Accessibility Initiatives - Recent Successes
We are delighted to announce 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 of their hard work behind these initiatives.
[Image description - WINNER AUDE University Impact Initiative of the Year Award. AUDE 2020 The Awards. Excellence in estates and facilities.]
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.”
Speaking on behalf of the Warwick team, 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. So congratulations Jenny and her other colleagues involved in this initiative, it is very much deserved.”
Estates have had 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.
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.
The University has already installed 2 Changing Places facilities and has 3 more under construction within new buildings to be completed by 2021. Across the whole country, there are only 18 in bars and restaurants and Warwick is one of a few Universities to have any, promoting independence and choice for disabled people with complex needs. This also gives those students the option to live off-campus as there are suitable toilet facilities available on campus with hoists, changing benches and other equipment required to simply use a toilet.
[Image description - 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 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.
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."
The 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.
[Image description - Left to right: Richard Field, Estates Life Safety Communications Supervisor; Jenny Wheeler, Estates Accessibility Officer; George Saxon, Campus Security Systems Manager all smiling after hearing about the awards.]
Whilst the AUDE Awards Evening itself was postponed, we look forward to Jenny and Richard receiving the award soon and to see how the initiatives continue to be implemented across the University.
15th April 2020
More details on the winners' stories from the 2020 AUDE Awards can be found here.