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The Response: What more can Warwick do for the disabled?

The Issue: What more can Warwick do for the disabled?
Disabilities at Warwick

In a previous feature, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Susan Bassnett asked what more can we do for the disabled?

Here is a selection of your responses...

Angela Webdale, Second Year History and Sociology Student

I am a disabled second year History and Sociology student. I use a powered wheelchair for all my mobility as I have a congenital muscle weakness. I agree that Warwick's campus is certainly architecturally pleasing and that it is vastly better than many of its competitors, however, Warwick's campus does provide some physical access challenges.

As a joint degree student I have two departments in two separate buildings. The Humanities building has two lifts, which is very useful as usually at least one is working which allows me to get upstairs as close to the room that I'm aiming for as possible. Humanities also has automatic doors on the corridor outside the Senior Tutor's Office, very helpful, but there are no electric doors anywhere else. The width of the corridors upstairs means that double doors are used, but they are not wide enough for a wheelchair to fit through by only opening one. This means that my Personal Assistant has to struggle to open both doors to allow me to pass or hope that someone else is willing to hold the second door.

The Ramphal Building houses the Sociology Department on the second floor and although it is one of the newer buildings it has only one extremely small lift. This lift has no memory and poor sensors so the doors often close whilst I am getting in or out. This damages my wheelchair and causes bruising to my arms and feet. The lift is also monopolised by able-bodied students and staff, meaning that I often have to wait up to 10 minutes for it, a problem when I need to change quickly between classes.

Lecture theatres such as L4 and L5 in the Engineering building are extremely dangerous for those in wheelchairs. Although attempts have been made to provide space without seating, the space is extremely small and so a wheelchair cannot fit between the desk and the wall behind it. This means that I have to sit at the top of a very steep flight of stairs and take notes without a desk. As a result I could easily be tripped over or misjudge the space and fall down the stairs - very frightening! Most lecture theatres are quite well-adapted, but there is no room for more than one wheelchair and although we are a minority, the number of disabled students is increasing.

There are regular detours that I have to take every day to avoid steps around campus and these reduce my mobility, making quick lecture changes difficult. And I get very wet when it rains.

Dr Hilary Hearnshaw, Centre for Primary Health Care Studies

In response to Professor Bassnett's article on catering for the disabled users of University premises, one immediate suggestion is to co-opt students and staff members, who have such experiences, onto the University Accommodation Committee. It should be remembered, of course, that there is a wide range of disabilities to be catered for and so a number of people with differing experiences may be needed.

A further suggestion is to invite all the University committees to consider whether they have consumers' interests fully available to them. This does not necessarily mean having consumers as committee members, but it does mean at least consulting relevant consumers.

Is it really the case that the University Accommodation Committee had never asked a person with difficulty in walking whether they had suggestions for improvements, until the Chair discovered them for herself?

Jonathan Nicholls, Registrar

In the light of Professor Bassnett's piece on the difficulties that parts of the campus can pose for members of our community with disabilities, I thought that readers of CommUnicate might be interested in recent developments that bear upon the management of our estate to overcome the legacies of the past and to meet our present and future obligations towards the disabled. The University already invests significantly in disabled access. All new projects (and there have been many of these recently!) are constructed to ensure that proper disabled access is provided to meet our legal responsibilities. In addition, many of the significant barriers to access in existing buildings are removed or ameliorated when major refurbishment projects are carried out. And there has been a more modest programme of annual work specifically targeted at other problems that runs alongside these other projects.

Recently, the University commissioned a detailed survey from specialist consultants on the provision of access for the disabled across the residential and non-residential estate. The report identified a considerable and expensive amount of work that could ideally be undertaken. This provided an agenda for a specially-appointed group (including the Disability Co-Ordinator in the Senior Tutor's Office) to establish immediate priorities. A bid has now been made to the HEFCE to release a ring-fenced grant of £565k towards the total costs of these priorities which amount to £750k (the rest of the money is being provided by the University). We have every confidence that the HEFCE's grant will be released. The group, referred to above, anticipates that a significant proportion of the other perceived failings identified in the report can be dealt with by continuing the actions that we already undertake on an annual basis and targeting these very closely to highest need.

While I sympathise with Professor Bassnett's observations about buildings which were often constructed in times less sensitive to the needs of our disabled colleagues, students and visitors, we have an active programme - led by professional advice and expertise - to improve matters and will shortly also benefit from an accelerated programme funded in the ways described. Nonetheless, in an estate as large as ours, we cannot expect to solve all our problems in this regard overnight. We can however respond constructively within the limits of our funding and I hope that this response is making noticeable incremental changes to an environment in which we can all work and study safely and easily.

Val Brodie

I was a volunteer assisting teachers with a party of young teenagers with learning difficulties and multiple physical impairment who visited the Arts Centre in December 2000 for the schools theatre production of The Twits. The Arts Centre staff were very helpful and the show was wonderful. However, I had real difficulty helping students from the minibus to the entrance because of the layout of the parking and disabled access. The disabled parking is on the left as you enter the Arts Centre, near the Butterworth Hall whereas the ramp is way over to the right as you enter and leads up from the direction of Senate House. The ramp is scarcely visible (especially at night) and heads off in the wrong direction. Laid out as it is, the ramp does not help many of the people who need it, get in or out of, the Arts Centre. Can changes be made in the layout to avert this danger and remove this disadvantage?

The Issue: What more can Warwick do for the disabled?