Speaking at the European Parliament: a Transformative Experience

As a co-founder of Disabled Survivors Unite, I was invited to speak at the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this week. We were invited by Soraya Post, who had organised a hearing on the domestic abuse experienced by disabled people and what needs to be done about it.

I felt so fortunate to be given this opportunity, as a student it isn’t the kind of thing I expect to be invited to at all, so having this chance is incredible. I shared some testimonies that have been sent to DSU over the last few months, and spoke about some of the reasons why disabled people don’t feel like they are being abused. I know first-hand that it’s really easy to blame bad experiences on your disability, I’ve often felt like it’s my fault if something happens to me, almost like I shouldn’t expect anything better. I know it is wrong, and I fight against it every day.

Holly speaking at parliament

I found some of the speeches spoke to me in particular. Embla, a member of Tabu, an organisation from Iceland said she did not know if she had experienced domestic violence. A doctor once asked her if she had ever been touched without her consent, and she thought of course, it happens all the time. Her words resonated with me so deeply. I often find that strangers touch me, in the street, or in airports and bars. Maybe they do it because they want to help, but it leaves me feeling anxious and uncomfortable.

I also listened to a speech made by Helga Stevens, an MEP from Belgium. She spoke about the barriers disabled survivors of abuse may face, such as not having access to a text phone in order to communicate. She said that victims of violence are “always in a disadvantaged situation, but persons with disabilities are often doubly disadvantaged for a number of reasons.” She emphasised that citizens and specifically disabled people must be protected and that the EU should ratify the Istanbul Convention.

Helga Stevens speaking with a sign interpreter.

As a child, I rarely met disabled adults. I knew they existed of course, but I had no role models that I could look up to. There was nobody to show me what a disabled person can do, given the opportunity. That is why I am so thankful, even as a young adult, when I meet disabled people who have found success, whether that be in their personal life or employment. Being able to sit in a room full of successful disabled people including an MEP was a transformative experience for me personally. It hit me that I was surrounded by other disabled people, that the non disabled people there were my allies. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something quite like it before.

I have come home feeling like I have focus. There are disabled people working all over Europe and the world to change the way we are treated for the better. They have given their time and knowledge to ensuring that positive change will happen, and more than ever, I want to be part of that movement. I have also seen the impact hard work can have on your life. I am currently a student, but in just two short years I will be thinking about what I would like to do after graduation. I have many options, I see that now. With hard work, I can get to where I want to be. My disabilities have a huge impact on my life. I talk about my blindness a lot, but rarely do I speak about how living with pain has changed the way I do things. It is undeniable that it has resulted in extremely negative consequences. However I returned to England feeling calm, because I am not the first person to do this. There are so many that I can learn from and always work towards something more.

Please listen to the speech made by Disabled Survivors Unite. I am so lucky to be part of an organisation with such wonderful friends.

You can download a transcript of our speech here.

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