This is the last time I will be saying those worse as Disabled Students' Officer. As I am writing this I am in the last hour of my tenure in this position, and I am coming to terms that the position I have held for 2/3s of my university career is coming to an end. It has certainly been a wild ride, and nothing can possibly prepare anyone for taking on this job. However, it is also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and was a true honour to take on.
I remember just two years ago thinking very nervously about the job I was about to take on. I had some very big shoes to fill, left by Emma Hersey (who has been an absolute source of inspiration and help for me). I had been elected but had very little actual experience, and had some big policies I wanted to implement. Over Easter I spent a lot of time messaging the Sabbs (as Bob Hughes and Kallum Taylor will be able to attest), meaning that when I got back I was ready to get started (the YUSU training also helped tremendously in this regard). Over the two years I have tried my hardest to keep plugging away campaigns and never take my foot off the pedal, so disabled students could have the best deal possible and I hope that the reforms I and the Network have pushed made a difference to students.
One of the best bits about doing this job was the support that was given, both by YUSU staff and by some of the greatest Sabbs and strongest disability activists I have ever met. Therefore, I feel that some thanks need to be given out. First of all to Emma Hersey, for giving me advice, espeically during my first term of office. This advice proved invaluable and really helped me get into my stride. Additionally, to Graeme Osborne and Bob Hughes, for their help in getting me started and their assistance in pushing some of my campaigns (such as improving testing accomodations and opening catering doors half and hour earlier) as well as introducing me to the welfare community (through the excellent Lib Welf meetings). I also would like to thank some of the college VCs and chairs of 2013, such as Beth Campbell, Rebekah Martin, David Cribb, Harry Toynton, Marian Lally, Josh Lee, and Charlotte Russell who helped me work with colleges and ensured that the drop-ins that we have been doing during freshers worked to the best of their ability. I would also like to thank the first class of disability reps, Bill Timpany, Calum Stewart, Tay Whitehead, Jessica Smith, and Alistair Bochel for being a great source of support, inspiration, and friendship (which carries on today). Without your work, DSN would not be what it is today. Furthermore, a huge word of thanks must go to Cass Brown, for her amazing Key Contacts Scheme and her strong support for a disability sports event (to be seen at Roses 2015). It has been great to see how far we have come in the two years I have been here towards greater participation in Sport and a lot of that is down to you. The disability reps of last year have also been incredible, with people like Callum Dziedzic and Seb Kwong who led the charge towards making clubs more accessible, or James Tracey who is working incredibly hard on the Mental Health Awareness Project and Montana Davies-Shuck, who along with James created a very strong Access Your Future event. With the foundations these people have built the Network has gone from strength to strength. I also had a fantastic Part-Time Officer Group, with people like Josie Field, Saskia Papadakis, Conor Roche, Isabelle Lui-Scott, Sairish Tahir, Lloyd Wallis, Minal Supri, Leon Morris, Mike Anstey, Nick Devlin, Jamie Elliott, Kate Elliott, Beth Greenwood, Octavia Elphick-Smith, and Sanjna Shah. We reinstated the committee and held elections, where we have elected wonderful people like Tim Wingard, who has always been a passionate voice for the Network, and Josh Salisbury, who has been one of the most dedicated campaigners (as well as Halifax Access Rep) and who led the charge on getting hearing loops in lecture theatres. I am also pleased to thank the new DSN committee, who look like a very strong one. Not only do we have veterans like Josh, Callum, and Tim, we also have some fantastic other reps, like Beth Francis, William Grace, Dawn Harker, Cassandra Lovelock, Evelyn Kramer, and Heather Laws, who have all had excellent ideas and I am confidence will do a fantastic job, with the help of our President Sam Maguire, who has shown that he really cares about disability issues. We have also had a cracking Part-Time Officer Group, with amazing people like Peggy Lockwood-Lord, Emily Inglis, Neil Dhayatker, John Olatunji, Liam O'Brien, Sarah Roughton, Georgia Paton, Harriet Page, Ollie Rowley, Charlie Pottle, Ollie Duguid, Aashna Seghal, Victoria Gladwin, and Craig Hodgkinson.
All these people have been amazing, but there are some final people who deserve the highest praise and who I can truly say have been some of the most influential and instrumental people during my time as officer. The first one is Naomi Barrow, whose interest in mental health and well-being have led to the founding of the Mental Health Awareness Project. Naomi's passionate dedication towards campaigning has led to some big policies and huge gains by the Network, like drop-ins to sign people up for exam arrangements, as well as the British Sign Language Campaign. Without Naomi, the Network would be irrevocably diminished. The second one is Kallum Taylor, who has been President for 2/3ds of my officership. To say that Kallum has been a big help would be an understatement. Kallum was a mentor to me, helping me with big campaigns, telling me never to give up, and showing me how far I could go with true commitment. Whether it was helping me over the summer to slash dyslexia fees, or putting pressure on colleges to bring in disability reps, Kallum was always there for me. I knew that at any time I could go into the office and there would be a President who was ready to help me with the next challenge. Without Kallum, many of the efforts I made would have come to naught. The third one is Maddie Boden, who has been an officer with me for two long years. Over these two years, Maddie has turned the idea of intersectionality from being more than a buzzword, to a reality with our activist workshops. She has been a great friend and a fantastic fellow officer who is rightfully loved by her Network and who will leave big shoes to fill. Finally, there is Zohra Khan, my successor. I remember meeting Zohra in Costa when she pitched the idea of Access Your Future for the first time. I had been elected but had not taken the job just yet, and I loved the idea. What I loved more was seeing a rep with such great ideas and such fantastic commitment and I knew that Zohra would be great for the Network. Whenever she is around she has been fantastic, always giving 110% to everything, helping us during freshers fair, providing fantastic ideas, and of course deciding to take on the role. Zohra gave me the inspiration and showed me what kind of Network I wanted to run, and I cannot think of anyone better to be leading it now that I am standing down.
As anyone can see from this blog, being Disabled Students' Officer requires cooperation and working with others. Without the many people listed above my two years would have been very different. Therefore, as a Network we need to continue to build strong bridges, with everyone. We need to make sure the new Sabbs are as engaged as the old ones. We need to continue challenging ourselves to do more, and make sure the university is working with us. We can be partners with them when they want to work with us, but we should also be ready to challenge them when we disagree. We must engage with the university at all levels, with colleges, other liberation Networks, and publicise our successes, in blogs, and in Vision and Nouse. We must keep pushing onwards to be a bigger and better Network, and I am confident we can do this. Whether it is organising amazing events like Access Your Future, or attending a meeting to focus on the Access Audit, we cannot as a Network do anything less than our best. The university respects us, the Vice Chancellor told me himself at a meeting. Let's keep that respect going.
The clock has struck 12 and my term has ended. I am removing myself as an admin on the page, leaving the committee group. This account and everything is now passing onto Zohra. I will still attend meetings to the best of my ability, and since I am around for another year I will try to do my best for the Network. However, the power is now in Zohra's hands. I hope she has as good a time as I have had and can look back and say at the end that if they could do it again they would.
Thank you…and Goodbye