Making things happen

Introduction

Chris Edmondson knows all about the importance of seeing your peers achieve things you dare to dream of. He hopes that in turn, other disabled young people may be inspired by his experience of achieving a university degree and independent living.

Following education in mainstream primary and secondary schools, Chris decided to go on to do A levels and then to university to study accounting. A big decision for any young person but an even bigger one when accessible accommodation and a full time care package are essential to making university life a success.
Two friends at the Jennifer Trust inspired and reassured Chris that going to university could be a reality. After graduating one of them had become a lecturer and then a secondary school maths teacher. The other friend worked for British Airways and now works for the BBC. Knowing that other people with similar support needs had been to university and had gone on to live independently helped Chris to realise his ambition - even if it felt daunting and even risky and meant a lot of hard work.
Chris says he has always had the support of his parents in enabling him to reach his potential. This has often meant fighting to achieve what they all wanted, for example, to be included in mainstream primary and secondary schools. When it came to finding a university that met all Chris’s needs, it was Chris and his family who researched all the options including talking to other disabled people who’d been to university, how to fund the care package with direct payments, disabled student allowance and Independent Living Fund and discussions with social services. Chris says the local authority found it hard to understand the nature of the care package he needed and relied on Chris and his family to come up with ideas about how it could all be funded. Chris says:


“I got used to managing without my parents from quite a young age. I was in hospital and respite care a lot. I think this helped me when it came to going to university and having new carers working with me. I’m glad, too, that my parents were able to ‘let go’ and positively encouraged me to be independent.
When I see my parents now we have more quality time, more family time. Our relationship has changed because I have my PAs now and my parents don’t have to care for me as they did when I was younger. It’s a lot better. I often wonder how they managed there were only two of them with other responsibilities but now I have a team of PAs.



Chris is having a great time living in York. He has a team of PAs and good support from friends and family and is involved in lots of groups. One of these is the new York Independent Living Network (YILN). He wants to be able to support other disabled people to make their voice heard and get their views across. But, from experience, he says it’s one thing making your voice heard and another having it acted on.

“I want to make sure the council and other agencies in York learn from disabled people’s experiences and provide the support that disabled people want, so other York disabled people can also achieve their ambitions.”

Chris would like YILN to be a much stronger voice of all disabled people in York, working together to put across clear messages about services and access issues that the council listen to and act on rather than lots of mixed messages from smaller groups. Chris says disabled people and other minority groups need to be consulted at the beginning of decision making processes so their needs and wishes can be truly included right from the start.

“I would love to have a job that inspires and helps other disabled people achieve and experience things I’ve done like independent living, travelling abroad or higher education or whatever it is they want to achieve, a job, a holiday... People need support once they’ve made a decision to actually make things happen.”

Chris’s experience is invaluable to other disabled people who want to make changes in their life. Chris is a great listener he enjoys helping people think through possibilities and come to decisions. He’s also ‘up for a laugh’ with friends and his description of university life as ‘interesting’ accompanied by a knowing smile probably means that’s another story to be told!

Photos

  • Chris at the Dream PA event 19 March 2011

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