[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.]
This piece is part of a series on being chronically ill in school.
Click the names below to read more
[Image Description: A picture of Caitlin next to a quote that says “My condition isn’t predictable, yet my teachers/school will argue I should attend school every day without interruption and don’t understand how even if I look fine, I can be at home in agony.” And underneath is the title 'Schools Are Failing Their Chronically Ill Students.]
A big issue at my school in regards to not providing for their disabled students was physical accessibility. My school lacked disabled parking - the disabled parking that was available was only for teachers. I was allowed to use it for one year and then was told, without reason, I wasn't allowed to use it anymore.
My school also lacked a system to support disabled students during fire drills, which inevitably put disabled students in danger. My teachers knew about my conditions, yet failed to tell me which fire alarms were real and which were for practice. This meant that I would end up in a lot of pain from walking during these drills when it wasn’t necessary.
One time I broke down crying, humiliated, and asking for help because I couldn't walk anymore and didn’t know what to do. I ended up being in so much pain that I didn’t attend school for the rest of that week.
It’s horrible that teachers and school leaders neglect to think about how different choices and scenarios will affect disabled students, especially the students that may be forgotten because they “look fine”.
Emily here! Thank you all for reading this series on schools and their treatment of sick students. To conclude, I wanted to end with what I've taken particular notice of from talking to Sakara, Emma, Caitlin, and Emily. Here are some thoughts:
Educational institutions at all levels are made for healthy students.
From a young age, they enforce the idea that even if you feel poorly, you need to come into school or you will miss out on your learning. They don’t consider that if unwell students come into school, they are risking the health of immunocompromised students. They don’t consider the harm it can cause students with chronic pain or mental health issues to come in when they feel unable.
Instead, they give out rewards based on their attendance and punish those who are unwell often. They put the idea into students’ heads that you will never be able to achieve great things if you don’t “push past your illness” and conform to the way they teach, a way that excludes people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
In putting together this series, reflecting on my own experiences, and reading the stories of others some messages seem to be clear:
Exams aren’t a fair way to test everyone - people exhibit their knowledge in different ways. On this note, people learn different ways, too! Teachers should be aware of cognitive impairment, sensory overload and students’ personal triggers/problems with learning, in order to accommodate them. To do this, every teacher, every time they start teaching a new disabled student, needs to be made aware of the student and their needs.
Teachers seem to never be fully told about our health needs - this needs to change! How can teachers be expected to give us sufficient help when they aren’t aware or educated on our illnesses?
Sakara’s past head teacher refused to sign a card proving her M.E., which would have given her access to leave classes if necessary, and generally eliminate the awkward talk with teachers about her condition. It should be mandatory that the head teacher/an authority figure gives these out to students that need them to use. It shouldn’t be a choice for her head teacher to acknowledge her condition - medical access needs should not have anything to do with a teacher’s personal beliefs/opinions.
A student should never have to feel that their teachers are questioning how ill they are - it should not be a case of ‘are you sure you’re that ill?’. It appears that schools only help disabled students when parents complain or a higher authority gets involved. At the same time, teachers often feel parents are overreacting when it comes to the mistreatment of their children with disabilities. When a student tells you that they have something wrong with them, it shouldn’t be a choice to believe them. As a teacher, that child deserves your belief, and adequate care. No student should have to plead with schools to have the grades, education, treatment, or accommodations they deserve.
Schools neglect to tell disabled students information that would help them or about accommodations that could be put in place for them because of the time and money it would cost the school. How do we overcome this? Have educational advocates that help children who have disabilities or particular needs! They should be there to fight for students to always get the right care.
A child isn’t a statistic for you to manipulate. Don’t force them to learn in ways that negatively affect their health just so your school’s pass rate doesn’t ‘look bad’.
Physical location is so important. Nobody should be excluded from learning because they can’t access a building. Accessibility over aesthetic, always!
Not recording lessons for students unable to attend lectures is sheer ignorance. Accessibility shouldn’t be a choice for lecturers or a luxury for disabled students, it’s a necessity.
The way Emily’s university said “if you can’t deal with it then leave” in regards to difficulty with physical disability and mental health perpetuates the message that if you have a disability, mental health condition, or some sort of impairment, then you can’t achieve despite your hard work, clear ability, etc. This should NEVER be a message that an educator or educational institution should promote.
Read about the other stories in this series:
About the author:
Caitlin is a 19 year old living in the North East of England. She lives with EDS, Fibromyalgia and a congenital heart condition - and uses her art to bring awareness to hidden illness.
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?
More articles by Emily about her experiences with Fibromyalgia: