August Blog - Disabilities Officer image


I’m Zoe your Disabilities Officer. If you have been reading my officer reports, you’ll know parts of what I’ve been working on the past year. This blog just goes into a bit more detail of what’s been happening with your feedback from surveys and focus groups.

Last year I worked together with the VP Welfare and Community to create an Accessibility Report. It all started with a conversation about accessibility on campus and how it could be improved. The VP Welfare and Community and I decided to walk around campus to assess the physical accessibility. We also conducted surveys, focus groups and spoke to many students about their experiences and opinions of how accessible campus is in all forms.

An issue that arose quickly from the walk around was how the emergency pull cords in the universities disabled toilets where always wrapped around things and where also too short. As this was a serious health and safety issue it was put through the Students’ Union Executive Committee immediately. As a direct result, all the emergency pull cords in all the disabled toilets in the University were replaced with longer ones that comply with regulations. The cleaning staff who were found to have been tying them up whilst cleaning where then told about the importance of the emergency pull cords and leaving them hanging free after cleaning. After further meetings, posters are also going to be put up explaining the purpose of the emergency pull cords, as well as constant monitoring of the emergency pull cords that are going to be carried out by the facilities teams within each building, to make sure that the cords hang free, are not damaged and are working.

The Accessibility Report has continued to be worked on by myself, the VP Campaigns and Environment, University staff and Students’ Union Staff with a number of positive outcomes.

During the walk around campus it was noted that there are some long stretches that leave students without a chance to rest on their journey. An example of this is between the Arts Bridge and the library and between Courts 1 and 17. Some benches and wheelchair accessible benches have now been bought and placed in some areas on campus allowing students areas to sit outside. The building of the medical school will also address some of the seating issues as it will have an outside seating area close to the Arts Bridge.

From feedback we got from students, we found that you were not happy with the amount of communication you received about lift, route or general closures around campus. We tried to investigate a method of advanced notification for closed access to routes around campus for students and staff but unfortunately the technology that would be required was just not available. Instead, it was decided that both the Student’s Union and Student Wellbeing should be tagged in any immediate updates on any route, lift or general closures on twitter so these can be shared with students so that they may plan accordingly.

We also received feedback from students that the allotted 10 minutes of time to get to and between lectures can sometimes be a struggle even without a disability. Especially with trains running through the centre of campus. Add in lift closures and having to find an alternative accessible route, sometimes it’s impossible. This is why students with learning support plans, or the new PASS plans have it written in them that it may take them a little extra time to get between lectures and explains this to lecturers. Although, you should always do your best to get to lectures on time!

In a focus group we held, students explained that with the digital screens being used more widely they can sometimes be over stimulating. It was decided that all digital screens and videos will have subtitles added to make them more accessible if they are able to.

Through feedback from students, it was found that the fire alarm in the library was unable to be detected by a person who was hearing impaired or deaf if they were working and not able to be directly notified by staff. Because this was raised, checks were carried out in the library and are now being carried out campus wide to make sure that in the event of a fire everyone is able to be notified by the alarms.

Access to The Swan, either via a ramp or lift, was another thing raised by student feedback. Currently this is an ongoing discussion. Unfortunately, due to the extortionate price of a lift and the leasing agreement of The Swan the lift option has been ruled out. The ramp is still in discussion because of funds at the moment. Another issue that came up from focus groups and student feedback was disabled parking. This is currently ongoing as there are discussions on permits, policing it and the timings of allowing disabled students to park. Before the Accessibility Report there was no real information regarding disabled student parking but there should be soon as a result.

Unfortunately, the outbreak of Covid has pushed a lot of plans that were going to be carried out back whether it be due to funds, social distancing or other government guidelines but these will not be forgotten. Instead these have been labelled as ongoing and are going to be thought about more as funds increase and we start to go back to normal. An example of something that has had to be “put on hold” is disabled access and seats in lecture theatres. The majority of this has to do with building regulations and planning in the building stage. At the moment we have moveable accessible benches in some lecture theatre’s, hopefully in the future we may be able to have permanent benches installed.

Another thing that was discovered on the accessibility walk around was that the water fountains in some buildings are too high to reach if you are in a wheelchair, these are to be regulated and in future a duel height fountain is going to be bought.

Another piece of feedback from students was that the Arts Bridge stairs could become very slippery. After discussion, it was decided that there would be better monitoring of the condition of the Arts Bridge stairs with the cleaning schedule to be stepped up especially when it is wet. It was also assured that the tiles used for the steps are pool tiles so have ample grip.

Further to more student feedback it was found that teaching staff sometimes play videos in lectures that are not accessible. To resolve this it was suggested that teaching staff should ensure subtitles, or a transcript are enabled on all videos shown during teaching, academic guides have now been produced telling lectures what they must do.

Students also highlighted another important issue during a focus group, this was the use of hearing loops. It was found that many lecturers would inadvertently turn hearing loops off, if they were in the room, whilst trying to turn up audio for videos in lectures. There was also no guidance on which rooms had hearing loops. Now, the instruction pack provided in learning spaces includes hearing loop information. There is also a guide to rooms containing hearing loops. This is ongoing but these will be provided to societies as well as lecturers and tutors.

From this report many issues that may not have been thought about have now been highlighted, there are now plans in action for the future and many things have been achieved of which I am extremely proud. It has been decided that the Accessibility Report will continue to be a working document where suggestions and issues will be highlighted in one place to be worked on.

If you would like to make a suggestion or have an issue, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

If you would like to be a part of the Disabilities Campaigns Network group, you can sign up for free on the online shop. If you sign up, you will be invited to take part in focus groups and surveys. You will also receive emails about any events and campaigns that are going to take place.