SU Candidates: Helen and Rebecca, Disabled Students' Officers

We're nearing the end of campaign week! In the bustling Hallward Café, Helen and Rebecca join me to share their experiences and ideas about the joint role of the Disabled Students' Officer.

People seem to want to know more about the role the Disabled Students' Officer plays so can you explain why you think this role is important in the university?

Helen (H): We think it's important because there’s a lot of variation in disabilities. One person can’t represent it, two people can try to represent it but it’s very tricky for someone who hasn’t come into contact with disabled people to actually understand their experience in university, which is why we think this role is here. We have both lived with a disability and had troubles at university because of it and we think we can try and share what we have learnt and support people as much as possible.

Rebecca (R): The university doesn’t really publicise what disability really means and more people come under the term than you’d expect.

H: There are so many things that can be done to make things easier, and we’re really hoping that we can show people that.

I didn’t know you covered such a wide range of people!

H: [laughs] It’s A LOT of people!

What areas of disability support do you believe need prioritisation?  

H: If we had to pick one then it has to be lecture capture because it can support so many people. Whether you can’t physically get into the lectures, if you’ve got appointments, or are just so exhausted you can’t attend or be mentally present in lectures. Everyone has a hiccup at university, whether disabled or not, and lecture capture will help those people as well.

R: It just improves accessibility for everyone. That’s what we want, we want the university to be as accessible and inclusive to as many people as possible.

On your manifesto it says that you both worked to help improve the accessibility of libraries, can you expand a little on what you did?

R: We got in touch with the alternative formats representative and have had meetings with her regarding how the libraries can be improved for everyone. A lot of people don’t know about the accessible tech rooms in the libraries. There’s something called enhanced library support which, means you can get other people to pick up your library books for you, you can have a one-to-one session with library staff to support you through your learning. A lot of people are eligible for it but don’t actually know.

H: There’s also a blog that’s being written to hopefully address how lecturers can produce their material in more accessible ways and that’s coming from the libraries. We’ve been helping with that. It’s mostly small things that really go a long way.

How do you plan to improve the disability support for Officer holders and newly-arrived freshers?

H: The first thing we want to do is create a resource pack to go onto the SU page. It’s kind of being trialled on there with sports. In addition to this, we also want to create a package that will go out to all students with the support information because we think it’s really important that students are supported from day one. Often for a disabled student, coming to uni is such a culture shock, especially coming to such a big place without friends and family. You might feel all fired up to go but by week two you can feel really shattered and in need of support from the get-go.

R: The other thing we’re looking at is improving Welcome Week. Obviously the club nights and fairs aren’t the most accessible events for students so we want to implement different strategies that could help disabled students. We want to try implementing a queue jump scheme so people don’t have to stand and queue. We’re also planning to set up a voluntary buddy scheme so someone can walk around with you during the welcome fairs. Even if you’re just nervous about freshers, we want to provide you with a friendly face. What’s the other plan?

H: Sensory hour!

R: Oh yes! Certainly last year there were a lot of things going on - music, lights- and this caused a lot of people to have sensory overload so we’d like to encourage the SU to have a low sensory hour in which noise is kept to a minimum.

So Helen, you’re joint Disabled Student Officer this year, what do you feel you’ve achieved so far?  

H: So this year we’ve done quite a lot. We’ve written a constitution, changed the name of the network and the officer, changed the aims - this is all in the SU by-laws. This is actually the first year we’ve been allowed into DSA talks with the university. Myself and my colleague have been to meetings with pro-Vice Chancellors and the support systems of the university and said what students really needed. You can imagine us walking into this room full of Vice Chancellors like oh gosh! On the other side of things, we’ve also been running an accessibility ethos campaign and we wrote a report about more accessible, non-ablest language. It’s been a big bugbear of mine that no society or staff member has had that much accessibility training. But from the report last year, it has now gone into training for all sports staff, clubs, societies, and SU staff. Everyone will now receive accessibility training! Those are just a few things we’ve achieved!

Rebecca, what do you think you will bring to the role?

R: Helen and I get on really well! We’re enthusiastic, efficient and work really well as a team. I just want to bring my happiness and enthusiasm to the role, I’ve got a lot to offer! I’ve also been on a society committee for two years so I know the procedures behind it. I’ve run events and done volunteering. It’s just a great opportunity to bring a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective to help push things forward!

That pretty much answers my last question: why would you make a great team?

H: That’ll be our sheer stubbornness! We don’t give up!

Read their manifesto here: http://www.studentleaderelections.co.uk/manifestos/

Image courtesy of Helen Raynor and Rebecca Drewe

Vote here: http://www.studentleaderelections.co.uk

Edited by Jenine Tudtud