Disability Undressed: ‘Special school or mainstream school? I know which classrooms I preferred.’
2 February 2017
Have the teachers been trained to support particular needs? Will the classmates be hurtful or friendly? Is sympathy a good thing? Is empathy possible?
A conversation at one of Leonard Cheshire’s activity centres reveals one individual’s perspective.
‘I was born with cerebral palsy — a condition caused by a lack of oxygen around birth that often affects mobility — and went to both mainstream schools and special schools,’ says Jayne*.
‘Which did I prefer? I preferred the schools that had the most boys!
‘At a few of the schools I went to, I was practically the only girl. It made me stand out and get attention, which I like, but I’ve always got on better with boys anyway.’
‘I always stood up for myself’
Jayne uses a wheelchair most of the time, for balance, but football is her passion and she always enjoyed being the goalkeeper at school.
‘I was always around boys playing football, so that was the most important thing, whichever school I was at.
‘I found they supported me too, and respected the fact that I always stood up for myself.’
Nowadays football is played by both sexes at primary and secondary school, but this wasn’t typically the case when Jayne, now 39, was growing up.
Lack of choice
A Reading season ticket holder, Jayne still has more male friends than female, so there’s some irony in the fact she’s now found herself in a house share with a woman.
Jayne works for a printing press as part of an all-disabled workforce, and the business provides on-site accommodation.
It is potentially a perk, but the company decides who shares with whom, and for Jayne the luck of the draw has not been kind in the sense they don’t get on at all.
‘They had told me it would be a temporary arrangement, but it has been this way for months now.’
Jayne would love to live with her boyfriend, who she has been with for several years, but fears her disability living allowance would be stripped back if her living arrangements changed†.
She feels stuck. It feels wrong to her that a choice between a happy home and an income which allows for a basic standard of living has to be made at all.
Jayne second home is her Leonard Cheshire activity centre, where she spends two days a week. The ratio of women to men is actually roughly 10-1, but she’s found common ground in quizzes and games, conversations and laughter.
What does all this show? Perhaps only that a personality-match is one of the most important things, whether at school or home, work or play.
*Jayne is not the interviewee’s real name; she has asked for her identity to be anonymised.
†Disability living allowance is a non-means tested benefit so would not be affected by change in circumstances. Leonard Cheshire Disability has provided clarification and guidance to Jayne.
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