27-year-old overhauling disability inclusion

More than ever, young people are driving forward positive change in our worlds.

To showcase this, the Open University teamed up with MTV for a short series showcasing students who are on a mission to change the world for the better.

One of those young people is Steven Sutherland, 27, from Kilbarchan, who is living proof that a disability doesn’t define you and shouldn’t impact your ambitions. 

“After suffering a stroke at birth, I was visually impaired which has inspired me to show people in similar situations that disability shouldn’t define you and you shouldn’t be a barrier to achieving your ambitions,” he tells Smiley News.

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Steven is a former member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, representing young people who are visually impaired or with autism. He’s currently studying a law degree with ambitions to become an MSP in the Scottish parliament to support and advocate for the rights and equality of people with disabilities.

He’s keen to change employers’ perceptions of disabilities so there’s more career opportunities and long term, and is aiming to be Scotland’s First Minister.

“I am especially passionate about breaking down barriers that many disabled people face in education and the workplace,” says Steven.

“Disability is something that can affect literally anyone, regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of anything else. It’s about mitigating some of those unnecessary barriers and taking them away. The system can be very easy to fall through if you don’t have the right support. 

“The overall goal after I’ve graduated would be to continue to advocate for people with disabilities across Scotland and across the UK.”

‘Start at grassroots level’

Steven wants to encourage other people to drive forward change in their own areas. “I would strongly recommend retraining in your field of choice to equip yourself with the vital skills needed to make a societal change,” he says.

“I was quite daunted to go back into studying but through the Open University’s introductory Access module, I was able to boost my confidence before committing to a full degree. The short course enabled me to get a feel for supported distance learning and the subjects before diving in, which made all the difference.

“In terms of how to support a cause you are passionate about, I would advise starting at grassroots level. Being on a grassroots level is really good and you can work with people every day who face various challenges. 

“It’s all very well supporting people at a local level and doing small things to support individuals and small groups of communities, which is absolutely great, but to make a vast change on a larger scale, there’s no doubt that being higher up and being a voice is where it counts.”

Inspired to act?

VOLUNTEER: Scope is a national disability charity looking to ensure people with disabilities get the same opportunities as everyone else. Want to get involved? Find out more about their volunteering opportunities

DONATE: Sightsavers is a national charity working to promote equality for people with visual impairments and other disabilities. Support them by donating.