Two apples land quite spontaneously on my desk. “It’s Holyrood Apple Day” quips John, the apple bearer, by means of explanation. I vaguely remember reading something about apples – one of the 86 emails that greeted me when I first opened my inbox on Wednesday morning.
The Scottish Parliament is obscure like this. It’s also confusing, quirky and charming. I’m working in the office of the Green MSPs Alison Johnstone and Patrick Harvie and their (wonderful) staff as part of the Access to Elected Office Internship programme. It’s only day four, but I have already learned so much. Mostly thanks to the wonderful Green team working in Holyrood, who are doing an excellent job of answering my many questions.
I’ve realised that I have a very bad habit of glossing over the fact I have dyslexia. Having escaped diagnosis until the end of my second year of
university, I’ve spent a very long time feeling quietly stupid. I’m used to the feeling of shame that fills me as I fail to grasp what everyone around me seems to have learned in an instant. I have developed very effective methods of going unnoticed (including a very trustworthy face and believable nod) to stop people cottoning on that I often have no clue what is going on. Until now. When first interviewed for this position Phyl – Employability and Civic Participation Officer at Inclusion Scotland – asked what adjustments I might need to help me. This question threw me completely; I’m not used to asking for help.
Sometimes living with dyslexia feels like you have to work 10 times has hard to achieve almost the same standard as everyone else. It’s frustrating, exhausting, confusing and it can be a downright pain. It’s much more than spelling and grammar – though my sister/proof-reader did once accuse me of ‘sneezing apostrophes’ onto my essay – it’s the way you think and process information. It’s the way my brain stubbornly refuses to retain basic information without an extraordinary amount of effort. It’s my inability to read aloud from a page without stumbling and stuttering. It’s my inconveniently short attention span. It’s the way all of these symptoms are ten times worse when I am tired.
This internship is the first time in employment that I have been given real space to differentiate between my abilities and disabilities. To think about how my dyslexia affects me and crucially what support I need to work at my best. Being immersed in a Political environment as well as the understanding and acceptance of my Green colleagues is helping me to realise I am in fact, not stupid. It’s also helping me to realise how important it is we ask for help. The capacity of disabled people is tremendous, but the stigma and ignorance surrounding disability is astounding and it is holding people – and Politics – back.
As we continue to fight for a society that celebrates disability and diversity, disabled people need to stand up and ask without shame for the support we need. Our voices are important.