Schools Are Failing Their Chronically Ill Students: Emily Ability (4/5)

[Image description: ‘I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Chronically Ill and Disabled Students’ is written in black text on a white piece of paper, alongside it is a drawing of Emily holding up her jumper to reveal a yellow shirt reading ‘disabled, not worthless’. Both text and drawing are cut out and stuck onto a pink background.]

Article & Artwork by Emily Bourne

This piece is part of a series on being chronically ill in school. 

Click the names below to read more

Emily B | Sakara Dee | Emma B | Caitlin Rose

This article discusses mistreatment of disabled students by authorities and may be upsetting to read. 

[Image Description: A photo of Emily with a feeding tube next to the quote: “One time I asked my tutor for an extension on a weekly essay because I was having a flare up, and he replied “no. if you can’t handle the pressure, you need to leave”. Underneath is the title 'Schools Are Failing Their Chronically Ill Students'.]

Hi! I’m Emily Ability and I have hEDS, POTS, GI failure and M.E.

The tutors and staff at my university seem to go through no disability training (formal or informal). They do not allow for any flexibility in the very demanding schedule, you must complete all essays on time or face punishment. I have been reprimanded for missing a lecture to go to a doctors appointment I waited a year for and punished for missing a lesson because I was rushed to hospital. 

At my university, it is at the teachers’s discretion as to how they handle disabled students. Many do not record lectures, and some do not use lecture slides at all - preferring to monologue for an hour and use scruffy handwriting on a board. Those that do use lecture slides don’t usually post the slides online. It is incredibly difficult for disabled students to have any flexibility to appropriately manage their needs. I have personally seen multiple lecturers refuse to wear microphones in the lecture hall for hard of hearing or d/Deaf students, instead stating that students should “just sit closer instead”.

There is very little pastoral care (emotional support) offered to the students. Most of the pastoral care is offered by your tutors. These are people who specialise in the academic subject. Pastoral care is not their speciality or forté, their only training in it is a 6-hour awareness course. It can be incredibly awkward to go to the person who assigns you essays to open up about your depression. 

When I admitted to my tutor and pastoral care supervisor that I was suffering from PTSD, I was advised to “stop getting upset and instead get angry at your abuser. It will make you productive.” There is very little possibility for complaints or improvements because there is very little objectivity in the university - all of the tutors are friends. 

My university is consistently ranked as the top university in the world, and yet it does not care about its disabled students. 

Many of the entrances to buildings, housing, and libraries have no disabled access. For example, my college library was on the first floor of the building but it could only be accessed by climbing uneven stairs. Most of the buildings have steps in and out of every room, as well as uneven stones and cobbles. Many of the doors are single entry, and are too small for a wheelchair to go through. 

The university refuses to make the campus buildings accessible because it would “cost too much” and “ruin the aesthetic”.

There was also very little mental health support across the university. The university seeks to maintain its reputation as ”rigorous” and “intellectually challenging”, at the detriment of its students. 

Every year, students bring up the problem of suicide rates and how badly the school  deals with students’ mental health, but the university just shrugs and explains it is a “challenging and rigorous university”. If students don’t like it, they should “go elsewhere”.

If you do decide to take a year away from studies to improve your health, you are treated exactly the same as students who were expelled from the university for a year. You are banned from entering campus (even to visit friends), you are not allowed to email your tutors, and you must sit exams to be allowed to resume your studies the next year. 

It is an incredibly stressful experience, and it does not encourage true healing during your time away.

In my first year, I was living at my university. The university is a “catered college” so it provides all meals, and catering is included in the rent price. I cannot eat, and I use a feeding tube every day. I had a doctor's note to prove that I could not eat. However, the school refused to give me a discount in my rent, and I ended up having to pay for all the meals , even though I medically could not eat a single thing. 


Read a post Emily made about the topic on her Instagram!


Read about the other stories in this series:

Read about my story here.

Read about Sakara's story here.

Read about Emma's story here.

Read about Caitlin's story here.


About the author:

Emily is an abuse survivor with PTSD and an Oxford degree. She's vocal on social media about her experiences as a disabled person in the U.K. (she/her)


Contact info:

Writer, Emily Bourne: Linktree, Instagram 


Emily Ability: Instagram


Good resources!

Why Punishing School Children For Being Sick Is Ridiculous | Schools Don't Care About Disabled Students | 4 Ways Ableism in My Elementary School Left Me Traumatized | Does My Wheelchair Make You Uncomfortable?

A Small Victory, Letters to Fibromyalgia | One Girl, One Fibromyalgia Diagnosis | But You Don’t Look Sick | Chronically Comics