Is the pandemic making studying more inclusive?
In the latest episode of the Disability Download, we heard Amelia and Cassie sharing their experiences. Thines Ganeshamoorthy, whose ‘Try it!’ campaign won the NUS Disabled Students’ Campaign of the Year 2015, reacts to their stories.
Finding new ways to connect
As a recent graduate with disabilities, I empathise with many of Cassie and Amelia’s experiences. One of the issues Cassie highlights is the physical inaccessibility of our campuses. Cassie faced inaccessible lecture halls and seminar rooms. Physical inaccessibility affects not only academic education but hinders the very social element. I would argue that it is as pivotal and vital as the core curriculum.
To that end, the pandemic, in some ways, has acted as a levelling factor. Cassie describes the importance of meeting fellow PhD candidates and networking online. I have experienced this in my current occupation as a civil servant.
While I await surgery, which is postponed due to COVID-19, I have been bedbound. Pre-pandemic, remote working had already been a choice where I work. But in non-pandemic times, it would have left me feeling disconnected and isolated from my colleagues. COVID-19 bought about a new way of working. Everyone became a remote worker. This has meant I have felt more connected and integrated within my workplace.
As Amelia and Cassie discuss, the pandemic has also accelerated accessibility. Universities are addressing accessibility features that disabled students have requested for years. LectureCasts are now standard for all classes. Take-home exams and assessments are more widespread.
These fundamental issues resonate strongly with me. They formed the foundations for my 'Try It!' campaign during my year as UCL Union's Disabled Student's Officer in 2014-15. The campaign explored and highlighted the physical accessibility of the campus. It offered students and staff the opportunity to experience UCL as wheelchair users.
The findings then fed into a short docufilm 'UCL: Access Denied'. The documentary showed, in no uncertain terms, the reality of the challenges on the UCL campus. I am proud to say the campaign went on to win the NUS Disabled Students' Campaign of the Year 2015.
The latest generation of students have picked up the campaign efforts. The Disabled Students Network at UCL looked at commitments made during the campaign. They then gathered input from current students. They are seeking action, accountability, and renewed commitments from UCL's Senior Leadership. They hope to make progress addressing the systematic problems in and around campus. They are looking at issues heightened and highlighted by the pandemic.
What unis must do next
The pandemic has accelerated progress in certain areas, but students need more. Higher education institutions have a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Action is needed to deliver on this.
I believe they can achieve real change through effective and meaningful collaboration. They just need to work with students, staff, and visitors of the institution. By taking all these perspectives into account, they can ensure that the changes made are appropriate. They can also ensure all changes are necessary, correctly implemented, and long-lasting.
Our Speaker Network
Thines volunteers as part of the Leonard Cheshire Speaker Network.
The Speaker Network raises awareness about disability-related issues and Leonard Cheshire.