Student Profile - Rosie
Course: Not disclosed
Year: 4th Year
Disability: Chronic Fatigue, Osteoarthritis (Spine, Hips and Pelvis) and Panic Disorder
I have had three ambitions throughout my life:
- Treat people with respect - do unto others as you would have done unto yourself,
- Explore and enjoy my unique talents, and most importantly
- To make a difference in someone's life - fighting inequality and injustice.
These ambitions display a personal philosophy for life and I now feel I am in a career area that fits me perfectly. It has been a very bumpy road to get to a good career area, but the ride has taught me many valuable lessons. My career path may have been altered without the introduction of a disabling condition and I am grateful for it. In my chosen field I have something unique to offer - both practical and academic knowledge.
I aim to become a Disability Advocate/Activist. I wish to advocate for different, more equitable approaches/treatment of people with disabilities. I can do this through three options:
- Working as a public educator concerning disabilities (either in the area of higher education lecturer OR as a contract educator to large organisations).
- Working as a social researcher in the field of disability and health issues (inequality focus) - advise social policy (government and private organisations) and help enact change at the social structural level.
- Work as a disability officer in the field and encourage change to social policy through organisational position and also by empowering clients to assert themselves with government bodies if they feel treatment is unfair.
The first of these two options are academic positions, fairly distant to the population of disabled people. Consequently, I would like to do casual work in the field in order to retain my contact with the population of disabled people. My personal perspective does not provide me with key issues pertinent to the whole group. Casual work in an area which directly interacts with this population will allow me to access issues of concern of both the people with disabilities and the service providers. If I really want to make a difference, to more than to my own position, I need to consider the broader population of people with disabilities and remain actively involved interacting with this group in order to keep up to date with the issues of concern with the population perspective. I hope to become an inspiration to both mainstream and disabled populations alike, making them realise that people with disabilities have a lot to offer society (we are not just redundant faulty nobodies who are more hassle than we are worth). If I can prompt people to question the stereotype of people with disabilities - depicting them as burdens - then I will have achieved much of what I set out to do.
I worked for 8 years since leaving school in 1986 with a school certificate (year 10). I trained as a secretary for a year and a half at TAFE. During this time I was hit by a motor car (as a pedestrian) and dislocated my right hip in June 1997. The development of extensive arthritis has slowly onset and this injury has progressively effected my general health. I have required hydrotherapy treatment twice a week since 1993 and this has greatly effected my ability to hold down a position in the workforce, given its interference with regular work hours. My capacity to function in the capacity of secretary became limited by late 1994 (given my inability to do heavy filing work) and I was made redundant in late 1995. It was at this time, after my third redundancy, that I decided it was time for a career change, one that allowed for further limitations and disability in the upcoming years. I was always ambitious and liked the welfare/aged care area. I had studied in further education for 6 out of 8 years after school, having gained secretarial and accounting qualifications at TAFE and decided it was time to study again. I chose a course in aged care which was only one semester. I knew it was what they call a 'gateway' course, offering a way into university studies, and pretty soon I was being encouraged by the teachers to go onto university studies. I was not confident in my ability to cope with university studies, but I thought I'd give it a shot. Now here I am doing an honours program and thinking about whether I might do a PHD and become a university lecturer. It may be a pipe dream (who knows), but I now believe that if you are in the right field and are determined enough you can achieve as long as you apply yourself.
I resumed working on a casual basis in mid 2000 as a community carer. This work has given me a unique opportunity, helping me to realise that grass roots work in the field is not where I wish to be. I realise that whilst I can make a difference to people's lives whilst working with them I am not really helping to change society or attitudes towards people with disabilities. Caring is valuable work, yet I feel that I can help change community attitudes and treatment of people with disabilities if I continue to pursue academic areas. The most common problem with the general population when they encounter somebody who has a disability is that they don't know how to react. Some people lack tolerance of the experience of people with disabilities. Much of the populations is ignorant about disability - frequently fearing discriminating against you by accident - and frequently just need encouragement to ask questions concerning your disability (allowing you a chance to educate).
It is good to set parameters about what you will and won't discuss concerning your disability. Disclosure is not always necessary, if no special needs arise. Disclosure is a personal choice if disability is not apparent. I have found that you need to be reasonably comfortable with your disability in order to answer questions and maintain self-esteem in the face of public scrutiny. I have been able to become comfortable with my disabilities by learning and understanding about what exactly is involved in your type of disability, exploring its patterns (or lack of), gaining an awareness of public attitudes towards that disability, and deciding what special needs may arise from your disability. There is a natural and often necessary curiosity about disability and if you can unemotionally answer questions then your life may be much simpler. Don't get too defensive and take it personally when people become curious, often they are just trying to be considerate of your needs and limitations. If people become too helpful, let them know! It is nice to have people being considerate, but you need to keep up your skills for independent living. It doesn't hurt to tactfully let people know this when you are discussing your disability initially. I always let people know three things: (1) My disability types and possible limitations, (2) Which ways they may be able to help me, and (3) That I like to try to be independent and do most things. I inform them that I will ask for help if I need it, but that they can offer help if they feel I may need assistance (checking first).
Support Services Accessed at University:
Advocacy assistance with academic staff, special exam conditions (ergonomic chairs, computers, rest facilities, food/drink in exam room), special consideration and extensions on assessment tasks, and adaptive technology assistance
Know your limits and ask for help early. I have found it really useful to let people know you have a disability, particularly academic staff and disability support staff. Advise academic staff of your disabilities, any limitations that may arise during your studies and how they may be able to help. Making them aware of your situation means that it is less trouble getting help if you do have problems. If you don't, well at least you have the backing of academic staff - they can be really supportive to you if they are aware of your difficulties. If people are not aware of any possible limitations or areas of need then they cannot give your position any consideration. However, with a little bit of awareness they can offer assistance and check that you are coping during semester. Don't worry about indiscreet offers of assistance by academic staff - being singled out - they are very sensitive in this area. Do help staff - both academic and disability - by educating them about your disability, your own experience of your disability and kinds of assistance that has helped in the past. Finally, let people help if you feel you need it and make your needs know if nobody has noticed. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Remember, people without disabilities get help at times too, so help is not something problematic - limited to only those with disabilities. If you don't accept help from time to time you may restrict your ability to achieve the goals you set out to reach.
Life can be really rewarding if you set reasonable goals. Believe in yourself. Become aware of your individuality, your uniqueness and promote it. A positive attitude is life's best asset. Focus on ability, not disability. Believe you can achieve and you will. Problem solving is life's greatest skill, it allows you to overcome hurdles/barriers encountered in life, develop this skill along with motivation and you can't help but achieve. Remember that disabilities are experienced in a social world that wants to limit you - it's all about attitudes. If you try your hardest then you can only be proud of yourself at the end of the day. No one asks more than your best. If they do, then they are not worth your time. Stay away from negative forces - your energy is too precious (most disabilities require more energy to be used doing tasks other people find easy or simple). Rationalise your energy - use it mostly for rewarding things and limit time in activities that are draining and unnecessary. Go out there and give it your best shot. Good luck - whatever you decide to do!