Why Disabled Students Should Support the Free Education Demo!

4 people with a banner reading "Disabled students' campaign" "NUS disabled students"By Rachel O’Brien, NUS Disabled Students’ Officer

On Wednesday 15th November, I will be supporting the demonstration for Free Education, running Demo HQ and encouraging disabled students around the country to attend, as well as making sure that Student Unions and the organisers make sure the demo is accessible as it can be.

Why should disabled students support free education? For me, this is an easy question to answer. All students should support free education and fight for it to be realised. Free education is not just about university tuition fees (although this is a part of it!), it is about everything from making adult education accessible and available for people wanting to return to education or start at a later age, to making sure that Disabled Students’ Allowance and Education Health and Care Plans are fully funded and fit for purpose. Our education system should be a social good and liberatory force, and right now it is neither of those things. In fact, it can often be the opposite – a place where working class students and those from oppressed groups (these are not mutually exclusive categories!) experience violence of different types. Disabled students are more likely to come from working class and lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as having more costs than non-disabled students, so debt hits us especially hard.

It affects our mental and physical health. Debt is shown to be a major factor in student mental distress, and as a group, we will have more of it. The lack of living grants and access to disability benefits means that we are often forced to live in houses that are not accessible to us and I have yet to meet a disabled student who does not worry about being able to afford their prescription fees. Simply put, our education system and the disproportionate financial cost it has on disabled students is bad for our health. Access to education and retention rates are distressingly low amongst disabled students. We get into debt to go into education and then have to drop out due to the effect that debt and disableism has.

On the 15th, join us in marching for free education! I have been working with the organisers to make sure that the route and march itself is accessible as possible. And in the case that #wecantmarch, I will be running Demo HQ – a place where people who cannot march for whatever reason can do invaluable demo tasks. Be that because you have a mobility impairment, precarious visa status or issues around sensory overload, or any other reason – this is the space for you. We’ll be doing social media and co-ordinating arrestee support for the demo!