Disabled and tyred
The reality of being a disabled student on campus
By Rian-James Hiney
Image courtesy of Chris Hoare via Flickr
Before I was even properly confirmed a place at the university, I was already scoping the campus and advising estates on what could be changed to make the campus more accessible for disabled students, like myself. I was told that I would be the first wheelchair user to live in Hillhead. That was in the summer of 2018, and after 3 years of the same conversations, meetings and empty promises, not much has changed.
Sure, they installed one (1) specialist toilet in the library with a faulty automatic door, which I have been stuck in three times. Not to mention the one flat in Hillhead that has fully automated doors and a specialist toilet which they conveniently put in one of the most expensive options out of the accommodation available. Of course, this was done because I had medical professionals who made it happen rather than just on my own with my own voice because why would they take me, an actual disabled person, seriously?
Last year, I joined the committee of AUSA’s Disabled Students’ Forum, and that’s when I fully realised the full scale of the problem regarding inaccessibility around the entire university experience: the university is willing to let us have our ’say,‘ but will they take everything in and reassess their shortcomings and empty problems? No, of course not. Will they try and talk over and decide what is best for you? Absolutely. Yes, they will.
This isn’t a new experience for me, I have had to deal with this pretty much my whole life but when the institution makes a promise to commit to diversity and inclusion, I thought it would just be more than meetings without seemingly any progress. Now before you start coming back with ’this is a 400 odd-year-old institution, there isn’t a lot they can do on campus as most of the buildings are protected!’ or ’what have YOU done to make the campus more accessible?’ or another old favourite “‘you knew what you were getting into…’ Let me answer this for you. 1) Yes, they can, they have renovated and have added ramps to a lot of old buildings on campus. 2) I am a student. It is not my job to make the campus more accessible on a practical level, of course, I have been doing everything I can to make sure the voices of disabled students are being heard but there is only so far I can go, I have classes to study for. 3) Yes, I knew that the campus was old, but I was hoping the university would welcome a fresh perspective and make the necessary adjustments where they could and take on board our perspectives.
Maybe I was asking for too much but when the university gives the former principal £500k for ’gardening leave,‘ you would hope that they could shell out a few grand for some automatic doors, more accessible toilets, accessible signage that tells you where the accessible entrances actually are instead of going on a wild goose chase to try and get in an and out of buildings (looking at you, Meston) but obviously, that isn’t a priority.
I think that is rather telling of the performative diversity that the university likes to show. I shot a video with the university highlighting the inaccessibility of the campus, for which I was commended for but from what I can tell, nothing has actually been done to improve on the points that I had made.
However, during the course of my studies and university, there have been staff that went above and beyond to help make things better. For example, my personal tutor often helps me plan out my timetable in advance so we can accommodate things like getting across campus so that I can use that one accessible bathroom and helps me with issues such as attendance, exam arrangements and even slightly bends the rules a bit so that uni life is a bit easier for me. So, there is hope for a change in attitude, but it doesn’t go far enough. The ’higher ups‘ of the university need to recognise these issues and address them appropriately. Is the university going to wait until the 425 years passes before they actually do something for the benefit of its’ disabled students?
Some real change that actually makes a difference, so we know that we are no longer just some sort of diversity puppets for the benefit of the university’s ’image.‘ When will we be actually heard? That’s a question I ponder after every meeting I have because one thing is for sure when it comes to the constant self-advocacy, it is that I and my fellow disabled students are TIRED.