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University life a stuggle for Disabled students

Only half of universities fully accessible for students with mobility difficulties

Access to higher education is still not up to scratch according to Trailblazers, the national network for young disabled people. The report, University Challenge, shares experiences, guidance and hints and tips to future students, but also revealed that many students are unable to access essential facilities such as lecture theatres and libraries, with institutions also failing to signpost vital information, from details of accessible university accommodation to advice for wheelchair-users on how to navigate campuses.

Trailblazers revisited their investigation into higher education to see if there had been an improvement since the launch of the initial report four years ago. The findings show that some Universities are making improvements and taking steps to improve services to disabled students however many Trailblazers raised serious concerns over the lack of societies and organisations to network disabled students and offer peer support. Local authorities have also been put under the spotlight with young people telling how worries over continuity of social care when moving away from home had heavily influenced where they eventually chose to study.

The report found that:

  • only half of universities audited confirmed that all teaching rooms, study rooms and libraries would be fully accessible for students with mobility difficulties 
  • thirty percent felt limited in where they could choose to study owing to concerns over their care packages 
  • just a quarter of universities audited have considered disabled students when planning Freshers' week information 
  • only a third of universities audited have a society representing disabled students in the student union
  • sixty percent felt there was not enough information for disabled students on university websites regarding accessible accommodation 
  • half of universities questioned said that not all inter-campus transport was accessible

With many disabled students starting their first term at University. Members of the network are calling on universities to ensure they equip disabled students with practical information and support on all aspects of university life, from access routes to lecture theatres to accessible social facilities.

The group also wants the Government to provide clear guidance on transferring care packages to make it easier for young disabled people who want to study outside of their local authority.

Matilda Ibini a recent graduate from East London, who studied at London Metropolitan University, said:
My first year at university was tough. At my lowest, I contemplated dropping out. Information about support was mostly geared towards funding, care and equipment - it completely overlooked disabled students wanting to get stuck in to campus life like everyone else. To make matters worse, I went to my university through clearing and I was so worried about getting the right care and support in place, that I missed out on valuable social opportunities. In fact, it wasn't until my third and final year that I actually felt like part of the university community. Going to university has definitely grown my confidence in my capabilities; it's just such a shame that it took such a long time to get to that point.

Tanvi Vyas, Trailblazers Project Manager said , Flying the nest for university can be daunting for any student. It is really positive that an increasing number of disabled students are entering higher education . However, we continue to hear about how many universities are still missing the mark when it comes to helping people planning on entering higher education - and helping them to complete their time there. 

There are plenty of simple measures that universities can take. Providing inclusive freshers' guides, handy information on accessible transport and buildings and support networks can all make a huge difference to students adapting to campus life. We also need the Government and local authorities to examine the issue of relocating care packages, which continues to be an enormous struggle for many students studying away from home.

  • Date published: 03rd October 2013
  • Written by: Bernadette Griffiths



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