Disability History Month 2022: Disability, health and wellbeing – Part 2

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By Ghizzi Dunlop, Learning technologist, Co-Chair of the Disabled Staff Network and UWE Accessibility Champions Network

UK Disability History Month 2022

Personal Perspectives

I’m a practical, pragmatic person, very direct. I want to ‘solve problems’. I have a very powerful internal drive for social justice, often to my own detriment 😉. Can we create inclusive ways of working together when we are so diverse? I know we can. I think most human beings can change deep rooted behaviours, if they can relate to other peoples’ experiences. Sharing our stories and what works for us is essential to achieving this. For Disability History Month 2022, UWE Disabled Staff Network will be releasing a series of interviews. These are stories from our members. You can view them with captions on UWE’s YouTube channel (link) and social media.

Sharing just a bit

Right here and now I want to share a part of my story. I have a complex mix of multiple and variable disabilities. I want to focus on an aspect I don’t view as a ‘Disability’ in the medical sense. It does mean I experience disabling barriers in the Social sense. I view it as just who I am. I’m Neurodivergent, an element of which is many Processing ‘disorders’.

I don’t like this characterisation as a ‘disorder’, it’s how my brain works. My official diagnosis states my processing speeds are 4% of the national average! Unusually I was ‘awarded?’ 30% extra time for exams (it really doesn’t help me 😉). I wonder, how do I do anything, if that’s the case?

This is how I think of it. It’s not that I’m processing too slowly. It is that I’m processing huge amounts of data. Across multiple input sources (no screening, overstimulation), in relation to multiple hypothetical possibilities. Hence the strengths in pattern recognition, spatial awareness et cetera.

I try to explain this with a very poor analogue for the human mind. Think of the different ways a computer uses its processing power. If it’s offline and working on a text document, it’s not actually processing much information or data at a time. It can easily cope with this demand on its resource. This is how I wistfully imagine neurotypical people experience processing. Clean, focused on a single task at a time. With cognitive capacity left over for other operations. FYI I’m probably totally wrong about this! 😉 After all I’m not living in their shoes.

Now think of the same computer processing a huge video in an editor package. Whilst simultaneously connected to the cloud through various systems or packages. Meanwhile, you also do browser-based research (at least 30 tabs, and 3 browsers open). You answer emails, hold Teams Meetings. You have the Chrome autocaptions on and run a Screen Reader. That computer at that point is facing an enormous demand for processing! FYI I regularly make ridiculous demands of my poor computer! This is my brain too. I try to field and process every sensory input, all the data in that sensory input simultaneously. Then like the computer, we hit blue screen or melt down, you’ll find us hiding out stimming, trying to reboot!

You, as the operator of the computer, control and make decisions about your workflows. You do this on the basis of the demand on capacity. For many neurodivergent people with processing disorders, we don’t have control of that. We are trying to do that level of processing all the time. Sounds chaotic, stressful and anxiety inducing, doesn’t it?

Flip side: it’s incredibly creative. Left field problem solving, deep and broad awareness and can be totally absorbing. You won’t be able to get my attention if I’m in hyperfocus mode at all, as my poor mum can attest.

You can help encourage the positive and diminish the negative impacts, and we can help you to do so. We need to collaborate to play to our strengths.

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