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How Universities Can be More Accommodating to Disabled Students

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

 

According to the Equality Act (2010), a disability can be defined as an individual who has a physical and/or mental impairment which would have a substantial or long-term impact on their ability to do daily activities. As someone who considers themselves disabled (through having a chronic illness called Lupus), I – like many people who consider themselves disabled too – have found it to be rather difficult to get around my university’s campus. Here are some ways universities (and you) can be more accommodating to students with disabilities 

1. Accessible paths 

This is by far the big one. Currently at Aberdeen university, the campus is not the most accessible for disabled students to go around. For one, cobblestone is a death-trap. Don’t get me wrong – I love cobblestone. I love the aesthetic and the fact they’ve kept such a historic part of the university alive after all these years. But they are an absolute pain. Even for people who are not disabled, they are a nightmare to walk across, especially in the winter. Now we are reaching the harsher seasons, with Aberdeen being pretty cold already, the snow and ice falling around this time is a nuisance and prone for people to slip on. 

Then, there are the thin pavements, making it extremely difficult for more than one person to walk across them at once. This is even worse for wheelchair users who will have to battle against the bustling times when groups of students are walking from building to building. 

Students with disabilities should be shown (before arriving on campus) the best routes for them to take to help them visualise the campus better. Universities should provide better signs and marked routes without any potential hazards, such as wires and construction. This would especially help for example, those in wheelchairs or individuals who are blind get around easier and more safely.  

2. More training 

Currently, I have provisions set in place from the Disability service at the university. I am thankful for this – where I’ve had provisions set in place from school since I was 14 – which are very accommodating to my fatigue and concentration problems. The fact all my exams were in the Macrobert building which had lifts was also useful and I imagine the ramp would also be beneficial to those in wheelchairs. 

However, I do think more training needs to be done. There are a lot of students with disabilities, whether they are visible or invisible. The Disability Service has always been understaffed (which obviously isn’t there fault), but it does mean they often take a while to reply to concerns to the point I don’t really contact them anymore. I think having more specialists could be particularly helpful, or (although it seems like a lot to ask), setting up a 24/7 helpline for students with disabilities could be particularly welcoming, especially in accommodation which would benefit the lack of adaptive housing. 

3. Access to buildings 

When you have a disability, it may be difficult for you to open heavier doors. I, for one, find them hard because I experience a lot of muscle and joint pain, making it difficult for me to open doors which are heavier. It is also even harder for people in wheelchairs, who first, may not be able to reach the handle in the first place to open the door.  

There should be more accessible doors on campus where if there must be a heavy door, or just any door, is low enough to allow them to get through the door, be able to use a button to let them in, or their Student ID. This is a lot friendlier to our community.  

4. Less stairs, more lifts 

We then move on to the lack of lifts many buildings have. On our campus, the buildings have many stairs and windy, narrow corridors which also makes it difficult to walk through. The lack of lifts in so many buildings can be a nightmare for people with disabilities, especially if you are in a wheelchair. Even around campus, people in wheelchairs will have to take a longer route to get from building to building (watch this video on how a wheelchair user gets from Macrobert to William Guild) because there are stairs absolutely everywhere and not enough ramps or smooth paths to get there (shoutout to even more cobblestone!) 

There really should be more accessible routes for students with disabilities. Taking the cobblestone out of the equation, it is ridiculous the routes people in wheelchairs have to take to get from one building to the other because there are no ramps. Many buildings also do not have lifts, which is not accommodating at all as many of us get tired after a small flight of stairs. More lifts and ramps should therefore be put in place so it is easier for us to get around campus and within buildings. 

5. Not all disabilities are visible 

Remember there are different types of disabilities. You do not have to be in a wheelchair to be disabled. Someone who is disabled finds tasks an abled body can do, difficult. For example, getting dressed, walking and eating. It must also be remembered many disabilities are invisible. I, for one, have an invisible disability (and illness). You cannot see my difficulties because they are not clear and obvious, but I have one and I find a lot of daily tasks invisible. It is important to take this into account when you are with people like me, because it can make our lives a lot easier just for you to consider things as simple as walking slower.  

These are just five things in which disabled people find difficult to do around campus and how universities can be more accommodating towards our community.  

Fourth year Business Management and Psychology student
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