Alphonse is running for Equality and Diversity Officer, here are his views on how we can encourage and reward societies who focus on improving their accessibility.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to participate”.
I hadn’t asked to be spared the group work he’d just assigned. If anything, I was eager – but visibly autistic. Rocking,
flapping, not making ‘good’ eye contact: the whole stereotypical dance. And in his eyes that made me (despite all the work I’d already done that year and in the previous one, despite getting into that classroom through the merit based system as everybody else) obviously out of my depth. Unqualified.
When I first came to Leeds I was the only autistic person I knew who had graduated university. I had many autistic friends,
and all but one had attempted university and none of them had finished it. From avoidable mental health crises and classrooms we couldn’t (or were told not to) go into, to a profound lack of any useful support system, the barriers to success were – and are
– taller than we are. It’s why I wrote my dissertation on it. It’s why when I got here and connected with another autistic graduate, I wanted to set up the Leeds Alliance Autism Society – my proudest achievement to date. I was thinking about what my friends
would have needed to succeed. Before anything, to know they aren’t alone and that there are people around them who care about them.
While autism and disability societies are fantastic, having all other societies be inaccessible to you is profoundly socially
isolating. This is why I want to celebrate those societies which make an active and engaged effort to include those who’re generally excluded. An exclusion rarely done through malice, but through just plain inexperience. It’s not something that’s on the agenda
because the people making agendas don’t know that it’s an option. The Accessibility Awards evening would offer an incentive to clubs and societies and I think that if we have an event that highlights it, as well as continued engaged discussions with marginalised students and clubs and societies, we can make it an everyday concern for everybody.
Alphonse Lewis, running for Equality and Diversity Officer.
(Image courtesy of Carleton Clip Art)