In 2003, I moved to Leeds to undertake a Master of Arts course in Disability Studies.
The course was very different to any of my previous educational experiences. All of the students were Disabled, which automatically created a sense of collective identity. We felt like a family. The sense of belonging in a small community was especially important as almost all of us were international students away from our own families and familiar environments.
Unlike at the Blind College, we all felt included and empowered both inside and outside of the Disability Studies group. The course was totally accessible, and to my surprise, I received the lecture handouts in advance of the lectures in accessible formats, and the transcription centre went to great lengths to convert most of my course reading list to an electronic format.
It was here in Leeds that I learned about Disabled people’s rights, and through discussions with my classmates I began to realise that what we had experienced, or were experiencing, was collective oppression. I knew now that my previous personal experiences of being discriminated against were not one-off incidents.
I was determined to learn more and later enrolled on the PhD programme at the University of Leeds.
For my MA dissertation, I volunteered with Pyramid of Arts, a Leeds based Disability Arts organisation for people with learning difficulties, where I facilitated the members’ involvement in a range of art media. Through interviews and observations, I learned about their group identity as Disabled artists, and the empowering effects of art on their lives.