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Opening Doors: Improving Campus Life for students with disabilities

Angela

Originally Published 24 February 2003

There are currently 659 students with disabilities studying at Warwick. This figure includes students with diabetes, epilepsy and severe asthma, as well as mental ill health, and students with visual, hearing and mobility impairments. 171 of these students are dyslexic.

To ensure the best possible learning experience for all students and to improve the quality of life on campus for all users, the University offers or facilitates a variety of support for the increasing numbers of students with disabilities. This ranges from personal care by Community Service Volunteers, to note-takers and readers, who are recruited from amongst the student body. There are 11 Community Service Volunteers on campus this year, who are usually gap year students, or young people from overseas. The volunteers live in rooms adjoining the student they assist, and while on campus they are given access to most of the services that are available to our students.

Last October, the University employed a dyslexia support tutor. This has proved a popular service ? students can now access a tutor on the campus, rather than travelling to the Dyslexia Institute in Coventry.

This provision came about as a result of feedback from prospective students who turned down an offer of a place at Warwick last year. The 135 students who rejected their offer were contacted and asked if they could tell us why, in an attempt to assess whether decisions were made on the basis of our disability provision, and whether any improvements could be made. As a result of the feedback, we now produce a separate information leaflet for dyslexic students which is now sent to all prospective students with dyslexia.

The undergraduate prospectus is now available in braille, and there are plans to produce the postgraduate prospectus in alternative formats. Increasingly, students are requesting information on floppy disk, which they can access using their own PC and software. The University's Disability Statement is available in braille, large print and on audiocassette.

Last summer, all first year students with disabilities were asked for their opinions on all aspects of University life, from the admissions stage onwards. Most students reported a very positive experience of the University. Many good points were made about possible improvements, and these have been acted upon.

All current students with disabilities are registered in a database, enabling targeted information distribution and notification about important events such as the recent fire strikes, during which mobile phones were allocated to ensure student safety.

Students have been increasingly involved in decision-making and awareness-raising. Angela Webdale, the Students with Disabilities Officer from the Students' Union, has been very active this year and has brought about several improvements after meetings with departments. Magnification software will soon be centrally provided for the visually impaired, and current students have been involved in testing suitable programs. IT Services have been put in touch with visually impaired students to give advice on web accessibility, and Hospitality Services have requested interviews with disabled students as part of their staff training programme.

Consultation with students has also been valuable as part of the Disability Access Audit. The Higher Education Funding Council has awarded the University £500,000 to improve physical access to the site for disabled staff, students and visitors with disabilities. This award has contributed to an on-going plan of alterations to the campus, which will encompass far more than just ramps and automatic doors. The Audit draws attention to a wide range of issues to be tackled which, as changes are implemented over time, should make the campus one of the most accessible in the country.

A positive student experience relies on a number of different factors, and a physically accessible campus is only one part of this. The University Disability Statement commits us to ensuring that no student is disadvantaged in their programme of study by disability, which requires awareness and understanding on the part of the whole campus community.

If you would like to know more about work being undertaken in this area, please contact Claire Graham, Disability Co-ordinator, ext 73734, email Claire.Graham@warwick.ac.uk