A significant proportion of disabled students are being told by university staff that their access needs are a nuisance or unreasonable, or even that they are trying to cheat the system by asking for adjustments, according to a groundbreaking survey.
One in five (20 per cent) of the disabled students who took part in the survey said they believed they had faced disability discrimination by their university.
The first Annual Disabled Student Survey is the largest ever carried out into university accessibility, with more than 1,300 responses from disabled students.
Analysis of the responses was published this week by Disabled Students UK (DSUK) in its Access Insights Report 2023.
Among the findings, the report says only one-third of disabled students (36 per cent) said all the adjustments agreed for them by their university were put in place.
But of those who felt they had received sufficient information about the possible adjustments that could help them, and who had not had a requested adjustment rejected, and had all the agreed adjustments put in place, 85 per cent reported having all the support they needed at university.
Among the reasons given by university staff for rejecting an adjustment, 33 per cent of students who had support rejected were told the adjustment would not be fair to other students, and 25 per cent were told they did not really need the adjustment.
Only a third of students with mobility impairments (36 per cent) said their university campus was accessible, while half of disabled students believed they had received a lower mark due to an inaccessible assessment.
Although 65 per cent of students reported that a staff member had stated or implied that it was ok to need support, more than one in four (26 per cent) reported having been made to feel unwelcome by staff at their university due to their impairment.
More than two-fifths (43 per cent) of those with a mobility impairment had felt isolated by the adjustments that were made for them, such as being made to use a separate entrance or sit apart from their fellow students.
More than one in five (22 per cent) said they believed staff members had stated or implied that their accessibility needs were a nuisance or unreasonable, and more than one in seven (15 per cent) said staff members had stated or implied that they were trying to “cheat the system” by asking for adjustments.
One student told DSUK: “I wonder why it is so incredibly challenging for institutions to be inclusive.
“I worry about the long-term impact feeling like an after-thought in a field I have worked for so many years to sit within, will have on my happiness.”
Only one student in 10 said they believed that those staff members who worked to make their university accessible had enough resources to do so.
One student said: “The University needs to speak to disabled students and stop silencing or ignoring us when we make our concerns known.
“I was part of a group that wrote an access report to the university detailing everything that is unacceptable and needs improvement.
“It’s been about 2/3 years now and I’ve seen very very little change. They created working groups from this but it was clear they didn’t actually want to change.”
Among the report’s recommendations are for disability advisors to have the time and knowledge to be able to give the right advice to disabled students who ask for support, and for university disability services to provide support that is tailored to each individual student, rather than providing “tick box adjustments”.
The report also calls for disability services to have a “clearly signposted process of appeal”, so disabled students who have an adjustment rejected have somewhere to turn.
Mette Anwar-Westander, founder and chief executive of Disabled Students UK, said it had become clear over the years how the views of disabled students have been overlooked.
She said: “With conventional routes being unsuccessful, we knew we needed to build a way for disabled students’ voices to be heard, systematically and in large numbers.”
DSUK started building the survey two years ago, working with university accessibility staff and consultants, although it stressed that the survey was written by disabled students, for disabled students.
It was designed to map disabled students’ experiences of university accessibility over a 10- year period, allowing DSUK to “find solutions and track progress over time”.
Picture: Sarah-Marie Da Silva, who was forced to sit alone at the back of a university lecture theatre – segregated from fellow students – in February 2020
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