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Are universities failing disabled students?

16th September 2009

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Students with disabilities are not being adequately catered for at university, a study by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign suggests.

A nationwide network of 16-30-year-olds, named Trailblazers, carried out extensive undercover research to provide the information for a guidebook for students with disabilities. Trailblazers is part of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, who hope to eradicate social injustices for those living with dehabilitating conditions.

While researching the guidebook, they discovered some disturbing facts about university life for disabled students. Despite the Government stating on their website that they “ensure buildings and facilities are accessible”, the research found that one in ten disabled students will not have accessible accommodation or dining facilities, which are part of mainstream university life.

Although all eight universities surveyed had accessible accommodation in their halls of residence for the majority of students needing assistance, none could say that every building’s had at least one accessible toilet with a hoist. Five of the eight also had no disabled union group or society, which is a vital part of student interaction.

One of the researchers; Lauren West, 18, from Cardiff, said: “Universities need to understand how to make it easier for disabled students to have the same great experience as any other student - attending university is one of the biggest decisions anyone makes. I knew that because of my disability, I would have less choice and it would take longer, and a lot more planning for me to decide on the right university. That doesn’t even include the extra struggle to get all of the care arrangements in place”. 

The study also concluded that 33% of campus transport is not accessible to disabled students, and one in ten universities admit they do not have good links with local care agencies and support services.

Phillip Butcher, of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said: “Every student has the right to make their choices of university based on academic and social concerns rather than because of the practical facilities available. It is vital to ensure all students have access to the same opportunities”.

In response to the results of the investigation, a spokeswoman for the assembly government said, “The assembly government regards it as critically important that our educational institutions fully respond to the needs of all learners including disabled learners.”

She added: “The assembly government will nevertheless seriously consider the findings of the report in formulating its new higher education strategy, action plan and targets for the sector. The newly-appointed Disability Equality Expert Advisory Group, chaired by Social Justice Minister Dr Brian Gibbons will also be examining this issue”. 

Twenty three year old Trailblazer Joe Manning, said; “I think the question of integration is key – you don’t just want a university that is accessible, you want one where you are integrated into the university life.”


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