Chronic illness and education

Geoff Jones recalls his experiences of education as a child with severe chronic illness.

Access to education is often overlooked when considering chronic illness and social exclusion. Education is particularly relevant if those affected become ill during childhood. In today’s Britain, where a university education has arguably become the norm, those becoming chronically ill during childhood may find themselves placed at a significant disadvantage, adding to the societal exclusion already imposed through their physical disabilities.

I became ill aged 13 with glandular fever and was subsequently diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Over the next three years various attempts were made to provide me with an education, either via home tutoring or part-time attendance at school. Eventually I was sent to a comprehensive with a special unit for those with various medical conditions. Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding of my condition, I experienced a major relapse and, as I reached the age of 16 shortly afterwards, the educational authorities (probably with some relief) ended their attempts to educate me.

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Accessing Support: A system geared toward physical impairments

Sarah Campbell asks whether chronic illness needs its own set of responses to social security, employment and social care.

I have a combination of both a chronic illness and a progressive muscle condition, offering me insight into both “worlds” of invisible fluctuating illness and visible physical impairment. Some issues are extremely different while others are shared. But so far I’ve found that accessing support is often biased toward purely “traditional” physical impairments.

As a wheelchair user, there are many access barriers ranging from getting an adequate wheelchair in the first place, to housing, transport, social care etc. But the law is generally on our side, precisely because disabled people fought for those rights over the past decades.

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From ‘sick’ to ‘disabled’ – my own journey

Catherine Hale considers how half a lifetime of chronic illness has changed her understanding of the term ‘disabled’.

I’ve been sick for nearly 30 years. That’s the whole of my adult life. I always thought of myself as ‘disabled’ in the sense of being very incapacitated. During my bedbound phase I couldn’t wash, feed myself, go to the toilet or write my own name; nor could I read, watch TV or have a conversation.

But I never thought of myself as ‘disabled’ in the political sense used by the disabled people’s movement. That is, I never thought the disadvantages I suffered in not having a job, a career, or a social life were due to an infringement of my rights. It didn’t make sense to blame my profound isolation on other people or organisations excluding me unnecessarily or treating me unfairly.

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