Once again, I ran for Disability Representative at De Montfort University and won!
Despite having Cerebral Palsy, which has left me in a wheelchair and affects three out of my four limbs, I have never given up.
I have found myself in some difficult situations and some very tight spots and though they have tested me to my limits, I have never let it defeat me and my restrictions hold me back and I have strived for the best in my ability.
At the beginning of the second year, I knew I would have a lot of work to do and my time would be very restricted.
Completing and submitting each piece of coursework and presentation, I added a tick to my own mental checklist. I was so lost in my world of work, I did not realise another deadline was on the horizon.
Last year, I decided to run for disability representative at De Montfort University. I campaigned as hard as I could, picking up some useful tips along the way.
Having received 538 votes in last year’s election it put me in second place, I promised myself that I would try again this year.
Though the thought of running in the elections this year was always on my mind, it slipped to the back of it, due to the amount of work I had to complete.
When I received an email from the student union, I was shocked and surprised to hear from them, the dates for nominations crept up on me.
Reading the email carefully I was feeling great to hear that I had been recommended for the role. This person knew I had run for the role last year and said that they thought I would make a great disability representative.
This student describes how I write about my own experiences as a disabled student in my blog and that I am bubbly and friendly and that she believes I can represent disabled students incredibly well.
I must admit reading this recommendation gave me a bit of a big head. I was honoured to hear that she felt I would represent students with disabilities well and I felt a real sense of pride to hear that this student has read and found my blog eye-opening and full of good content.
Coincidently, I happened to bump into one of my closest friends, who also ran in the elections last year and she told me she was the one who recommended me to the student union to become the disabled student representative for academic year 2018/19.
We talked for ages and finally after much persuasion, I decided to throw caution from the wind and nominate myself for the role.
This was my manifesto:
Hello, I’m Sophie, a second-year student here at De Montfort University. I have a bubbly, personality and consider myself to be well organised, approachable and always up for a challenge.
I have Cerebral Palsy and use an electric wheelchair. Despite this, I have always been positive and make the best out of difficult situations.
I have a personal blog, updated regularly, where I express my thoughts, feelings and experiences on the world of disability.
I stand strongly for equal opportunities for all disabled students and I am not afraid to be vocal about inequalities I encounter.
Through my own experiences, I can be empathetic and provide a sensitive ear to help you reach your full potential at De Montfort University.
I strongly believe in the integration of disabled students within all aspects of University life to ensure equal opportunities.
I regard it essential to be transparent and recognise the importance of communicating effectively with the Student Union to ensure the rights of disabled students are protected.
I am passionate about disability and will ensure I act as a voice for those with a disability to guard against any form of prejudice.
If I was elected I would:
Set up a fortnightly ‘surgery’ whereby you can arrange to talk to me about your disability-related issues and any problems it causes you at DMU to see what I can do to help you solve it on a case by case basis.
Create an active Facebook and Twitter account so I can correspond regularly with you and all other students at DMU. I will provide an active email account so that you can contact me directly.
Liaise with the Student Union in order to ensure that any issues for disabled students around campus are dealt with timely and efficiently
After drafting and re-drafting my manifesto, I decided to throw everything I had into my campaign and if I wasn’t successful this time, then so be it.
I saw this as an experience and a chance to build my confidence when I go and speak to people I don’t know.
I also saw it as great opportunity to strengthen the friendship groups I already have and make new friends. I aimed to do this and if I won, well, that would just be a bonus.
Having these new philosophies in mind, my first order of business was to think about my traits and what I can bring to the role.
I reflected that I have helped friends out when they were in need of it and I will continue to provide people with a sensitive ear when they ask for it.
I also feel I can combine this with my organisation skills to set up a fortnightly surgery in which students with disabilities at De Montfort University can come to me with any issue that might be affecting them at DMU, whether that’s academic or social and I can try and help them the best I can.
I will also manage an active Facebook and Twitter pages, in which students can speak with me about any issues they may be having if this is their preferred way of contact.
I also hope to use these social media platforms to keep in regular contact with students and keep them updated on anything at DMU that might affect them at university, eg lift being broken or a disabled toilet is out of action.
By doing this, I feel I can use my organisation skills to create these services and focus on creating an environment that my fellow students feel comfortable in.
Being in my second year at De Montfort University and studying Creative Writing & Journalism, I am well practised in writing and communicating efficiently.
I have my own blog, which I write about my own experiences and through this, I am very vocal and can put my point across on paper as well as face to face.
I can stand up and voice our rights as disabled people, whatever the situation is. I want to create an environment in which every student with a disability feels equally represented and enable them to have the university experience they want.
As campaign week began, I put up the brightly coloured posters that my dad’s colleague designed and went to speak with fellow students about my campaign and my aims if I was elected to be disability representative.
One of the main points I picked up on last year was that it was important to have a social media campaign, which I made sure to set up before campaign week began, but also to speak to as many students possible, throughout the week.
My whole week was taken apart and turned upside down, every free moment I had, I spent on campus. I spoke to everyone I passed, trying to promote my campaign.
I also wanted to speak to the student about them, whether any of their needs or difficulties were getting in the way of their university experience and whether any of my philosophies would benefit them.
I think having Cerebral Palsy and having a group of friends with other disabilities, physically, mentally or otherwise has provided me with understanding and knowledge of these disabilities, which I can apply to my role.
I feel I can provide a more sensitive ear with this way and advise them better, with fewer chances of the students feeling patronised.
Then speaking to students personally about their own needs allowed me to speak to them at length.
I suggested that I can liaise with the Student Union as well as the students in order to ensure that any issues that any disabled student has on campus are dealt with timely and efficiently.
On organising the fortnightly surgery and advising disabled students, I also considered, only with both parties permission, would I speak with tutors on the student’s behalf, if the issue was academic and discuss the possibility of extensions or anything needed to made difficult deadlines, easier.
We as disabled people can achieve the same as anyone else when barriers are removed and if given the chance.
Reflecting on all of my ethics and all of what I want to achieve in my campaign and beyond, I came up with a slogan for my campaign… #ABILITY IS STRONGER THAN DISABILITY
Along with this, I also want to help disabled students in a social sense, whether that is anxiety about joining a society or whether it is the lack of societies are available for them to join.
Also by speaking to students did I realise how vast was the number of students with disabilities there was at De Montfort University.
Having this new comprehension, I decided to include raising awareness of mental health issues in my campaign and in my role, if I won, which will benefit those students with mental health issues on campus, whatever that might be.
Just like last week, it was a hell of a busy week, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I felt a bigger connection to my university.
I also felt stronger connections with the friends that I already had and made new friends. Throughout the whole week, I tried to move around as much as possible to socialise.
Out of the whole week, my highlight was about ten seconds before 7pm on Thursday, ten seconds before voting closed.
Although we were all running against each other, some in different roles, every student stopped their campaign and counted down from ten to one. The second it turned 7pm, we all cheered.
My head was so chaotic, I forgot the dates, so when my friend reminded me, I was taken off guard. The day of my results would be on the 16th March, my 22nd birthday.
The results show was held in the student union bar. The scene was manic, while everything got set up. Once again, the results show was broadcast live on Demon TV and Demon FM.
As the other category results were announced, I cheered and clapped with everyone else. I tried to push my own category to the back of my mind, living in the moment.
In my ear, people whispered encouragement and that I would win, I felt flattered but I didn’t dare to hope.
In what seemed like hours, the student union representative stepped forward to announce the result of my category.
Friends looked back at me, gave me thumbs up or were crossing their fingers. I smiled at them all, then stared at the man on the stage, anxiety twisted in my stomach.
The man announced the results. My hearing had gone funny, I couldn’t talk. There was a ringing in my ears, it sounded like cheering.
‘Sophie Abel, with 1,105 votes was duly elected Disabled students Representative!’