A Graduation on Crutches

Caroline SkinnerAccessibility, Attitudes, Customers, Guest Bloggers, Purple PoundLeave a Comment

2015 Graduation Cap

My Daughter’s Graduation

I attended my daughter’s graduation at a Midlands University in July this year and  was impressed by the ceremony and the speakers etc but was completely unprepared for the feelings of sadness and frustration generated by the attitudes of staff and lack of useful facilities for my daughter,  who found herself  temporarily disabled and on crutches after an accident the week before.

The Day

Our day was spoilt by the lack of care / facilities offered to my daughter, who was in considerable pain, unused to her lack of mobility and not as yet proficient in managing the crutches. After emailing the university, my daughter was assigned a seat on the graduation stage. A very helpful member of staff assisted her once she was seated. Getting there in the graduation robe and getting the photos taken was another matter.

The whole day was a nightmare; my daughter had to struggle on her crutches to get to and from the students’ union to collect her robe and for photos. Clearly possible when able bodied, but for somebody on crutches, a lot more challenging.

An Unfamiliar Experience

We as a family are not familiar with the campus or helping someone with a temporary disability. We needed more help than was available to us. We didn’t even know who to ask for help and on reflection I cannot believe that the graduate office had never had to address this issue before.

The lift in the building where the formal photographs were to take place was broken and the woman in charge of photography was extremely unhelpful and expected my daughter to be able to walk down two flights of stairs! This was impossible and after much persuasion she found a ramp for my daughter to use and a chair for her to sit on. I found her attitude defensive and rude. She was insisting that it was ‘Facilities’ at fault and not hers.

As an outsider to the university I was not interested in who’s “fault” it was.  I was only interested in someone being supportive and helping my daughter to get her photographs taken. My daughter was tearful, embarrassed and unassertive about what was needed, leaving me as her mother to try and get help which she did not really appreciate!

In hindsight I found it hard to understand why we had not been given a portable wheelchair to get her from one end of the campus to another. Maybe someone in the graduation office could have considered this dilemma. Furthermore, the security staff would not let our taxi onto the campus leaving my daughter to have to walk up a hill in the rain.

An Eye-Opener

I am left wondering again how people with permanent disabilities or a wheelchair user might have coped. I have a new found appreciation for the lack of respect that disabled people sometimes face from the general public and people in positions of authority. Maybe disabled people would be more used to planning ahead in order to overcome senseless barriers such as these. Even standing in the queues was virtually impossible for my daughter.  Requests to get to the front of  queues to get on the stage were ignored by university “helpers”, who were generally sympathetic and pleasant but largely unhelpful in a practical way. All I can say is:  we were all left exhausted, disappointed and with more pain and swelling to an already damaged knee.

I suggested in writing that the university considered disability awareness training for their staff. Even when I asked repeatedly for help, support and some consideration I was met with blank expressions or unhelpful, albeit pleasant comments. All of which were extremely frustrating. Our day was spoilt by pain, feelings of frustration and bickering amongst ourselves. Of course later I contacted the university and was offered an apology.

We as a family learnt a lot about discrimination on this day, unhelpful attitudes and the lack of support for a person with a disability on a day that should have been an enjoyable and memorable event. But for my daughter her injury / disability is not permanent.

Caroline Skinner is a freelance trainer / practice educator in health & social care with a background in social work. Caroline is currently working as trainer with  councils and coaches new managers in social care. She is also a private counsellor in the Portsmouth area.

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