“Disability is a really political thing”: Disabled Students’ Collective established at King’s

Founder says the idea came after a long wait from the Dalhousie Accessibility Centre for accommodations.

Updated 1:48 p.m., Oct. 29, 2020

Disabled students seeking support and camaraderie at King’s can turn to a new group: the Disabled Students’ Collective.

Meredith Bullock, the club’s president, was born with cerebral palsy. Her disability was caused by a birth accident where her brain didn’t get enough oxygen. Some of her mobility brain cells died, thus affecting her speech and movement.

Last year was her second year at King’s. In September, she applied for a notetaker through Dalhousie’s Accessibility Centre but wasn’t assigned one until November, which forced her to write some of her midterm exams without proper notes to study.

That led her to begin the Disabled Student’s Collective.

Bullock took the initiative after her struggles acquiring accessibility accommodations. Over the past summer, she worked with Levi Clarkson, the president of the King’s Student Union, to start the new collective.

“It’s not always easy to get proper accessibility services and standing up for yourself can be really difficult,” Bullock said. “I wanted to ensure that disabled people had a community so they felt like other people would work behind them.”

She also wanted disabled students to have proper political representation on campus.

“Disability is a really political thing, like race or gender,” she said. “We have a Racialized Students’ Collective and we have PRIDE, and I think that we needed something similar to be a political body for students with disabilities.”

At the end of July, Bullock made a post on the KSU’s Instagram account looking for people to join the collective’s executive. Many students contacted her, and she put a team together. Joining president and KSU liaison Bullock are Emalyn Armstrong as vice president and social media coordinator, Rachel Kingstone as treasurer, Haylea Dilnot-Reid as secretary, and Samantha Machado as member at large. Executive members must identify as disabled, which Bullock deems crucial.

“I’ve seen a lot of bodies for disabled people where the leaders aren’t disabled and it really annoys me,” Bullock said. “If it’s something that’s supposed to be representing disabled students, they should really be disabled people.”

Patricia Neves, the director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, a non-for-profit organization that supports individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families, commended the collective.

“I think it’s a wonderful initiative and I’m glad to hear that it will be led by people with disabilities,” Neves said.

Vice-President Emalyn Armstrong is a first-year student and has already faced struggles similar to Bullock’s. She says that the process she went through with Dalhousie’s Accessibility Centre to acquire accommodations was “complicated.”

“They were telling me to write out all of my symptoms and everything I’ve gone through, and it was a little triggering,” she said. “I had a really hard time writing about it.”

Like Bullock, Armstrong needed a notetaker. She has an anxiety disorder, a depressive disorder, OCD, ADHD/ADD and insomnia. She experiences short-term memory loss, which makes notes vital but difficult for her to take. 

“If I’m listening to a lecture and I’m also trying to write down what the lecture’s saying, I can’t do that at the same time. I’m either listening or I’m writing,” she said.

In an online interview she attended for accommodations, Armstrong said she was often asked if she “was sure” that she needed a notetaker, despite having a report from a psychoeducational assessment done less than a year ago by a psychiatrist.

“It’s really hard having to repeat myself as a disabled person who’s not physically disabled. I feel like it’s overlooked a lot,” she said.

“We very much think of [disability] as a physical issue where if we put in a ramp or an elevator, we think that that solves the problem, but it really doesn’t,” said Bullock.  

Neves agrees. It often means invisible disabilities go overlooked and unaccommodated.

After beginning the process to request a notetaker, Armstrong opted to take her own notes. “I personally just didn’t think it was worth the hassle for me,” she said.

The collective reminds her that she’s not alone.

“We all have very similar struggles, especially when it comes to school – even just reaching out to accessibility services on campus and how complicated it is for a disabled person to even get their accommodations that they need,” said Armstrong.

The collective, which was ratified at the KSU’s fall Annual General Meeting on September 17, will operate online this year because of the pandemic. The collective’s first meeting was October 8. Three people plus Bullock attended. For now, the collective is holding meetings casually every few weeks.

Bullock says though meetings will be casual and social, activism and guest speakers are also on the table. Bullock hopes to eventually have a physical resource centre on campus, which she expects will happen next year. She’s also considering setting up a library within the resource centre and has contacted Venus Envy, a sex shop and bookstore in Halifax, seeking a donation of disability books. 

Though Bullock believes society has improved at accommodating people with disabilities, she says there’s still a long way to go.

“We have to change our views toward disabled people,” said Bullock. “We have to engage them in government, engage them in academia and other important places like law or medicine. Society has only really solved one part of the puzzle.”

Correction: this article originally stated that last year was Meredith Bullock’s first year at King’s. It was actually her second year. We regret the error.

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