a young adult, and I lost friends because of it. You need to find the tell your friends and family, and consider how much detail you need / want to go into with them. Your medical history is private, and it is completely up to you how much you divulge. You shouldn’t be pressured into explaining everything about you to people you aren’t comfortable telling.
4.How to deal with strangers.
If you have a visible disability, people will often come up to you uninvited and ask you to explain your condition to them. If you have an invisible disability, people will often judge you for the support you are accessing and may even get angry about things they have assumed about you. After a long day, I have been known to raise my voice to people who use my disability as a conversation starter, a sales pitch, or just because they think they have a right to know. However there’s a time and a place for how to deal with different situations. With colleagues and clients, I brush it off with a joke that, if they pay attention, lets them know they’re crossing a boundary. With strangers, I gauge the situation more carefully but still tell them either way that it’s none of their business. We all need to find our own way of dealing with strangers, however it helps to figure this out early.
5.You probably have internalised ableism.
Even though I was the only person in my family without a long-term health condition at the time I was diagnosed, I quickly realised how many misconceptions and prejudices I had about the community I had just become a part of. I had to go from thinking of people as lazy to convincing others I wasn’t lazy – just utterly exhausted. Any prejudice is harmful, and internalised prejudices about ourselves hurt us just as much. There are resources out there to help you, and you can use them to confront your internalised ableism and slowly correct it.
6.It’s not your fault.
When I was diagnosed, I blamed myself. Maybe it was my fault this was happening. It was definitely my fault I was dealing with it so badly. I’m to blame for the way others react. And if I only tried harder, the barriers that are in place for people with disabilities wouldn’t be a barrier to me. This is the main way internalised ableism might affect people, and it is entirely incorrect. In most cases, there is absolutely no one to blame for a disability, and in almost every case, it is definitely not you. If you can begin to move past the blame game and enter into an honest dialogue with yourself about what has happened, and what needs to happen next, you can begin on a constructive path, rather than treading water finding fault.