University

I remember a night when dad left my room at university and I cried. I had always feared being away from home – always! Hebden green, the school where I was educated, has a residential department, where kids can stay for up to four nights a week, to give parents respite. I remember bawling my eyes out each and every time I had to stay there – it wasn’t as if resi was bad, just that I missed my home. Home was where I was most comfortable, safe and sound. However, in retrospect I realise I was being totally selfish – looking after me would not have been easy for my parents, at a time when dad was busy with European quality awards and my brothers needed their fair share of attention. I knew that my parents needed one or two nights free of having to spoon feed me, wipe my butt and so on, but I couldn’t give them it. Moreover, there were children half my age at residential, coping quite happily; in short, I was immature.

This fear returned that first night, when my father prepared to leave me at university. Then, the tears returned, so much so that dad later said he nearly took me home. But we both knew that this was not an option – I knew that I was going to have to leave home sometime, so I stayed. I stayed in my room all evening, as, until then I did not know I could go outside alone, without permission from anyone. What if I fell? What if there were bandits?

Permission, if it was needed at all, came via web conference the next evening. Dad said it should be fine for me to walk around campus alone: ‘why not, Matt?’ and so I did,. That day was a Wednesday, and I walked into brandies, found the disco in full swing, and never missed home again.

This year I have flourished at university, not in the sense that my brothers have, but then they did not have my fear of going anywhere alone. I thought I needed a PA to go anywhere, as there were too many ‘what if’s, and so I didn’t go anywhere, but stayed in doors, on my computer. Yet this year has changed that fundamentally. My horizons have been thrust wide open, and it seems as though I can do anything, from watching busa football matches to going to the Opera. I have learned more than ever, but I have also lived more than ever.

What strikes me is the contrast between then and now. I am no longer timid and shy, but feel like I am free. It is as though there was something restraining me, to use an over-used metaphor, but this has been lifted. And so we finally get to my point..

This restraint was, I think, imposed by school. Over a decade of going o that safe, insular place will do such things. Towards the end of my education there, school installed high fences around perimeter in the light of the dunblane tragedy, but this had all the appearance of a fence around an enclosure in a zoo, rather than a defence against attack. In other words, school resembled a prison, or an institution, and the fence’s purpose was to keep students in. the fence can be seen as symbolic – school was repressive, it’s walls deceptively bright. Children there were, and are, educated in name only, and the thirst for knowledge was not fostered. Kids who could not read, aged sixteen, were simply fobbed off as having learning difficulties, and my parents had t push to get me decent GCSEs. As an aside, it was my parent’s pushiness that got me on the path to university, their insistence that a D was not good.

However, without my parents’ help and bloody minded insistence that I did A-Levels, I would have languished. My classmates did. I am not sure how well they could read, but each time one of them read aloud – baring Michelle – it was rather slow. If memory serves, maths only extended up to, say, Pythagoras. Mind you, I always found maths difficult and dull, so I did not try. It was only when I failed maths, (i.e., got a D), and my parents got me a tutor, that mats got to be interesting. To put this in context, while, at school, we were studying frogspawn, offer the dinner table, mark, two years my senior, was explaining to us that time sped up and slowed down. Thus, without my parents insistence that I should be properly educated, as befits the son of a middle class family, I would not be at university, but,, in all probability, in some sheltered accommodation.

Indeed, not many former special school students who complete their ‘education’ in such places end up in university. Of course, a great many disabled people do end up in higher education, but most attended inclusive schools. A notable example of this is Disability now’s Kate Caryer, whom I have had the fortune to meet. Moreover, the statistics bear this out: in the 95/96 term,, just 16% of year 11 pupils achieved A* to G grades at GCSE in special schools, compared with 93% in mainstream (Thomas, 1997). No doubt the residual 84% were fobbed off as having learning difficulties, and I have little doubt that, had it not been for my parent’s bloody mindedness, I might have been among them.

Not only do I blame school for my educational stiltedness, but my social stiltedness. Admittedly, my parents had their hand in this, as did my general wimpy disposition, but school had a major hand. Post-16 students were not allowed off school grounds during school hours, and there had to be a teacher on duty to go into the playground. Thus, I was never out of shouting range from people I had known from infancy. This was not, of course, as repressive as some schools or institutions – some of which see o treat kids like cattle – but I was repressive enough. In short, it was intended tom mould students into good, quiet, sheltered accommodation inmates.

This must end. I want more students to feel that which I felt the moment I set foot in brandies, or the moment Alan Faire took the podium on my first ever lecture. According to Speechless (Crosley, 1997) many people described as ‘severely retarded’ [sic] simply have communication problems, and I would maintain that my school friends could not read, not because they had learning difficulties, but because they were not motivated enough. Take, for example, Tom, apparently illiterate until it came to his first love of football, whereupon he could read the football scores as well as anyone.

The next obvious question is ‘What tells us he would do any better in mainstream?’ the answer is that he might not, but mainstream is far more engaging than any special school, where one mused sometimes which of your friends would die next. Just as I came alive when I first entered university, if schools would just find ways to accommodate all children, all children – able bodied included – would benefit. As Kikabhai (2002) wrote, ‘A wider implication and consequence of segregated education, as pointed out by Vlachou (1997:15-16), stated that, ‘segregated education is a major cause of society’s widespread prejudice against disabled people.’

‘Just’ being the operative word. Major adaptations will need to be installed, but this can, and indeed must, be done, for all of the above reasons. One could, of course argue that it would be simpler to improve educational standards in special schools, but I would counter by saying that the problem is innate. If one has a class of, say, eight disabled pupils, each requiring intensive academic help with only two members of staff to help them, the overall educational gain is less than that of a class of twenty with one disabled person with his own dedicated learning support assistant. Only when I entered a mainstream classroom, with Heather sat by me taking my notes, did I really start to learn. Thus, until we implement similar systems for all disabled students, as befits their needs, very few will experience that which I have this last year.

ill

been feeling unwell for a few days, causinng a lapse in entries. however, I’m on the mend, so more ill-informed ramblings soon

africa

Tonight I’m frustrated. I have felt something that I hoped I would be rid of: I miss television. All year I’ve been happily going without telly while at university – after all, I have better stuff to do than watch TV, 90% of which is dire – but I was out today and suddenly I felt a pang!

The cause of this pang was, believe it or not, an entire continent. I have only once stood upon Africa, during a very brief visit to Egypt in 1993, but the place captivates me. To me the place is full of wonder and beauty and adventure, and I feel myself drawn to it. I am a huge fan of Michael palin programmes, and especially enjoyed reading the Africa part of ‘Pole to Pole’ where the adventure goes into the centre of the continent, that which Conrad famously termed the ‘Heart of Darkness’. I have a strong desire to see the Murchison falls, the Serengeti, the Nile and mighty Kilimanjaro.

I also really love the natural history programmes of David Attenborough. His programmes also help capture Africa for me – a place crammed full of wildlife, and the birthplace of the genus homo. His programmes also make my feet itch. they imbue me with the need to seek wilderness, although an electric wheelchair, as I learned on Sunday, is not ideally suited for this.

However, it was neither Attenborough or Palin who caused my sudden pang – the sudden desire to have access to a TV set during the week. It was Bob Geldof. I was in waterstones today, and I caught sight of a book on the best seller list. The title was ‘Geldof in Africa’, and the very cover with all its brightness and shiny texture, made my feet itch again. I felt the sudden, quite irrational urge to find some way o watch this programme.

On the one hand, I know this is silly. It’s only TV – a cultural construct which, according to Marxists like Althuser, is controlled by the bougiousie and innately represses the proletariat. In other words it’s a form of mind control. On the other hand, I am probably never going to see Africa myself – you must be not only able bodied but superhuman to take in the continent in it’s entirety. Watching this programme and those like it may be my only real chance to explore the world.

This is why I aim upset that this programme airs on weekdays, when I am at Uni. Oh well, I suppose I can always buy the DVD.

mud

I’m a sucker for paths. I love to explore, and I love to follow paths. I’m not sure why – if I see a path, leading off into the fields, I just have to follow it. I am just imbued with a terrible wanderlust which urges me to see what’s on the other side of the hill.

The problem with paths is mud. They’re deceptive: you’re trundling along n the wheelchair, and all of a sudden the path gets narrow and steep. If you’re a careful driver, as I try to be, these shouldn’t be a problem. The real difficulty starts when you get stuck in mud. You’re wheels whirr, you push and pull, but your chair doesn’t budge. It is then that you need help, which means getting out and going to find someone.

This means going through all the rigmarole of meeting new people. First you have to get their attention (they will try to ignore you if u have cp). Second, you have to prove that you are in fact sentient and ‘all there’, and not an escapee from an institution. Third, you have to introduce them to your communication aid, which eighty percent of the time amazes people. Finally, you have to tell them the problem. Thereafter, threes much heaving and shoving, and a lot of damage done to the chair,, and often you’re on your way.

Only, today was different. Today I managed to enlist the help of an off duty police man, who despite my affirmations that everything was ok now I’m out of the mud, decided to walk me to the local station. I narrowly avoided him calling dad, which would be a major embarrassment, and he gave me some water and I went on my way.

No more driving on mud, methinks.

blue badges

my mate luke b has just made me aware of a site offering advice on getting blue badges without a dissability. how cynical. I really loathe these jeremy clarkson types who think they have a right to park anywhere juust because they have a fast ssportscar. Meanwhile, us crips have to park at spaces far away, usually without enough room to comfortably open the door! it really gets my goat. scroll dowwn for a link to said site. you may need to refresh.

anyway, we all know wwhat these clarkson types are compensating for…

mum

It would of course be remiss of me to go to bed without mentioning that it is athe biirthday of a very special lady whom I love dearly.

have a great birthday mummy! I love you

there may be trouble ahead

Today I’mm up early as its gonna be a busy day. I’m gonna help out at a school taster day – what? these guys want ME to help THEM? okay,, I’ll try, but dont blame me when the screaming starts….

Thus, in the best blogging tradition, I’m going to leave you all with a rude joke, sent to me by my friend eunice A blonde walks into a pharmacy and asks the assistant for some rectum deodorant.

The pharmacist, a little bemused, explains to the woman they don’t sell rectum deodorant, and never have.

Unfazed, the blonde assures the pharmacist that she has been buying the stuff from this store on a regular basis and would like some more.

“I’m sorry,” says the pharmacist, “we don’t have any.”

“But, I always buy it here,” says the blonde.

“Do you have the container that it came in?” asks the pharmacist.

“Yes,” said the blonde, “I’ll go home and get it.”

She returns with the container and hands it to the pharmacist who looks at it and says to her, “This is just a normal stick of underarm deodorant”.

Annoyed, the blonde snatches the container back and reads out loud from

the container………

“TO APPLY, PUSH UP BOTTOM.”,,,