I am thirty-nine now, so I was at school a long time ago, and things have changed within the educational system a lot since then. I often get asked if I went to school. The simple answer is yes.
My disabilities are physical and are not learning disabilities, and I mean this in the nicest possible way. There are many types of disabilities, and each person who has a disability has a unique personality. They also have flaws, just as I have my flaws, but we all have strengths too. Never forget that.
I attended nursery school, primary school, junior school and secondary school just like every other child. I believe that EVERY child deserves the right to an education, however disabled or non-disabled they are. It doesn’t matter how academically talented you are, but access to an education is vital.
As a child, I had a lot of support. As a toddler and young child, learning support would come to our house and put me through my educational paces, making me do the essentials such as building blocks, identifying colours, and everything that any child does in their early years. I picked these essential skills up pretty quickly, and my parents could see that academically, I was capable.
From a physical perspective, it was clear that I needed assistance, which meant if I were going to attend school, I would need one-on-one support full-time, and I was granted the funds for this. But, after my many assessments and without any consultation, it was decided that I was to attend a Special Needs School in Ebbw Vale in South Wales. Still, my parents could see and wholeheartedly felt that academically, a special needs school might not be the place where I would be challenged to my full potential. Hence, they decided to fight the decision made by the authorities.
My father worked with someone who knew our local MP on a personal level at the time. After telling this person about my situation, this person decided to tell our MP all about it and asked if they could help us fight the decision made, without our consultation, by the authorities that I was to attend a special needs school. A few days after this conversation with his work colleague, my father received a phone call out of the blue. It was our local MP, and to my father’s surprise, asking if they could come to our house to meet my family, and more to the point, meet me personally. A few days later, there was a knock on our door, and standing there was our MP and their assistant, so my mother invited them in for tea, biscuits, and a chat. With myself being so young and none the wiser, I innocently went about playing with my toys, building blocks and colours whilst my parents and our MP chatted away. Looking back, this was a blessing because our MP, without any doubt in their mind, decided to help my parents fight the decision made by the authorities to send me to a special school. Thus, we won the authorities over with persistence, and I was to have a mainstream education after all.
I now want to thank my parents, my family, and our local MP for believing in me because my life could be a lot different now without their determination.
Saying this, I want to highlight that I understand that everyone who has a disability is different. Every disability is different, may it be a physical disability, a learning disability, or a hidden disability, and their educational journey may be a whole lot different to what mine has been. So to have the opportunity to get out there and get the chance to be the best person you can be is everything. Everyone deserves the chance to have this opportunity.
To broadly break my school years down. I started way back in nursery, moving onto primary and junior school, and then secondary school, where I sat my GCSE Exams and passed a few of them, one of them being English. I couldn’t have achieved this without a lot of support, and through school, I was helped by someone called a nursery nurse. What they are known by now, I have no idea? I had a few different people supporting me one-on-one over the years, and I genuinely thank them all for being there every step of the way, up to the point where I finished my education. Still, this brings me onto the topic of highlighting the importance of supporting people like me through their school years, it is vital, and it helps those individuals to excel to the best of their abilities. Still, like back then, I hear stories of children not getting the support they need due to the lack of funding for help, which is heartbreaking.
Secondary school was the furthest I went in my education. I did attend college for a little while. But, from this point onwards, I had no one-on-one support due to no more funding being available. I found it very difficult to settle into further education without the support I had been used to for so many years beforehand. Going from having help on hand every day at school to being on my own at college was like losing a big piece of my heart. This was affecting my ability to learn and do my work to the standards I was used to. I felt that my future could have been compromised, so I decided to drop out of college and take another path.
Studying at a mainstream school shaped my life massively. I learnt a whole lot of life skills. For example, I learnt to respect others and interact with them. I learnt how to structure my days. Being a disabled teenager around lots of other non-disabled children, I could educate others that not only being accepted for who you are but accepting others who are different is vital. Most importantly, I made so many friends during my school years, with who I am still friends now, and I’ll be forever grateful to everybody who stuck by me through the best years of my life.
You may not be the most academically gifted person in this world, but access to an education is vital. I didn’t pass all of my exams, but I tried my hardest, I gave everything, and that’s what is most important. Fast-forwarding to the present. I am now living my dreams of being an author and songwriter. I am taking life by the horns, and I am loving life. So remember this, everyone, always be yourself, never give up, and do what makes you happy. Follow your heart.