Gavin Yule reflects on debating disability

On the 25th of September I was given the opportunity to represent Lung Ha Theatre Company at a Q&A and Panel Discussion hosted by St Andrews Union Debating Society.

The subject of the panel was Discussing Disability and the panel consisted of Claire D'All (a blogger and YouTuber), Emily Rose Yates (blogger, activist and TV presenter), Ahmed Khalifa (businessman and public speaker), Dr Fiona Campbell, lecturer at the University of Dundee and myself. Quite a diverse panel but we all had one thing in common: we all had a disability.

Given the fact this event was hosted by the Debating Society, myself and a few others on the panel assumed that the event would be a debate, for example someone would be for people with disabilities being employed and someone against and there'd be a moderator. However, when I got there, I quickly realised that wasn't the case. Anna Ruth Cockerham, the chair of the event sat with us beforehand and explained that it would be a panel and Q&A session, meaning that most of the content of the evening would come from questions from both the chair and the audience. This immediately set my mind at rest, helped me to relax beforehand and focus and concentrate on the evening.

For me, the debate was very relaxing as the questions both from the panel and audience were not as personal as I expected. The panel had a right to refuse an answer which again set my mind at rest, if for any reason I did feel uncomfortable with a question I knew I could not answer it but that didn’t happen.

Before the event the speakers were invited to a meal, giving us the opportunity to meet each other in a more relaxed and less formal environment. I did feel however that because this was before the discussion took place, I didn't want to say too much about myself at that point, saving it for the event itself. Because of this, I didn't say very much but I still found it interesting to listen to the other speakers and hear about their experiences.

I learnt a lot at the event. For example, I didn't really feel I had much of an opinion to offer to the society. However, I quickly realised that most of the subjects discussed were very close to my heart and so I actually had a lot to contribute to the event which helped my confidence immensely. It was also very interesting to hear about other people's experiences – although they were sometimes similar, they came from different perspectives which made for, I think, a very enjoyable and honest discussion. The main thing I learnt from the evening was that regardless of what difficulties you may have in life, you still have a voice and something to give to the society.

The only thing I would change about the evening is the way in which I present myself at times. For example, there were times when I didn't hear a question from the audience very clearly and so was not sure how my answer was going to come across. I wish I had taken more time to think about my answers rather than be the person to just jump in straight away.

Hopefully this panel opened both the students and the public's eyes to the world of disability and how people with disabilities can be as valuable to the society as able-bodied individuals. I would also hope that more events like this would take place in the future in order to give people with disabilities a voice.

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