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Are universities doing enough to cater to disabled students?

disabled students
Do more universities need to bolster efforts to be inclusive and cater to disabled students? Source: Shutterstock

In the case of Sarah-Marie Da Silva, a disabled student at the University of Hull, the answer would be a resounding no.

The wheelchair user had no choice but to sit in stairwells during her lectures after the university failed to accommodate her needs, despite raising the issue numerous times, reported The Tab.

She said it’s been humiliating, adding: “I’ve raised it countless times and the only thing they will do is do a room change”.

Her plight went viral after she shared a photograph of herself, taken by her lecturer, on Twitter earlier this month. 

The picture shows her sitting at the back of a lecture theatre as she was unable to get down the stairs or sit with her peers.

The 21-year-old said she was unable to take notes or use equipment to record the lecture because she didn’t have a desk and couldn’t see the screen. 

Speaking to The Independent, Da Silva said since she started in October 2019, she has experienced access issues “in pretty much every building” she has been into on campus – some of them are only three years old.

“Stair lifts are often broken or unusable. In the library, there is a slope to get to the reading room and there is no rail, which is a massive hazard, especially for those with mobility impairments,” she was quoted saying.

The University of Hull has since launched an investigation.

Too little, too late?

According to The Guardian, Dr Anji Gardner, Hull’s Director of Student Services, said: “We’re very sorry that this has happened, clearly it is not acceptable. We take these matters very seriously and are looking into what has happened.

“We are committed to working with our students to put in place any additional support or adjustments where needed. Unfortunately, it is clear this hasn’t happened in this case. We will immediately look into this and ensure that we take necessary steps to make sure this does not happen again.”

While the UK has increased enrolment of disabled students – there are 94,120 disabled students enrolled at university in England in 2017/18, compared to only 26,000 in 2013/14 – support for them remain “inadequate”.

A 2010 NUS UK report found many universities have “traditionally built, inaccessible buildings” preventing students from socialising, being accepted into halls or making them doubt the feasibility of attending university altogether.

Meanwhile, Twitter users have fired up in support of the first-year student.

In response to her Tweet, one user said: “Thank you for this picture. It says so much about the isolation of living with a disability…about what it FEELS like to have accommodations that are only the bare minimum. Thank you.”

Another user said: “That’s awful. I remember those lecture theatres well from 30 years ago and sad to see they’ve done so little in terms of accessibility.”

“Terrible. It’s shocking how many places are not inclusive for disabled people, but it’s especially bad for an institution like a university,” said another.

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