On Monday 19th May 2014, a group of students launched a fundraising campaign in order to enable Thines Ganeshamoorthy, suffering from Osteogenesis Imperfecta, to return to UCL next year. Thanks to more than 200 contributions and 400 shares, our goal of £2,600 was reached in less than one day. The extra money raised will be donated to the Brittle Bone Society to support people like Thines.
After this successful fundraising, we decided to reach larger audiences, raise debates about disabled students with financial problems, who are likely to be affected next year and in the future. In relation to universities, the Rt Hon David Willets’ MP said in his last statement, the government will no longer fund non-specialist help such as note-takers and learning mentors (typically funded for through Disability Student Allowance - DSA). We believe that disabled students should not financially be disadvantaged and no one like Thines should ever go through these problems.
Therefore, we set up our campaign entitled #Disabled Students Justice (#DSJ). Our aim is to promote equality for disabled students' access to education and improve their everyday life situation by providing them with support and care. For example, disabled students have to pay full price for an entry in some nightclubs even though they cannot access the whole nightclub. Another area that needs to be addressed is the lack of height adjustable desks in most libraries at UCL.
So far, we have the support of two student unions, ULU and UCLU who will certainly help us to ensure that the social care aspects of disabled students are raised and not forgotten.
Our campaign will work on two distinct levels - respectively low and high intensity - both looking to achieve different goals in different ways, but ultimately ensuring that disabled students do not become ﬁnancially disadvantaged as a result of their disability and that the social care aspects of disabled students are raised and not dealt with. Our main focus at the moment remains at the low intensity level, but the efforts towards building a network over the summer will work towards this higher intensity campaign likewise.
All university have varying levels of support
structures and access to facilities, therefore we need to respond to each
universities’ case speciﬁcally. Our model for dealing with this is to start off
with collecting information from each university about their speciﬁc needs. We would also need to collect
information and do research on the disabled students and the inequalities they
face. The main information we would be looking for
would be: their condition, what their general experience at university has been
like, issues that they have faced while at university in relation to their
disability, heir suggestions of improvement on issues they have been confronted
From there, building a list of low intensity demands for the student unions to
integrate in the form of a motion. Then, get the union to pass the motion, the
university to respond to the motion passed, and hold them accountable to ensure
Our low intensity demands for UCL are:
1. Equality of Access to Accommodation
- Student Halls of Resident investment
- Ensure that the new halls which are getting constructed instead of the Garden halls have adequate numbers of rooms and accessibility for handicapped people
- If a student needs a carer in order to stay at university then the cost of the carer room should be compensated/paid by the University.
2. Equality of Access to University
- Portable/Fixed ramps in certain places to ensure disabled students can access as much of university as possible.
- Better room allocation for tutorials/seminars: ensure that larger rooms are made available for seminar groups in which a disabled student takes more space than an usual student.
- Cluster of height adjustable desks in all libraries.
- Lecture cast availability in all lecture rooms at UCL and increased encouragement to lecturers to use this facility, so that disabled students can watch lectures from home if need be.
3. Access to welfare, ﬁnancial support
- Increased training for ﬁnancial advisors to advice students with disabilities about what ﬁnance options they have if they need extra ﬁnance in order to pay for things relating to their disability that is not covered already by SFE, University ALF (Access to learning fund), hardship funds.
- Transitional student/staff mentor for disabled students to ensure they settle into university as comfortable as possible.
- Option of transitional program integrated into fresher’s weeks dedicated to allow disabled students to get familiar with campus, route layouts, facilities available to them.
- Dedicated and speciﬁc ﬁre evacuation programs put in place for disabled students as a matter of course as soon as students timetable is available and students to be made aware and carers/note takers/assistants.
4. Equality of Access to University Activities
- For university student night out organised by UCL/respective universities such as Sports night, if disabled students aren’t able to access the entirety of club thenthere should be discussion with club to give half–price entry at the very least.
- More information provided to disabled students in relation to access to clubs and activities which they can take part in, especially during fresher’s fortnight.
It is important to note that this list, though broad, applies more to the case of Thines (disabled person using a wheelchair) and is less ﬁt for other disabilities (dyslexia for example). Hence the importance of getting in touch with other students and professionals in order to obtain more testimonies from different disabilities.
We will join the ﬁght against the Disabled Student's Allowances (DSAs) cut. This will take more classic campaign pathways. Such pathways would be student led protests, mass media and newspapers coverage, and generally raising awareness and bringing attention to how important the DSA is and why cutting it could do more harm than good.
To receive DSA, students must prove they have a disability or long-term health condition, a mental health condition, or a specific learning disability such as dyslexia or dyspraxia.
At present, a disabled student can receive up to £5,161 for specialist equipment (including laptop and assistive technologies); up to £20,520 for nonmedical helpers (such as note takers or scribes); and up to £1,724 for general costs such as travel expenses per year. These amounts are lower for part time students (£15,390 for non medical help and £1,293 for general expenses) and postgraduate students can only receive a single allowance up to £10,260 a year. The exact amount for an individual is agreed through a needs assessment conducted by a specialist staff member in consultation with the student.
In 2013, there were 215,370 disabled students in the UK, which represents 8.6% of all higher education students. However, only a minority (46%) of disabled student receive DSA, and this proportion is even lower for postgraduate students (27% of taught postgraduate disabled students).
NUS’ ‘The Pound In Your Pocket’ further reveals worryingly high level of financial difficulties suffered by disabled students:
·A great majority - 59% -of disabled respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they had worried about not having enough money to meet basic living expenses compared to 47% of non-disabled respondents
·Only 33% agreed or strongly agreed that they were able to concentrate on their studies without worrying about finances compared to45% of non-disabled students
·Only 25% said it was completely clear how much financial supports they would receive prior to starting their course; and 31% find it easy to understand what financial support they are entitled to
·55% have already seriously considered leaving their course compared to35% of non-disabled respondents; among those, 54% reported it was because of financial problem, 36% because of a health problem, and 20% for a disability issue.
In this context, DSA is vital to ensure disabled students’ access to higher education. Indeed, receiving DSA considerably improves disabled students’ experience and success in higher education. A report published by the National Audit Office in 2007 states that “students receiving an allowance are much more likely to continue their course than other students self-declaring a disability”.
ECU 2012 report shows that disabled students receiving DSA are more likely to reach a first or upper class second honours degree than disabled students who do not receive an allowance. At undergraduate level, 62.2% of disabled students who receive DSA reached a first or upper second class honours degree, compared to 60.7% of disabled students not receiving an allowance. However, this proportion remains lower compared to non-disabled students (64% reached a first or 2:1).
These information and numbers were taken from the NUS Briefing on the effect of DSA cuts on Disabled Students. If you would like to read the whole paper, go to: http://uclu.org/sites/uclu.org/files/u84290/documents/dsa_cuts_briefing1.pdf