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How far have we come?

Estates Accessibility Officer in house

Jenny Wheeler Estates Accessibility Officer

Jenny Wheeler Estates Accessibility Officer

Estates have employed Jenny Wheeler, Estates Accessibility Officer, as a dedicated resource for accessibility since November 2017. This in-house expertise has had a tremendous impact on the way Estates looks at accessibility and inclusion, ensuring that these are considered and implemented throughout the whole spectrum of Estates business from planned capital development through to reactive maintenance. We are aware of three Russell Group Universities including Warwick that have an Accessibility Officer position and Warwick was the first of them to have Accessibility in-house within Estates. This means that the Accessibility Officer can provide accessibility advice within the context of the University, meaning the advice is tailored to the unique and often challenging University environment. It is not always possible to get the same approach and specialism using an external consultant.

Alongside the regular input into works across campus, there has been a significant improvement in training and awareness for Estates and other University Staff around accessibility issues. From dedicated toolbox talks for maintenance and “Accessibility Moments” at every project team away day, to the very popular “Wheelchair Challenge” which encompasses awareness of various disabilities along with experience of accessing facilities using a wheelchair, teams are beginning to understand why accessibility is so important and how an inclusive design approach from an early stage benefits not just the end-users but the project process itself. External consultants are also taking away lessons learnt from working with the University of Warwick Estates Accessibility Officer and implementing them into projects across the country, thereby also improving accessibility outside the University.

Changing Places Facilities

Jenny showing Provost Chris Ennew how the hoist works in one of the Sports Hub Changing Places

Jenny showing Provost Chris Ennew how the hoist works in one of the Sports and Wellness Hub Changing Places, as part of Changing Places Awareness Day 2019

The University has already installed 2 Changing Places facilities in the Sports and Wellness Hub, a smaller Space to Change in the Mathematical Sciences Building with a wash & dry toilet and has 3 more under construction within new buildings to be completed by 2021 (IBRB, Warwick Arts Centre and Faculty of Arts). Across the whole country in 2019, there were only 18 Changing Places registered in pubs and restaurants. Warwick is leading the way by having 6 Changing Places facilities across our campuses and is one of only a few Universities to have any, promoting independence and choice for disabled people with complex needs. These facilities also give those students the option to live off-campus if they wish as there are now suitable toilet facilities available on campus with hoists, changing benches and other equipment required to simply use a toilet. Previously students who needed these facilities would only be able to access the toilet in their own bedroom on campus.

Supporting Disabled Students: The Radio Revolution

The University has also expanded their current University radio system to develop an all-around support system for disabled students and staff with an identified need. By expanding existing radio infrastructure that already included areas such as Security and Estates, the familiarity of the system is exploited to apply it to personal safety and disability support. This has developed into a flexible solution to multiple problems encountered with standalone systems, providing safety and reassurance to people in locations across campus with the various applications.

Collaborating with disabled people including Jenny, the University has expanded the initial personal radio pilot in 2017 to include radio-based installations in student bedrooms such as epilepsy alarms, pull cord and pendant assistance systems. The radio-based initiatives have been led by Richard Field, Estates Life Safety Communications Supervisor, who has worked with Jenny and the University radio supplier DTS Solutions to develop these bespoke applications. There is also a larger project in progress to expand the applications beyond personal users and accommodation installations - watch this space.

There are now 13 Disability Support Personal Safety Alarm users (both disabled staff and students) as well as 5 Epilepsy Alarms with bed seizure detection. We anticipate this number to continue to grow as personal radios are supplied to individuals with an identified need. The personal radios have standard communication abilities (PTT) as well as an emergency panic mode, with automatic “hot-mic” and the option of remote microphone activation via TRBOnet software in the Security Control Room. The radios are GPS tracked up to every 7.5 seconds, providing location coverage across all 4 campuses. Bluetooth beacons have also been deployed within key areas for these individuals, allowing Security to establish their indoor location in case of emergency.

The impact of the radio-based initiatives is already being measured in lives saved, disabled students who have completed their degree and graduated despite significant health challenges, students who have stayed on as University staff due to the accessible and supportive environment, as well as more users of the applications every year, each with their own individual challenges and requirements. Every individual Disability Support user is a distinct challenge to solve with a unique set of requirements. Most have a life-threatening or urgent need to get assistance quickly where for some there may not be time to dial a number, give a name, location and details of the help required. The radio-based solutions give all of this information automatically, saving precious time and is fully customisable.

The system can also generate customisable SMS and emails, for example a text to carers to inform them a panic button has been activated on campus including a map with the individual’s location. Therefore, even if the carer is off-site, they are informed immediately of an incident, know where to come to and can liaise with Security to provide assistance.

One user of the radio system said: "I am now able to work full-time and have reduced the number of carers I need because the system provides reassurance and promotes my independence. Despite carer recruitment gaps over the past few months, I know that I can still come to campus and be safe thanks to my radio. This has kept me in work and out of hospital. I was the first student to be supplied a radio in my final year and have kept it as a staff member. The radio gave me reassurance that I could be independent on campus despite rapidly deteriorating health and now I do not need carers to accompany me everywhere. One very cold November night last year stands out as when my wheelchair broke down on a remote part of campus and I collapsed whilst trying to fix it, if I had not activated my panic button, directing Security to my GPS location, I would not be here today. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that I owe my life and quality of life to the radio system."

Left to right Richard, Jenny and George smiling

Left to right: Richard Field, Estates Life Safety Communications Supervisor; Jenny Wheeler, Estates Accessibility Officer; George Saxon, (then) Campus Security Systems Manager all smiling after hearing about the awards.

We look forward to seeing what unique challenges this application of the radio system can solve next!

Purple background, listing of nominees for awards including UOW and Dubai PoliceThe University was also shortlisted for the Business Disability Forum's Disability Smart Technology for All Award 2019. This time the nomination focused on the applications of the radio system to support disabled people.

[Image description - 2019 Disability Smart Awards. The nominees for Technology for All Award 2019 are... Dubai Police and University of Warwick.]

 At the awards evening, Paralympian Stef Reid introduced the two finalists: "Our second finalist is the University of Warwick, for creating an all-round support system for disabled students and staff, by expanding the current university radio system. Now you will notice that there were only two finalists in this category, that's because the judges were very specific in terms of what they were looking for. And it had to be a technology that is open and accessible to everyone and which had real potential and goes well beyond what they have to do by law or regulation. Now the judges thought that the University of Warwick had created something that really did have wider potential and could be picked out by other universities and they could follow as well. So they are very worthy finalists."

Whilst Dubai Police were the eventual winners, the University is very proud of the hard work the Jenny and Richard et al. have put into developing applications of the radio system that were inspiring to others and thoroughly deserving of a spot as a finalist against household names and international competition.

AUDE University Impact Initiative of the Year Award Winner 2020

We were delighted that the Estates Accessibility and Inclusion initiatives, including “Supporting Disabled Students: The Radio Revolution” are the winner of the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE)'s University Impact Initiative of the Year Award 2020. Congratulations to Jenny Wheeler, Estates Accessibility Officer and Richard Field, Estates Life Safety Communications Supervisor for all their hard work behind these initiatives.

Winner banner AUDE Awards 2020

AUDE University Impact Initiative of the Year Award Winner 2020

The AUDE awards judges were struck by how much of the work Warwick have undertaken could be easily lifted and adapted for use in other universities, and also how the benefits of the work at Warwick are rippling out beyond campus.

Stephen Wells, AUDE Chair (2020) and Director of Estates at the University of Sussex, and an awards judge, said: “Warwick is a step ahead of most of us in thinking about the issue of safe and accessible campuses and the level of support they can now offer to disabled staff and students is impressive. As judges we were very convinced by the impact of the work that has been undertaken and grateful for the collegiate spirit Warwick have shown in their readiness to share ideas in this area.”

University of Warwick Director of Estates James Breckon said: “The impact of recognising a specific role within the department in support of our overall inclusion strategy across the University has been dramatic. With the appointment of Jenny into that role she has transformed our approach to ensure that accessibility and inclusion for everyone is considered across all our facilities and buildings. Jenny and her influence across the Estates teams both in the project and maintenance areas, has enabled people to be supported whilst at Warwick, making their experience both enjoyable and memorable. It is also very pleasing to see that Jenny and her colleagues have shared this new way of working across the sector and wider construction industry through active participation in national conferences, debates and discussion. I know at Warwick, the Estates teams work tirelessly on caring and creating for spaces that inspire excellence, and it gives me great pleasure in the fact that this team have been recognised for the brilliant work that they do.”

Accessibility Updates

The Accessibility Updates page contains important updates that may affect accessibility at the University of Warwick, e.g. building works, lifts out of service, accessible parking updates etc. as well as good news stories. News items are uploaded to alert campus users to planned works and expire after works are completed. People can subscribe to Accessibility Updates notifications via email, follow this Notify link or directly from the webpages.

This information was introduced with a desire to move towards real-time accessibility information of campus. Whilst for now this still relies heavily on human input, it is hoped that in the future there is scope to move away from the human input and automate updates. Watch this space.

Sunflower Lanyards

The University is proud to support the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower for people with hidden disabilities. Wearing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is a discreet way to choose to make the invisible visible. It discreetly indicates to people that the wearer may need additional support, help or a little more time.

The Sunflower Lanyards are bright green and decorated with a sunflower design

Sunflower Lanyards are bright green and decorated with a sunflower design (Photo credit: RNIB)

More information can be found on the dedicated Sunflower Lanyard Scheme Warwick webpage.

Disability Framework (workplace adjustments)

The Disability Framework is a guide on implementing workplace adjustments (also called reasonable adjustments).

The guide has been produced to assist managers in supporting employees who declare a disability or illness and require some adjustments to their working location or pattern. Completion of the Disability Framework with a current line manager/HR adviser minimises the need for employees to re-negotiate adjustments every time roles are changed within the University or new line managers are assigned.

Find the full guide on the Disability Framework webpage.

Disability Taskforce

The Disability Taskforce champions disability, accessibility, and inclusion and aims to raise awareness across the institution. The Taskforce reports directly to the Social Inclusion Committee and the Disability Standard Steering Group and plays an important role in supporting the University with the development and implementation of strategic objectives relating to disability. It also provides a platform for informed and considered discussions with staff and students on disability-related matters.

Disability Strategy Statement

Warwick’s 2030 Strategy ‘Excellence With Purpose’ establishes inclusion as one of four priorities for our aim to be one of the world’s exceptional universities, helping to transform our region, country, and world for the collective good. Our work on disability equality and accessibility is integral to this.

Our Disability Strategy Statement outlines the work we’ve been undertaking on disability equality and accessibility, and our promise to continue to work to improve in this area.

Disability Standard Steering Group

The Disability Standard is a whole-organisation disability management audit developed by Business Disability Forum to help organisations measure and improve on performance for disabled customers, clients or service users, employees, and stakeholders.

This work is overseen by the Disability Standard Steering Group whose purpose is to:

  • Ensure disabled people’s perspectives are provided to the University on a range of issues relating directly to disability.
  • Recommend courses of action to the University that support the employment of disabled people.
  • Promote and improve understanding of disability issues that affect disabled people.
  • Assist in bringing about positive changes for all those concerned in an interdependent way.

Learn more about the Disability Standard and the Steering Group here.

Website Accessibility

In line with our strategic commitment to being an inclusive organisation, and in accordance with the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations, we have been improving our processes and provision of online services. We commissioned independent audits from Jisc and AbilityNet to shape our priorities and during 2020 we have been resolving barriers to users. We provide an Accessibility Statement and have been raising awareness amongst content authors and system owners. We have a parallel programme of development around our digital learning platforms and provision. Accessibility is core to our ongoing approach to digital services. Find out more about Digital Accessibility at the University of Warwick.

Creating webpages? Check out this helpful accessible web pages checklist from IT Services.

Library Accessibility

The Library has a range of services and facilities to support students with disabilities or learning differences whilst studying at Warwick. They have a dedicated Library Disability Support Officer, Laura Waller, who can provide individual advice on how to use the Library and signpost to further support. A wealth of information about the services and facilities can be found on the dedicated Library Accessibility Pages.

Accommodation Accessibility

Accessibility of Accommodation

Students who have specific accommodation requirements as a result of a disability, mental health or medical condition can be considered for on campus accommodation, often for the duration of their course. The Wellbeing Support Services Team support them to access appropriate on campus accommodation, including:

  • An ensuite room.
  • A room in a quieter area.
  • A fridge in a room to store medication or for other disability-related purposes.
  • A room in a flat with automatic doors.
  • A room with level access facilities including wet rooms.
  • A room with an accessible kitchen.
  • A room with grab rails or other minor adaptations.
  • A room with a hoist, wash & dry toilet (e.g. Geberit or Clos-o-mat) or other major adaptations.
  • A room with a flashing beacon (VAD) and a vibrating pillow, e.g. for hearing impairment.
  • A room with an emergency alarm system.
  • A flat with an Assistance Dog Spending Facility nearby.
  • Additional rooms in the same flat can be also allocated to personal carers if required.

Due to the variety of ages of accommodation, some halls of residence have a greater provision of accessible rooms and adaptations than others. There is a variety of adaptation types across the majority of halls of residence, with more modern halls having a greater provision of enhanced accessible features such as hoists.

Prospective disabled students are encouraged to discuss their requirements with Wellbeing Support Services as soon as possible to allow discussions and/or visits (as appropriate) to be made to find the most suitable room on campus. This is particularly the case if major adaptations e.g. hoists or carers rooms are required.

New Enhanced Accessible Suite

Over the Summer Vacation (2020), the University adapted a suite of rooms to create accommodation for a disabled student and their carers, within an existing flat, that catered for complex requirements due to the student's health condition and disability. Specialist bathroom equipment, full room coverage hoist (bedroom and bathroom) and bespoke electrical solutions were installed to ensure the safety of the student and provide an accessible and independent living space for them and their carers. This included battery backed up sockets for life-critical equipment linked to an alarm system that communicates with Security via the award-winning University Radio System. We are proud to have added this new Enhanced Accessible Suite to our accommodation stock so that other students in the future with similar needs will also be able to enjoy the opportunity to independently and safely study at Warwick.

En suite Subsidy

The University offers assistance in the form of a subsidy to students who require en suite on campus accommodation, where the en suite provision is required solely as a result of a disability. For further information please see the contact Wellbeing Support Services.

Disabled Staff Network

The University recognises the power of Staff Networks, these groups provide an opportunity for staff to connect, socialise, support one another, and discuss issues of relevance to their communities.

Staff Networks are run by and for the members, with administrative support from the ED&I team. We aim for each Staff Network to be led by a Chair, the key intention behind this role being to embed ownership of the Network within the membership and take a lead on the development of the Network.

For more information on the network and how to get involved, visit the dedicated Disabled Staff Network page.

SU Disabled Students' Officer and Warwick Enable

The Students' Union have their own Disabled Students' Officer, who is a student Part-Time Officer elected every year, as well as Warwick Enable, the disability liberation and campaigning society. They are a society for disabled students, friends, allies and carers or enablers and membership is free to all. They also run a Buddy Scheme for disabled students.