After much debate and battling with myself, I decided to run as a candidate for the Disability Representative role at De Montfort University’s Student Union. If I won, I would be the representative for the next academic year, 2018-2019…
Or that was the theory.
I have congenital Cerebral Palsy which affects three of my limbs—known as triplegia—and results in me using an electric wheelchair full-time
Over the years, I have found myself in some difficult situations and some very tight spots. I have been pushed and tested and sometimes I wanted to give up and let it defeat me. However, this is the easy way out. I have fought against these restrictions and strived for the best. I have never given up.
During campaign week in my first year, I campaigned as hard as I could and managed to secure 538 votes, putting me in second place. Though I was disappointed by this result, I was able to pick up on some useful points which I could use in this year’s elections.
I always intended to run in the elections this year, but an email I received got rid of all my doubts. A member of the SU had emailed me, saying that I had been nominated by someone else to become Disability Representative. I must admit reading this recommendation gave me a bit of a big head. I was honoured to hear that this person, who I found out to be one of my friends had watched me closely and picked up on all the disability-related things I have done and recommended me for the role.
When I saw this friend, who also ran in the elections last year, I thanked her fondly for recommending me. The two of us spoke for a long time and this made my nomination official.
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 in the world of disability. I stand strongly for equal opportunities for all disabled students and I am not afraid to be vocal about the 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 as 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
I wrote my manifesto many times and I found it was challenging to write a manifesto that I was happy with and then I figured out why I was struggling. I was putting to much pressure on myself. Once I eased the pressure on myself, I started to see it all as an experience, a great opportunity to strengthen the friendship groups I already have and make new friends. Then anything else would be a bonus.
Having these new philosophies in mind, my first order of business was to think about my traits and how I can apply these to my philosophies and the role. I reflected that I have always tried to provide a sensitive ear and help and advice them to the best of my ability. One of my policies is 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 university, whether that’s academic or social related and I think having Cerebral Palsy and having a group of friends with other disabilities, physical and mental and prepared me to do this surgery more effectively than if I didn’t have any of this. I think I can apply my knowledge and awareness to this in a way that the students I talk to feel valued and not patronised. Another one of my policies is to set up an active Facebook and Twitter page and update it with details that might affect around them around the university, e.g. lift being broken or a disabled toilet is out of action. I can also use the Facebook and Twitter as a preferred method of contact to the fortnightly surgery. Being a creative writer and having my own blog has made me good at communicating both faces to face and otherwise. I also wanted to want everyone, disability or not to get the most out their university experience and I wanted to facilitate in any way to allow them to do so.
As well as having my own policies that I wanted to enforce. I also spent a lot of time on campus during election week and spoke to a lot of students which made me consider some elements that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of if I didn’t speak to you disabled students face to face. One recurring subject there arose when I spoke to students was the lack of awareness there was on campus regarding mental health. this is what caused me to think about and consider how I would raise awareness of mental health through my work as disability representative if I were to be elected. After speaking to a lot of students, I decided that I would make sure to 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.
I want to make a difference. 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. I would facilitate this by standing up for disabled students rights and voice our views and make that difference. We as disabled people can achieve the same as anyone else, if given the chance. #ABILITY IS STRONGER THAN DISABILITY
Out of the whole campaign week, my highlight was about ten seconds before 7pm on the Thursday, ten seconds before voting closed. We were all running against each other, some in different roles, every candidate stopped their campaign and counted down from ten all the way to one.
The second it turned 7pm, we all cheered.
The next day, the day of the results, it was the 16th March, my 22nd birthday. All day, I was beyond nerves, trying to live in the moment.
The results show was held in the student union bar. The scene was manic. As the other categories results were announced, I cheered and clapped with everyone else. In my ear, people whispered encouragement and that I would win, I felt flattered but I didn’t dare to hope. Then a Student Union representative stepped forward to announce the result of my category.
As the representative stepped forward, friends looked back at me, gave me the thumbs up or were crossing their fingers. I smiled back at them as best I could and then stared at the stage, as anxiety twisted in my stomach. The Student Union representative announced the results. My hearing had gone funny, I couldn’t talk. There was a ringing in my ears, it sounded like cheering.
The result was broadcast live on Demon TV and Demon FM. ‘Sophie Abel, with 1,105 votes was duly elected Disabled students Representative!’