As a student with a disability, I felt passionate about this issue, and my previous experiences in UCC made me feel confident and determined to take on the challenge of the job of SU Disability Officer. Going into the job in October, even with the limited amount of time, I had certain aspirations for my time in this position, some of which have already been completed and others which have yet to follow. It is important to stress the fact that this is the first year of the job of the disability officer, so in a way these 8 months are a testing ground for what could be done. This is a reason why this beginning is very important, creating a baseline for the type and amount of work that should be done, for future officers to follow, and expand upon.
The first task that I was faced with was to lead a small delegation from UCC to the AHEAD Kilmainham event in November of last year. This event was the first of its kind, a discussion forum to give an opportunity to students with disabilities to meet and interact. I can safely say that the event was a huge success and of great benefit to both the organisers, and the students involved. It was spread over two days and consisted of two parts: an introductory meeting and dinner with some prominent Irish figures who have had some kind of experiences dealing with people with disabilities in the workplace; and the second part consisted of a world cafe forum, which helped bring everyone together and was the fertile ground for discussion of the problems students with disabilities face in the universities and everyday life. This type of discussion was very beneficial to all students, because not only were they able to take ideas from the other institutions and try implement them in their own and improve, but also the students from the more fortunate institutions which already have support structures for disabilities, were able to compare and better appreciate what they already have.
In this day and age to make a significant difference about a certain issue, you have to raise awareness about it. It is safe to assume that most people, especially in higher education, aren’t malicious by nature and don’t go out of their way to make life difficult for their colleagues with disabilities. However people don’t realize that they might be already doing this subconsciously, when they are not aware of the problems and difficulties that students with disabilities face. Disability Awareness Week was one of the major projects I was looking to start at the beginning of my term. Because of the nature of how universities work, I felt that in order to get equality for those with disabilities, it is important to target, those students without disabilities and raise their awareness about these particular issues. Disability Awareness Week, which took place on 31st Jan- 3rd March was mostly centred on raising awareness about physical disabilities. Three major events took place, with several others happening around those. Perhaps the most successful of those were the wheelchair basketball game between a combined UCC Demons and Neptunes (two otherwise rivalling teams) and an Irish Wheelchair Association team, the 24hour wheelchair challenge, and Irish Guide Dogs For The Blind information stand. The 24 hour Wheelchair challenge was carried about by 5 students, some of which in positions of authority in the Students Union, and raised over 200 euro for the Irish Wheelchair Association, as well as a lot more awareness between the students on campus. Those who participated in the challenge will undoubtedly remember this difficult experience for a long time.
Although Disability Awareness Week 2011 is now over, my time as UCCSU disability officer is not, and I look forward to organising more events before the end of the academic year, one of which will be an AHEAD meeting at the end of March, held in UCC.