Ever since my son Aaron was born in 2004 with cerebral palsy, I have had to fight his corner but the biggest fight has been for his education. When Aaron was five I began a long court battle with my local authority, challenging their decision not to send my son to the school I felt was best for him. It was a gruelling time in my life, a long and arduous battle I mainly fought alone. A year and a half later I had my week in court. I was grilled by a lawyer and had to listen to numerous witnesses most of whom were not on my side but I won. A court order was issued requiring the Council to send Aaron to The Craighalbert Centre which caters for children with cerebral palsy. When I left court l was too frazzled to feel triumphant. I just knew I never wanted to go through it again.
Aaron spent two happy years at the school and settled in well. He thrived in its challenging environment, made lots of new friends and formed bonds with his teachers. Then, in the middle of 2012, the Council told me that they wanted to take Aaron out of his school. After fighting so hard to get him there it was devastating news.
Things came to a head in September 2012 after a difficult school meeting where the Educational Psychologist remained determined that Aaron should be removed from the school he loved as soon as possible. The Court Order was due to run out so the pressure was rising. I felt frustrated that my opinions and those of his school had fallen on deaf ears, and I dreaded the thought going through another lengthy legal battle. I had done it once, but I really didn't think I could go through it all again.
The following Sunday afternoon, armed only with a laptop and a glass of wine, I decided enough was enough. I went onto Change.org and began to type. I shared my petition with people on Facebook I thought would be most likely to sign and share my petition. I'm not really sure what I thought was going to come of it all but I wanted, at the very least to make what the council was doing public and make it uncomfortable for them.
I never thought in my wildest dreams that the petition would take off the way it did.
By Monday I had almost 1000 signatures. I remember thinking as I watched the numbers go up, "Wouldn't it be great if I got 200 signatures?" then, "Wouldn't it be great if I got 500?" and then I allowed myself to dare to think that I might hit the 1000 mark.
On Tuesday, less than 48 hours after I started the petition, I got a call from a reporter from STV who wanted to put my story on the evening news. By Thursday of that week I had two national newspapers interested. The petition had gathered 4000 signatures, had been signed by Irvine Welsh and was retweeted by Joan Collins.
That same day, a senior council official contacted me and agreed to allow Aaron to stay in his school for the rest of his primary education. I was amazed and delighted at how quickly I had seen a result, but there was a problem. The Council were no longer going to pay my son's transport costs to and from the school. This would have, in effect, still prevented Aaron from being able to attend his school, so I updated the petition and added a new title. "Reimburse My Son's Transport Costs So That He Can Stay In His School." I pushed the petition again, explaining to people what had happened.
Just under two weeks after starting my petition, I walked into a meeting with a council official with nearly 7000 signatures. It was agreed that the Council would continue to pay Aaron's transport costs.
Something which had previously taken a year and a half to achieve through legislative procedures, had been accomplished in less than two weeks through the internet and social media. This time, when I fought the battle, I didn't feel alone, I felt like I had a whole army of supporters. It was an incredible feeling.
I would never have considered myself to be campaigner or activist. I was just a mum with a problem and a laptop. Websites like Change.org have made it possible to get a campaign out there and reach a huge amount of people. I was blown away by how many people genuinely cared about what happened to my son. People I had never met before contacted me and offered to help. I have also made some new friends along the way - fellow "campaigners" (I certainly am one now!) - parents who have gone through similar situations, and interesting people who struck up conversations with me on Facebook after seeing my petition. I think that my petition has inspired a lot of people because it showed them how ordinary people can come together to make a big change. I cannot take the credit for winning my campaign. I asked a question; a small, public request for help and people answered. For that I am extremely grateful.
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