As most of the readers of this blog will know, I am currently working my way towards a joint honours degree at Brunel University London. Now, while I promised myself I’d try not to put university issues and discussions on here, I just thought I’d give my view on a recent disability seminar held at Brunel.
First up, Credit to Ash, the 1st year law student whose idea the seminar was, for fighting to bring this to fruition. Her personal story really struck a chord with me as her outlook was similar to mine in that “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” attitude instilled in both of us by our parents, the very same attitude which is the ethos of #invinciblewomanonwheels.
Now, while there were many eye-opening stories told by speakers at the event, the most eye-opening aspect for me was the response of university management figures, both speakers and audience members, to disabled students and the issues raised. One example of how little, I believe, Brunel properly engages with its disabled students was when Sean, one of the speakers and Brunel’s Disability Officer, was introduced as member of Brunel’s champion wheelchair basketball team (of which I am also a member), but we are not yet champions, and while it’s nice to think about being champions, I can’t help but think the introduction would have been accurate if they’d have been introducing a member of an able-bodied Brunel sports team.
The issue was also raised that some students who are wheelchair users couldn’t access the lift for the upper levels of one of the university buildings due to it being too small (the John Crank building for those of you at Brunel) This luckily is not a problem for me. One of the speakers at the event questioned whether it was financially worth making the necessary changes to the lift to allow all students to access it, and given that I take all my exams in the computer rooms in the upper levels of that building, I interpreted this question as questioning whether me getting to my exams (and therefore completing my degree!) is worth financial investment from the university, and that made it feel as if the university were prioritising finances over the experience of disabled students.
An audience member, who identified himself as a Brunel staff member, stated that is was worth supporting disabled students and the accommodations they require because, if disabled students don’t choose Brunel as their university due to lack of disability support, the university will lose £9,250 per year per student in tuition fees! Statements like these seem quite narrow minded to me because, as well as losing money if they alienate disabled students, the university seems to forget they’ll also lose excellent students. I hope I’m worth more to this university than the money I give them and, as I said on the night of the event, I’m not a cash cow!
A question was posed to one of Brunel’s disability advisors about the state of funding for the university’s Disability & Dyslexia, this question began with the statement “I know you’re going to say it’s underfunded” which begs the question, if you know the service is underfunded, why not shift funding away from less key aspects of the university and fund the service so it can work more effectively?!. This seems to be another example of Brunel’s “it’s a problem but not my problem” attitude towards disability issues at the university.
So, while it’s good that disability is finally being discussed at Brunel, there is still work to be done and I hope this post highlights some of the areas that can be improved so that Brunel can help me continue to be the #invinciblewomanonwheels.