1 A healing movement

“Most folks I know come to activist spaces longing to heal, but our movements are of- ten filled with more ableism and burnout than they are with healing. “ Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in “Care work”

At Disabled Students UK we take inspiration from Healing Justice, a movement created by queer people of colour. We acknowledge that trauma and oppression impact those working within social justice movements. Central to “healing justice” is the idea that caring for the well-being of our members is not an add-on to our work as activists but rather part of our work – both in the sense that we achieve more when we treat each other with care while doing activism work, and in the sense that the internal work of caring for ourselves and each other is trans-formative in itself and thus is a part of activism.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes: “Healing justice is not a spa vacation where we recover from organizing and then throw ourselves back into the grind. To me, it means organizing work to think of it as a place where building in many pauses, where building in healing, where building in space for grief and trauma to be held, makes the movement more flexible and longer lasting” ”Collective care means shifting our organizations to be ones where people feel fine if they get sick, cry, have needs, start late because the bus broke down, move slower, ones where there’s food at meetings, people work from home – and these aren’t things we apologize for. It’s the way we do the work”

2 Dismantling oppression

  • So how do we make Disabled Students UK a healing movement?
    • Being intersectional
    • Centring strengths
    • Being caring
    • Adapting to needs
    • Respecting boundaries
    • dismantling systems of oppression

“living in modern society, one feels that he cannot easily retain integrity, wholeness. One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself. . . So per- haps, first of all, resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted and destroyed by the system. The purpose of resistance, here, is to seek the healing of yourself in order to be able to see clearly…. Communities of resistance should be places where people can return to themselves more easily, where the conditions are such that they can heal themselves and recover their wholeness.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in “The raft is not the shore”

Much of our work is centered around dismantling an external system of oppression within the higher education sector. This is work that

A healing movement

can be healing in itself. However, in order for our spaces to be healing for every- one we must also continually work to dismantle systems of oppression within our own community. Internalized ableism is widespread within the disabled community, sometimes causing us to treat ourselves and others badly. We acknowledge that there can develop a hierarchy of disabilities within our communities, for instance hierar- chies that place intellectually disabled people, visibly or invisibly disabled people or people with certain mental illnesses below others in the community. We work to counter this. This is a space where students with schizophrenia should feel as wel- come as students with mild anxiety. People with different types of disabilities face different types of prejudice, for instance visibly disabled and invisibly disabled peo- ple. We should fight equally for those who face prejudice in the form of being told

“you don’t look autistic” and those who face prejudice in the form of others speaking for them.

We acknowledge that everyone is on their own journey of overcoming internalised ableism and sometimes this journey will look different depending on their cultural and social environment.


• May the life I live speak for me • Something inside so strong

3 being intersectional

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives” – Audre Lorde Too often our movements focus on only one form of oppression, but the fact is that most people in any movement face multiple types of oppression. In this movement we understand that oppression is systemic, internalised, intersectional and often implicit. We lift multiply-marginalised perspectives and give priority to lived experience. We acknowledge that multiply marginalised people face different types of ableism and often have compounded challenges within higher education. We also acknowledge that our own community contains various forms of oppression: sexism, homophobia, fatphobia, biphobia, transphobia, antisemitism, classism and (perhaps especially) racism. Some people are surprised to find such views within our community, but we are of the belief that everyone has such oppressive attitudes to some degree and disabled people are no exception. Counter to some ableist views

– disabled people are not saints. In this movement we work together to move away from those oppressive attitudes. We don’t attack each other but we do “call each other in” (see section 2) and importantly, we require people to be able to work on themselves if they are called in. If you think that someone needs to be called in please contact someone from the leadership team. Do not send unsolicited DMs. We have set up a panel of people with lived experience whom we consult when people face forms of oppression that the leadership does not have experience of. We try to be honest and transparent about the learning process but at the same time avoid embarrassing people (as shame is a terrible teacher) or breaking confidentiality. We all get things wrong, that doesn’t mean anyone is evil, we all need to be able to work on ourselves in this space. We try to be gentle in our teaching. At the same time we hold a firm position that if someone is unwilling to do this self-work, having acted in a way that harms other members, they will be excluded.


• Count me in
• Courage, you do not walk alone • We shall not be moved

4 Focusing on strengths

Our movement emphasises our power as disabled students by spreading disabled peoples’ culture, wisdom and pride. We emphasise disabled peoples’ strengths by envisioning solutions to the issues we are raising. By building a community which is healthier than the communities that surround us we create not just a setting for disabled people to heal but a vision for how the world might look and where we want to go. We acknowledge the oppressive circumstances in which we find ourselves and we celebrate our incredible resilience in the face of such difficulties. We find strength in our shared motivation – everyone in this space wants to make disabled students’ education more accessible and cares about the well-being of all involved. We strive to see the best in each other, to lift each other up and to presume goodwill. Together we are powerful. Within our committee we assign tasks based on strengths. For instance, as an autistic person one person may be really good at hyper-focusing on research and struggle with socials, while another person, who has a chronic illness and ADHD, is great at moderating socials. A person with a mobility impairment may find a street protest inaccessible but have a lot of experience rallying people through social media. What type of activism we choose to do is entirely dependent on the strengths of those who have time to do activism within our movement at the moment. This means that our activities change from month to month as people become more and less active depending on their (often variable) functioning levels. Songs

• We rise
• IamwhatIam

5 being caring

“Caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” – Audre Lorde We believe self care is a political act, and so is community care. As a movement we aim to create spaces and events where we can share wisdom, grieve, recognize others in ourselves, practice care and just hang out.

We expect our members to treat each other with kindness. On top of our disabili- ties, disabled people have often experienced abuse, trauma and oppression. We all come to this space with baggage and we all deserve to be shown kindness. Disabled people are an incredibly diverse group. We have different disabilities and different in- tersecting identities. We have an enormous amount to give each other. Always try to be considerate of other people’s perspectives, background, trauma, neurodivergence and mental health difficulties. Please consider that most people in this space do not have extensive background in disability activist spaces. Try to use language that is accessible to those that do not have a disability activism background, eg write out acronyms and explain “inside jokes” or knowledge. Offer educational resources if you can. People who have not yet had access to disability activist spaces and thus may not know our norms are more likely to be multiply marginalised. People from marginalized groups are likely to feel less welcome in our spaces. So let’s make sure that we consider that someone may have a different take on what constitutes ableism for instance, because they come from a culture where ableism really does look differ- ent, and there is something for us to learn from this. We are going to interpret things in different ways depending on our background. Educate people about our norms with kindness and remain open to hearing about ways that we can improve and be more intersectionally inclusive. There are many ways of being anti-ableist. Being part of this space means being civil to people with very different approaches to activism. We need both those activists who shout loudly about injustices and those who work to change the system from within. We are not a party political organisation. We have members from all parties. While anyone is free to criticise specific policies or set of policies please do not make general statements about “all tories”. Part of being caring and intersectional is being open to other people using different terminology to us (there is a limit to this, for instance we do not allow the use of words like ‘re- tarded’ as an insult in this space): 1. Sometimes the terminology difference really is just a matter of different cultures, rather than one way of phrasing things being inherently better than another. We have much to learn from non-white, non-British cultures when it comes to anti-ableist work. 2. Other times misunderstandings hap- pen due to different neurotypes. 3. Finally, sometimes the terminology reflects a degree of internalized ableism and that is something that we wish to work through together, rather than exclude people for. Example: someone joins who uses the term Asperger’s to describe themselves. Other autistic members feel uncomfortable about this due to the difficult history of the term. A negative response: “Asperger’s is an aspie supremacist term, you shouldn’t use it.” A constructive response: “I prefer not to use the term Asperger’s myself for these reasons – here’s a resource which explains it more fully. I understand that there may be good reasons why this term is useful in certain settings. In this community we tend to use autistic instead, but you are of course welcome to use the term to refer to yourself.” Songs

1. Healing song

2. Lean on me Resources

1. Crip emotional intelligence

6 Adapting to needs

Our activism strives to be accessible to different peoples’ needs. We expect our mem- bers to make accommodations for each other. This is not always easy, because some- times our access needs conflict. In these situations we try to resolve things as well as possible, with the understanding that it is unlikely to be perfect. It is important that each person understands that working in a group means sometimes another per- son’s needs will take precedence over yours and vice versa. This is not always a form of ableism. Example: An online meeting is set up where the participants include a person with ADHD who needs to move around a lot in order to be able to con- centrate and a deaf person who needs to lipread and therefore see the face of the person speaking. These two needs are not always compatible. A negative response: One or both of the participants feel like their needs are being devalued because there is a suggestion of adapting to the other persons’ needs. One feels unwelcome and decides not to go to the meeting, the other sets an ultimatum – either their needs are respected or they will not attend. A positive response: Both participants realize that there is a need to compromise and they end up having a written discussion to find a solution that involves both parties making sacrifices but both parties eventually being able to make good use of the meeting.

Disabled students often have very limited time and energy. We work to create ways for those with limited time to participate and we are kind when those who have committed to doing work are unable to meet deadlines, because we have all been there. For more information see our leadership team document.


1. How the light gets in

7 Having boundaries

As a movement we make no claim to be “fully accessible”, to be able to address all students’ disability related problems or to understand all struggles. Because we are limited. We cannot talk about striving to be caring and accessible and inclusive and intersectional without also acknowledging this.

We have boundaries around: 

  1. accessibility
  2. emotional labour
  3. being forgiving
  4. representing every group which deserves representation

Too many disabled people internalize the ablest notion that we have to be every- thing to everyone, without any limitations and this is simply not possible. Within the disability community those who those who are (or those have been socialized to be) more feminine in particular are very prone to burnout because of this.

6 Adapting to needs

We expect our members to respect each others’ boundaries, but also to learn about and clearly communicate their own. That way we can best work with each others’ differences and don’t end up in a situation where we take on work that we are unable to do.

We don’t shame each other for not knowing the right words. We don’t “punch up” at our leaders when they fail to make an event perfectly accessible. We call each other in when there’s a problem and we try to work through it together.


• Light is returning

• This is me Resources

• Very interesting post about both respecting your own boundaries and the needs of others, especially in the context of autistic emotional labour:

8 On lashing out

Our movement should continuously work to address internalised ableism, accessibil- ity and lifting up and listening to the most marginalised. This is continuous work. At the same time it is work that will be limited because we are people and we have limits.

Many members of our movement have trauma related to disability and can develop very specific ideas of how things should be done within the movement which, if not met, become triggering for us. For instance we might become triggered if a certain ableist word is used, a certain need is not accommodated or a certain focus within the movement is not adopted.

Each person in the movement must take responsibility for their own reaction and how they are bringing forward critique of others and of the movement.

Being triggered can make it very hard to handle disagreement on such issues calmly because we can feel there is one right way of doing things and doing anything else is deeply painful for us. Especially as we have high hopes that we have finally found a space where we can be free from the oppression and trauma that we have faced in other spaces.

In order to be able to respect others’ boundaries and treat everyone with kindness a certain level of detachment from our trauma is necessary so that we can remove ourselves from a situation that is triggering for us rather than lashing out. Our pain never gives us the right to act abusively towards others.

Our movement makes space for talking about your mental health within for in- stance the complaints collective or the mental health section of the discord server. And there is always space to say “I’m triggered and need to leave this conversation right now”.

However it is important to note that when we are organising we cannot simulta- neously function as a support group. There are limits to the kind of support we can

offer to work through each person’s trauma. We do not have the resources to be a substitute for qualified counselling. We ask everyone to take responsibility for their needs and limitations and to be honest with themselves and others about what these are.

If you have specific triggers and would like trigger warnings on posts etc please speak to someone in the leadership group. We will try to make accommodations as far as possible, while still respecting our own limitations.

We will not tolerate abusive behaviour, even against the leadership team. We will not tolerate purposeful disruptions. This is not tone policing, it is not respectability politics, it is a way of making our spaces more accessible and protecting the mental health of a group of people who are already deeply vulnerable to mental health problems.

Example: A member feels that there is too little focus on Further Education stu- dents within the movement, but they have no time to work on addressing the issue themselves. The leadership team is currently barely keeping up with their own cur- rent responsibilities without burning out and so they do not currently feel able to commit to further work. A negative response: Repeatedly bringing up the problem in different contexts, blaming the leadership and derailing other discussions. A con- structive response: Asking for a one-on-one meeting with someone in the leadership to be allowed sufficient time to fully present their concerns. Acknowledging the lim- itations of the team. Suggesting ways in which the issue could be addressed and either contributing to the project themselves or suggesting how we might be able to find people who can.

9 Good communication practice

The difference between calling out and calling in: “Calling-out describes the act of publicly naming instances of oppressive language and behavior. What makes calling- out toxic is the nature and performance of the act. Calling someone “out” is typically a public performance in which a person self-righteously demonstrates their superior knowledge, shaming an individual for their oppressive behavior. Despite the fact that a person may utilize calling-out with the intention of engaging in social change or justice, calling-out is itself a form of oppressive behavior. Calling-in is a proposed alternative to call-out culture that entails having a private, personal conversation with an individual who has used oppressive language or behavior in order to address the behavior without making a spectacle out of it. Calling-in recognizes that people are multi-faceted and that an instance of oppressive behavior does not define the totality of who we are. We as humans make mistakes, and calling-in can be a powerful tool to address those mistakes and create space for real change and positive impact.” Jennifer Mahan

As a communication technique we advise talking about your own feelings and needs rather than focusing about what the other person has done. For instance:

“when you do x I feel y” = “this is how what you do impacts me”

good communication practice 9

Apology coping strategy when faced with the possibility that you may have done something wrong

  • Take a deep breath
  • Thank whoever shared another point of view with you
  • Drink water
  • Reflect
  • Take a day or two if you need it, letting the other person know that this is what you’re doing
  • Get support from your friends or family
  • Contact a mentor
  • Process your response
  • Consider your privilege and power in the situation
  • Take actionA real apology consists of:
    • An acknowledgement of how what specific action you took
    • Acknowledgement of how this impacted the other person (regardless of your intention)
    • The word ‘sorry’
    • Stating how you will amends or act differently so as not to hurt people in thefuture
    • Saying “I’m sorry you think I did that/you feel that way” does not count as a real apologyPresume goodwill: we want to be able to discuss our differences openly and re- spectfully, and have a space that is welcoming to questions and discussion. This means that we assume that everyone in the space wants to make student life more accessible and cares about the well-being of all involved, and that’s why we’re here.10 oops-ouchOops: when you say something that comes out wrong (e.g. offensive, using a slur), you can say “oops” and we’ll all know you didn’t mean whatever you were saying to come out like that. You can ‘delete’ what you said and start again. Ouch: if you’re listening and someone else says something that is hard, painful or upsetting to hear, you can say “ouch”. The leadership team member present will ask if you feel able

10 Oops-ouch

to share what it was that made you say ouch in the moment, and if you do we’ll learn from that. If not, we’ll spend a few moments thinking together as a group what might have been difficult or upsetting about what was just said and learn something from the experience.

Disagree respectfully It is fine not to agree on everything in this space. Disagree- ment does not mean that one person has to be determined to be correct. We come from a variety of different cultures – educate gently and keep in mind that you may find there is something you need to change in your own behaviour or beliefs too.

11 Good intersectional practice

Give more weight to a claim made by a person with lived experience. Always seek out information from those with lived experience Include your pronouns in your name during meetings How to deal with forgetting pronouns

Good accessibility practice Face the camera while you are speaking and have decent lighting to help lip-readers Give image descriptions

12 Concrete commitments

As member of DSUK I commit to:

  • Respect how people self-identify
  • Not use slurs or purposefully misgender people
  • Assume good faith
  • Remember that we communicate differently – other members may have another first language, be neurodivergent, have trauma and/or mental health difficul- ties.
  • Call people in gently – no personal attacks
  • Not send unsolicited DMs to other members
  • Be kind and understand that each person is on their own journey and that we may vary widely in culture, perspective and background.
  • Contact the leadership team if I notice someone acting in a way where they may need to be “called in” Going through a process of reflection when “called in”
  • Makeaccommodationsforotherpeoples’needswhilerespectingmyownbound- aries
  • Try to use inclusive language and not assume prior knowledge
  • Respect boundaries set on behalf of group spaces by the leadership team
  • If you disagree with the boundaries drawn, please take this up with the lead- ership team in a separate discussion, not during a discussion about something else, so as to avoid derailing the group discussion space.
  • Reflect on my own ableist and other oppressive attitudes
  • Center the voices of those with lived experience
  • Respect people’s stated boundaries (boundaries that break these commitments not included)
  • Confidentiality: not discuss sensitive information from inside the space outside the space without permission from the people involved
  • Sensitive information includes personal information/experiences and anything else that people state they would not like to be shared outside the space
  • Not post spam or advertising your services

13 consequences

We ask that everyone follows these guiding principles to maintain a safe space for all. We understand that mistakes will happen. It is what you do with those mistakes that matter. Anyone in violation of the code of conduct without taking appropriate steps to amend them will be removed from the group.At DSUK we try to first give a warning when a member violates our code of con- duct, before excluding them if they violate it again. We also tend to give very specific feedback on what we believe the person has done to cause harm – this to enable them to grow.Our first priority is that people feel safe in this space and the leadership team reserves the right to make these decisions on a case by case basis. We take our safe- guarding responsibilities seriously and have found that occasionally it will not be possible to communicate the details of the conduct violation to all parties without putting someone at risk – for instance when we believe there is a high risk of retalia- tion.As our community continues to grow, we may revise the code of conduct where necessary.14 leadershipIn addition to this general code, those who are in the leadership commit to:
• Consider our personal privileges in our organizational decisions.
• Consider the ways in which we can shift power to be more representative • Create ways for people to easily call us in

  • Pay attention to how marginalized people may need different forms of support compared to others.
  • This is a continuous and anticipatory work for the leadership and not some- thing we consider only when called in. Like all other members our leaders are human beings who do this work without pay. As a team we have boundaries in terms of the way in which we will receive criticism. If a certain person is delivering feedback in a way that does not recognize our humanity we will address the feedback, but will not necessarily engage with the person..Please prioritize kindness when interacting with moderators and leaders, as well as fellow community members.
  • If a complaint is brought forward around a specific leader, the complaint will be handled by the other leaders.references