Follow your dreams because we can all achieve something special

I was born with a rare body condition called Hemihypertrophy, which means the left-hand side of my body is bigger than the right. I have joint problems so if I walk for a significant amount of time I have pain in my joints. I also have learning difficulties; struggling to pronounce words that are difficult, as well as spelling words that might seem simple to others.

Throughout my school life, I had student-support for my learning difficulties. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to take my GCSEs in Year 11, but with my determination I passed. The other students didn’t understand my condition, and I was bullied because I didn’t have a voice to say anything. My confidence was very low because of how people treated me in school, and I didn’t have a hidden disability role model to look up to.

When I joined Walsall College in 2010, I had less confidence and not knowing what I wanted to do was scary. However, I knew I wanted to do something creative and with the help of ‘Achieving Together’, I took my re-sits and got the grades to enrol on the courses I wanted to do.

Since starting the Art and Design Level 2, I have loved every minute of it! The staff and other students treated me like everyone else and they don’t see me as a disabled person, which makes me excited to carry on. Seven years on, and finishing Walsall College with a degree in photography, I can’t be more excited to show other students that it is okay to have a hidden disability. They should follow their dreams – they don’t need to be nervous because we can all achieve something special.

Volunteering at Walsall College has made me part of a family that will never change. I successfully applied to be a Higher Education Student Officer which allows me to be a voice for all Higher Education students.

Throughout school, I have always had student support for my difficulty, but when I applied to do my higher education Level 4 courses my student support was stopped because my condition wasn’t included on the UCAS list. But I didn’t let that stop me because I knew what I wanted to do, and nothing was going to stop me.

In my last two years of education, I started volunteering outside of Walsall College at a Youth Zone in Wolverhampton called The Way. There are lots of different departments with several volunteers and staff, and I volunteer in the art department. The Principal and Vice Principal chose me as the “Overall Adult Student of the Year 2017″ which was a big honour. I also successfully completed my top up degree Level 6 Photography.

2017 was an amazing year for me. Not only did I become Festival of Learning’s Young Adult Learner award winner, I was also nominated for the ‘Adult Student of the Year for Art and Design and Photography’ and “Hi:Ed Student of the Year in Creative Industries” by some of my tutors.

I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without education. It has helped develop my confidence within myself, something which has always been my weakness.

The reason why I want to make those with hidden disabilities feel more visible is because throughout my younger years, I never had someone to look up to. I want to make a stand, and campaign successfully for those students with hidden disabilities.

I have always had a passion to make people happy from a young age, and even when I have a bad day, I know I am showing the younger generation that it is okay to be different. I will say to them: “Don’t be ashamed of your story, you can inspire others. Just because it says ‘hidden’ doesn’t mean we are invisible.”

Taylor Bird, National Young Adult Learner Award Winner 2017