From reading timetables and finding buildings, to knowing where to find subject outlines and good food – navigating the university environment is a challenge. The challenges are even greater for students with illnesses and disabilities, who require different access needs in an environment that was not traditionally created with students like us in mind.
We’re starting this conversation with Living Accessed – a series of posts outlining the lived experiences of students that have different access needs and requirements to create their futures at university.
Sharing lived experience
Last year, I had the wonderful opportunity of speaking at a First Year Experience Forum attended by various staff on the topic of how other students, in collaboration with staff, can assist in the transition of first year students of diverse backgrounds. In particular, I spoke at length about my need for routine to get me through my day, as I depend on others to regularly assist me in everyday tasks such as going to the toilet or helping me lower the ramp for the bus.
Generally, staff were very understanding and I was able to raise the level of awareness on the barriers and challenges wheelchair users regularly face. I was approached later by a staff member who asked how they could assist in making my day easier. I told them it would be a big help for them to stick to routine or to otherwise notify their students with different access needs, with as much notice as possible – this is especially important because we often have to often have to assign more time to travel compared to our abled bodied peers as well as coordinate our supports for the day.
“But everyone has to wake up early, organise their day and travel,” this staff member replied. I later came to realise that without personal experience or a personal relationship to someone with a disability, people aren’t necessarily aware of the lived experience and need for access throughout the disability community.
Fulfilling diverse access requirements for the built environment is an important factor in including diverse communities to learn, grow and have a voice within our institutions. That’s why it is necessary for us to account for, and welcome, diversity and accessibility in our learning and teaching spaces.
In this series, students with disabilities, including myself, will be writing posts to highlight their experiences in getting around university, noting what particular support and/or access requirements were needed, if they were met, the challenges they faced and the improvements that could be made.
Through these entries, we hope to provide some insight into the lived experiences of students with a diverse range of disabilities. We hope that you can relate and empathise with our lives, but also recognise the unique challenges and barriers we face on a daily basis. So keep an eye out for more Living Accessed posts coming soon.
Feature image by: Freepik