I’m autistic and have ADHD, something which has its advantages but also its challenges. I have a strong sense of morality and a passion for what I believe in. I also have strong attention to detail and aim to do my best while overcoming my additional challenges.
For disabled people, international travel presents presents many obstacles.
These challenges include social situations, sensory difficulties, as well as organisational issues. Dealing with added barriers for anything can be a huge challenge. Yet like many non-disabled people, I’ve always wanted to travel and work abroad, despite the obstacles.
Without EU free movement, moving is a huge undertaking
As a part of my degree I completed a year abroad in Japan. It’s important to note this exchange to Japan was not a part of the Erasmus+ programme. This involved a lot of extra preparation such as visa applications, and getting an import certificate for my medication in advance. For somebody who has difficulties with executive function (being able to start and do things) and organisation, this was a huge undertaking.
I had to start confidently using the phone as much as I could. I had to prepare trips to London by myself, something which terrified me.
I succeeded and it helped me grow as a person, but I also realised something important: it shouldn’t have to be this way. This is a sentiment many European countries share. This is why free movement is one of the EU’s main principles.
Brits don’t have to worry about visa applications. We can just book a flight, pack our stuff and go. If an EU citizen relocates for a long-term stay for work, we just have to notify the host country’s local government. Wheelchair and other aid users also get added protections on flights, which is essential since many airport staff still mishandle wheelchairs, leading to frequent breakages.
“Anything else would bankrupt me”
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) helps reduce basic medical fees abroad, as it gives any cardholder basic access to that country’s healthcare system. It’s important to remember that being disabled is expensive. We have to pay more for support, whether this is household aids or social care staff. Many of us can’t even get insured for pre-existing conditions in countries like the US. Having a medical emergency in another country is therefore a nightmare scenario for many of us.
My own experience of this was having to pay a few thousand yen to get my toenail stuck back down when I accidentally almost cut it off while in Japan. This may sound minor, but it hit home for me how important universal healthcare coverage is. Anything else would bankrupt me.
It also made me realise how important the EHIC is – had I been in the EU, the EHIC could have covered that treatment. This scared me and triggered meltdowns which, when you’re an autistic 20-year-old woman in a foreign country where autism understanding is generally poor, are quite risky, to say the least.
After returning from my year abroad, I had the opportunity to go on my first Erasmus+ social exchange in Sofia, Bulgaria. This was one of the best experiences of my life, because I had the chance to visit a part of the world I wouldn’t have otherwise. I also got to meet other Europeans and learn more about how the EU works directly from EU staff.
These are the kind of opportunities my generation want to take advantage of, including disabled people. We don’t want them taken away, which would likely be the case under ‘no deal’. Disabled people have a right to equal opportunities and the necessary support to enjoy these experiences.
For disabled people, Brexit is a matter of life and death
This is before mentioning the more serious stuff, like how the EU adds an additional layer of accountability which the UK government sorely needs, having been investigated by the UN more than once for good reason.
Many disabled people also have limited movement, so leaving the country simply isn’t an option, leaving them at the mercy of the British government. There is also the issue of medication, with the EU supply chain at risk in the event of ‘no deal’. This will be fatal for some, especially those requiring life-saving treatment.
As you add these things up, staying in the EU is essential for disabled Brits. The extra protection and accessibility aid we have as EU members help make things accessible for us. I say ‘accessible’ and not ‘easier’ because accessibility is a necessity, not a perk. ‘Easier’ implies that people can do without this added support, when in reality this often isn’t true.
I deserve my say in this conversation
For me, relocating to the EU may be my only chance to move to a foreign country because my autism diagnosis could be used to deny me permanent residency under typical immigration rules. This is very common for people with various types of disabilities, such as chronic illnesses. Erasmus+ social exchanges are what I need to help me affordably explore my continent, while also meeting others in a structured setting.
As I learnt more about the EU and related disability issues, my passion never wavered. I’m a disabled young British person, and people like me deserve our say in this conversation, as we will have to live with the consequences of Brexit the longest.
This is especially important for us, as we are among the most vulnerable groups – some people don’t even believe young people can be disabled. As more comes to light regarding how Brexit will affect the most disadvantaged people in this country, is it any wonder that so many are now calling for Brexit to be stopped?