When sitting down for a Teams interview with Melissa Rodgers, president of the Disabled Students Association (DSAS), the normal technical rituals begin.
“It’s always dodgy, using transcription apps,” I complain, messing with my phone.
“Yeah, it’s really difficult,” Melissa agrees. “I use Read&Write, and Dragon Speech. It’s never 100 per cent, especially with a Scottish accent.”
“Oh, God. I could probably do an article on just that!”
The undoubtable burden of the Scottish accent aside, speech-to-text software undoubtedly makes writing up interviews easier. This knowledge actually serves as a nice reminder of what we’re here to talk about.
DSAS has been quiet for a couple of years, as its driving force graduated and there was a struggle to fill the gap.
However, Melissa is looking to restore the society on campus, and create a space that is as inclusive and accessible as possible – something that is desperately important.
“Disabled students end up kind of on the wayside, especially because it’s easy to kind of overlook or ignore a problem that we have because it’s only happening to us,” she explains.
“It seems like we need some kind of group to be able to speak on everything we experience, and not just the good parts.”
Melissa already has a lot of plans for where to get started, including making communal spaces like the university’s community garden more accessible, making the wheelchair ramps on campus easier to use, and improving the system of online reporting for student accommodation, so students can report issues with accommodation and request accessibility aids more easily.
DSAS has already previously passed some landmark union motions guaranteeing quiet hours in the Student Union, an active policy against ableism, and developed and advised on the campus sensory room and wellbeing space.
Image Credit: University of Stirling
But what if you struggle to do it alone?
Melissa said: “A lot of people struggle to advocate for themselves, whether it’s due to managing their condition or not having the time or energy.
“I want people to be able to go to me, so I can chase things up for them, because I know how tiring it can be for other people and they shouldn’t have to fight all the time.”
So, is this kind of supportive community necessary, not just to make campus physically more accessible for disabled students, but the mental burden of constantly having to advocate for themselves?
“Yes,” Melissa says. “Every single aspect of the disabled person’s life is advocating for themselves.
“We have to fight to be seen in the first place, then we have to fight to be listened to. We shouldn’t have to ask to be respected. We shouldn’t have to fight for our accommodations to be met.”
There are plans to establish real connections across the Stirling student body:
“Social groups kind of fall apart with people that don’t understand. It’s difficult around our kind of age group for people who don’t have a full grasp on seeing somebody who doesn’t appear to have a disability constantly feeling something that they could never experience themselves.
“I’m hoping for the creation of a place where people can speak on not only their issues, but educate people who are willing to learn about it, but don’t have a full grasp.”
DSAS is keen to collaborate with other societies, and build a network of students who can support accessibility, and each other.
So, what can non-disabled students do?
On the advice of Khushee Motwani, a non-disabled DSAS member: ‘Non-disabled students can be of aid to those in need, and listen and absorb the experience of the disabled people around them and help them prop up their voice as much as possible.
“Even doing as little as attending appointments with them, accommodating their needs when it comes to working together for group projects, providing materials in accessible formats and offering accessible alternatives to those who can’t always attend events in person so that each and everyone feels included.
“It’s like being there and helping out as much as possible like you would for any friend in need.”
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