CUSU's offices at 17 Mill LaneLouis Ashworth

Running in the CUSU elections has been an invigorating and rewarding experience, but it has also been frustrating and exhausting. Campaigning in a highly public arena for a period of nine days would be challenging for anyone, but the process becomes uniquely disarming when you are a disabled candidate attempting to use campaigning methods that don’t quite fit you, all while existing within an institution that wasn’t built for you.

I can’t help but feel demoralised by the way in which I am unable to socialise with voters as much as I’d like to, wishing I could travel between colleges without experiencing the unique exhaustion that comes from interacting with new people in new sensory environments and has me falling asleep for hours every afternoon. Executing a campaign of this scale is a feat of organisation that multiplies in effort for students like me, who already struggle with executive dysfunction, a common feature of Specific Learning Difficulties. Attempting to coordinate flyering across thirty-one different colleges that differ in location and internal set-ups is confusing enough, without my dyspraxic brain spinning to try and locate myself within a geography I will never intuitively understand. It is also a particularly tough time for campaigners with mental health conditions, which can be exacerbated by the immense stress of elections.

“Disabled candidates are placed in an uneasy double-bind”

These are just a few limited examples of how, in my experience, being disabled makes campaigning more difficult. However, I’m not the only disabled candidate running in this election, and I deeply admire all of those attempting to navigate the experience alongside dealing with disabilities both visible and hidden. Yet, none of us should have to dredge up painful personal testimony of our struggles in order for people to recognise that elections can be inaccessible and ableist. Disabled candidates are placed in an uneasy double-bind in which they are implicitly pressured to disclose their disability, or risk their lack of physical presence being interpreted by the student body as apathy or incompetence. The onus should not fall upon us to constantly justify our failure to perform visibility, reliability, charisma and confidence in the ways that are typically thought of as signify a promising candidacy. In fact, many of the most committed, passionate and thoughtful student advocates and activists I know are engaged in quiet and unrecognised legwork for the causes they care about, unsuited for the public self-promotion that election season encourages. I worry that the way that elections are conducted currently puts off a number of potential candidates who would make incredible officers, but simply couldn’t get through the campaigning period.

“These issues are particularly pronounced at the intersection of race, class and gender”

This predicament is intensified for women and people of colour, who are far less likely to be diagnosed by medical institutions or have their difficulties taken seriously. Women are notoriously less likely to be diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, with a 2009 survey of adults in England finding that 1.8% of men and boys surveyed had a diagnosis of autism, compared to 0.2% of women and girls. A Swedish study looking at chronic pain found that even when experiencing the same pain level, women were much more likely than men to accept their pain and attempt to continue at the same rate of activity. Paul Morgan’s 2013 work on ADHD found that by the time BAME children in the U.S. reached eighth grade, they were between fifty and sixty-nine percent less likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than their white counterparts. However, these disparities do not just inhibit the process of getting medical recognition, but also impact the quality of care that marginalised groups eventually receive. The Mental Health Foundation reports that black people living in the UK are proportionally more likely to enter mental health services coercively via the courts or police, and are also more likely to be prescribed medication rather than offered holistic treatments such as talking therapies. It isn’t a stretch to imagine how class also acts on these disparities, with the wealthy much more able to access treatment. Thus, these issues are particularly pronounced at the intersection of race, class and gender, with working class women of colour being particularly underdiagnosed and undertreated.


Mountain View

CUSU/GU election hustings 2019 – As it happened

It follows that the burden of campaigning while disabled is compounded by the fact that many students may still be invalidating their own difficulties without the reassurance of an official diagnosis. Even when you have been diagnosed, it cannot be taken for granted that you will be receiving any kind of adequate care, particularly if you’re functioning in a healthcare system where the odds are stacked against you. The struggle for legitimacy, then, extends not only to the public sphere where candidates’ behaviour is being evaluated and compared, but also to disabled students’ own sense of self. I still often wonder why I can’t do certain things, assuming I must be lazy or inadequate because I haven’t been granted the authority over my body or brain to claim another explanation.

If you aren’t disabled, but know a disabled person participating in this election season, I would encourage you to reach out and offer your help to them. If you believe in them and their policies and can be physically present where they can’t, do the social work that they struggle with, or help them feed and care for themselves throughout the election period then you should try to do so. However, I really hope to see elections develop alongside the vital, growing work of the Disabled Students’ Campaign in ways that are less structurally disadvantaging of disabled candidates. Disabled students deserve the chance to fully demonstrate their talent and dedication to the rest of the student body, on their terms.

Finley Kidd and Kate Litman are currently running for the role of Women’s Officer in this year’s CUSU elections.

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