Carly Miller | Being who I am isn't something that needs to be fixed

Carly Miller is a Disability Coordinator in Disability Services at the University. She recently performed her stand-up comedy set as part of Campus Live and Disability History Month.  

A photograph of Carly Miller performing at Campus Live

Can you tell me about your role at the University? 

My role as a Disability Coordinator is to liaise with specific faculties and schools. For example, I work with the Business School and the School of English to put in place recommendations for reasonable adjustments for disabled students, including exam arrangements.  If someone in the school isn't sure about how to put an adjustment in place, or if the student is concerned about their support, I can provide guidance on what might be reasonable and practicable in terms of an adjustment.

I started working at the University in February 2020, just before lockdown. Prior to that I worked at Leeds University Union in what was then the Student Advice Centre, before going on to work at the NHS, so I already had a bit of background knowledge about how stuff worked. 

What do you like about working at the University of Leeds? 

I've worked with some really wonderful people. I worked in the Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS) within the Student Education Service (SES) student support team there. Going through the pandemic was really hard, and I worked with such an amazing team who were incredibly supportive. Disability Services has the same supportive environment, and I’ve been really lucky to work with such great people.

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I recently started ballet and yoga this year.

You recently performed at Campus Live, how did that come about? 

I didn't know that I was autistic until lockdown started. I had wondered previously, but it became impossible to ignore during the pandemic. I managed to get my support in place and started feeling better by December last year. I then wanted to try different things because I spent a lot of time not understanding why things were harder for me and feeling like I missed out.

I saw Natalie Diddam’s Women in Comedy Workshops, which are for women and non-binary people. I applied for the workshop on the day of the deadline and got a place. I kept asking myself, ‘What am I doing?’, but I did the workshops and the performance. Honestly, it's ridiculous to think that I did this, because the person I was before getting my support in place wouldn’t have been able to attend the workshops, let alone do stand-up.

Before the deadline for Campus Live, we had a catch up for the Women in Comedy Network. While we were doing our workshops in Bradford, there was another event happening simultaneously in Pakistan. We all met on Zoom and it was inspiring to see what everybody else had done. It got me thinking...maybe I do have some privilege, maybe I do have some capacity to use my voice for disabled people, and maybe I should apply for Campus Live. I didn’t know how much disability representation there would be, and I wanted to make sure that voice was part of it, so that’s how I ended up performing at Campus Live.

How would you describe your stand up to someone who hasn’t seen it before? 

It’s quite personal because it’s about me, but also about disability. For the most part, I just get up and say stuff and hope it will be funny, but I do prepare in advance and write a set. The things people can expect are disability representation, Kirsten Dunst hype, and me wearing a ridiculous outfit. 

I also performed on Thursday 1 December as part of Disability History Month. I haven't thought about whether I will perform again, I’ve always had safe audiences which obviously makes a huge difference. However, if you had asked me in January of this year whether I would do any stand up, the idea would have been absurd.

If there was one thing you wish people knew about being a disabled person, what would it be?  

It would be for people to know how exhausting it can be. Being disabled in a non-disabled world is exhausting, and there’s so much admin involved to get your support in place. It can be tiring to have to ask for things repeatedly. In an ideal world, everything would be inclusive by default, which would give me more energy.

Sometimes people think that you are always complaining, but it's not complaining. You are advocating for yourself. It can be hard for others to fully appreciate what it means if you've not got an adjustment, and maybe they don't fully understand it isn't the only thing that's gone wrong that day. I always say that the community is great, but the admin is awful. 

What one thing do you wish people would take away from Disability History Month? 

No one expects anyone to be perfect, but it’s about listening to what disabled people are saying and learning from them. If you see something that would be a barrier for a disabled person, advocate for that to be removed without a disabled person having to specifically tell you.  
In my Campus Live stand up, I mentioned the counters at a high street bakery being too high for some people to reach to pay. If we see barriers, we can all think about helpful changes.

As a service, and at the University, we try to follow the social model of disability. That’s not about fixing the person, it's about removing the barriers and putting the right support in place. It’s important, particularly when we look at autism as there are groups of people who want it to be cured or see it as a negative thing. Who I am isn’t bad. When barriers are put in place there will be a negative impact on me, but being who I am isn't something that needs to be fixed. 

Where’s your favourite travel destination? 

I like going to the sea. I find it very calming to see that big expanse of water.  

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