UK Disability History Month: What it is and why it is important to us
The idea behind the UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) is a focus on the history of the “struggle for equality and human rights”. The events and platforms are performed, organised and attended by disabled and neurodivergent students and academics for disabled and neurodivergent people primarily however anyone is welcome to attend any of the events. UKDHM can also events cover topics relevant to a much wider and intersectional audience, for example student experiences of stigma.
UKDHM was started in 2010 as an annual event, with the University of Kent’s first Disability History Month in 2016. Disability and neurodiversity are not contained entities alone, rather our experience of disability and neurodiversity are often influenced by our gender, ethnicity, background, sexual orientation as a few examples - which is why it is so important that UKDHM is engaged with by a wide audience.
The event-filled month includes screenings, open lectures, panel sessions, performances, and other projects. One of the other projects which was organised this year was a photoshoot organised by the Vice-President for Welfare, Omolade Adedapo, called ‘Don’t Dis My Ability’.
Five students and I (Lily Dedman, Jake Penny, Anamika Misra, Kyla Greenhorn and Krysia Waldock) met with the photographer to create photographs to show our interests, passions and hobbies.
This was to challenge stereotypes of what we, as disabled and neurodivergent students look like, what we’re interested in and show the diversity among us. We also discussed the importance of UKDHM to each of us.
As an autistic PhD researcher with acute visual stress, UKDHM is important to me personally, as it gives a voice and agency to disabled and neurodivergent students, letting us write our own narrative. This does not happen enough, and if it does, it’s usually tokenistic or our narrative is mediated by ‘able-bodied, neurotypical’ people and contexts. Other students echo this sentiment, as deaf student Lily Dedman remarks; "I often find that people overcompensate or completely ignore my disability. UKDHM has given me an opportunity to explore the topic of my disability with my peers, lecturers and others."
Another thing many disabled and neurodivergent people experience is invalidation of our own experience, or unsolicited advice. UKDHM can allow us to stand up and push against the power differentials which can be heavily stacked against us. Kyla Greenhorn, PhD student in Religious Studies, explains this sentiment; "the next time you encounter a person who may be struggling, no matter their size, take a moment and ask yourself if there is something more going on. And instead of offering criticism offer compassion."
UKDHM also fights against this idea of us being an ‘inspiration’, as Lily discusses: "having hearing loss is not difficult, or hard, or even inspirational; it just is. What makes it hard is the lack of accommodation for people with hearing loss. Nor is being autistic ‘inspiring’ about me. It’s an intersectional part of my identity and personhood. It does, however, take a lot of personal courage to live the life you wish to lead in a world at odds with your body or neurology", as Kyla describes; "it takes an awful lot of courage, strength, and wherewithal to get up every day and continue living when your body wants nothing more than to give up. "I take comfort in knowing that every day I get out of bed and continue working towards my dreams I know I am forcing my Fibro to live with me and not the other way around."
I’ll end with this poignant message from Kyla - succinctly summing up why UKDHM and the ‘disabled voice’ are so important; "recognising people’s disabilities, both hidden and visible is important. Not only in doing so will there be less judgment for someone else’s experience, but can make it easier for those with disabilities to navigate a world that just isn't made for them."
For more information, please see: https://www.ukdhm.org and follow UKDHM on twitter at @UKDHM. To see the photo project, please click: https://kentunion.co.uk/news/article/dont-dis-my-ability