It’s 18 June, and you’ve just finished packing up your room. You’re waiting for your parents to arrive, or maybe you’re an international student and are waiting for the bus instead. You grab the nearest suitcase, and it feels like it weighs twice your body weight. Maybe you’re one of the luckier ones, and have a working lift and friends to help, but it’s likely not the case for most. If you’re on the top floor of Jack Martin, you may even end up moving out permanently after Easter because of the difficulty you faced in carrying your luggage down two flights of stairs.
“I can safely say that a lot of the campus, especially the areas around the student accommodations, are not wheelchair accessible: and the ‘accessible’ rooms in flats are anything but,” states an individual who wishes to remain anonymous.
“There are over 30 dropped kerbs that aren’t actually dropped,” says Maria, the President of Warwick Enable. “I missed several exams due to not having someone free to push me, of which many were refused a further first attempt because they refused to make them online for me.”
“None of the accommodations have accessible kitchens – the communal space is tight; the turns are horrible, and you can’t even turn in Heronbank and Lakeside. The countertops aren’t low enough – there is no cooking ability if you’re in a wheelchair,” Maria continues. Here, you pause and consider: is it genuinely that difficult to sit in a wheelchair and assess the services specifically designed for disabled access before presenting them to students?
The responses received in a short anonymous survey conducted between the 22 and 25 August 2023 detail accessibility problems with the mitigating circumstances form, terming it as ‘stressful’ and ‘invasive’.
“Stringent paid evidence requirements on mitigating circumstances and disability services disproportionately affect poorer students, those with mental health problems and neurodivergent students,” states an answer in response to a question inquiring about existing barriers to accessibility on campus. Picking up on this trajectory, Phoebe, the Disabled Officer for Warwick Pride, puts forward her thoughts on the limited self-certifications, and how repeatedly asking for extensions because of established poor mental health records proves to be infeasible and unaffordable for her.
So far the ‘reasonable adjustments’ and mitigations [from the University] have not been put into place
Now let us consider an inaccessibility point that may be more familiar to all students: university email addresses. Upon registration, all freshers are formally allotted a simple email address containing their full name separated by a period, which they use for the rest of their degree. The university is considerate enough to allow changing names and pronouns in the official systems, but what happens to this email address if someone transitions mid-degree?
“I’m transgender, and 3 years after changing my name on the university systems my university email remains in my deadname,” a response states. “There’s no clear process or method to get that changed.”
Suppose the university finally sorts out your email address, and your favourite football team is incidentally playing later in the evening. After they win, you want to celebrate the victory, so you head over to Fusion for a few drinks with your friends. You finally decide on a drink, and you’re just about to pay, only to find out you can’t. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
“The vast majority of on-campus facilities refuse to serve me as they won’t take cash, which I rely on due to my disability,” says Liam, a member of Warwick Enable. He highlights how the Rootes staff recognise this issue but do not have the power to change it. The university’s equality impact assessment has defended this decision in the past by identifying negatively affected groups and affirming that it would “support impacted individuals on a case-by-case basis”, but so far these ‘reasonable adjustments’ and mitigations have not been put into place. The document also mentions that the system can accept payments from non-GBP currencies, and hence dismisses a potential reliance on cash for international students, but is this really the case? While it is true that most existing contactless cards are accepted, the high transfer fees are immediate deterrents for most international students, especially considering non-EU accounts. As a physically able international student, I still do not own a UK bank account due to issues with my term-time address, and the fluctuating exchange rates are rarely ever in my favour. My existing card does not work on the bus, which forced me to arrange the exact fare for every small trip for the entirety of my first year. This is not to say that the cashless campus is entirely bad; there are certainly times it is easier to not have to carry a wad of cash around. However, it may be more inclusive to dedicate just one extra till to cash payments in Rootes, as Liam suggested.
A response to the survey read, “The Health Centre is desperately understaffed, and as a result is quite inaccessible to disabled students”
The survey conducted also considered experiences with the two central services created exclusively for student benefit – the Health Centre and the Wellbeing Services.
Concerning the Wellbeing Services, a vast majority of the relevant respondents disagreed with the statement “Waiting lists were short for meetings or diagnostic tests”, and only 41% chose to agree with the process being “easy and stressless”. The short-answer responses pointed out their ineffectuality regarding serious cases. “The services are useful when the issues are simple, but once they get complex or dangerous, they simply do not have the resources or time. With NHS services seemingly waiting an absurd length of time before considering more drastic options when needed (e.g., inpatient treatment), there needs to be better communication between the university’s well-being team and the NHS to help individuals whose mental health has reached a critical point to get the support that they need.” Other responses elaborated on the waiting time, with one individual mentioning being quoted a two/three-week period for talking therapy but receiving it only after two months. Additionally, there was only a provision for five therapy sessions, which they found hard to navigate.
To their credit, however, not a single participant disagreed with the interactions being respectful and fair, with the majority classifying the Wellbeing Services’ responses and actions as efficient and helpful. “I am horrible at attending appointments because of anxiety/ADHD disorganisation but she [a therapist] has remained patient and always willing to reschedule. Our appointments have helped me a lot and I am continuing to see her the coming academic year,” an excerpt of a comment reads.
We observe a similar pattern with the opinions around the Health Centre, but this time, the majority call out the services for the difficulty in booking appointments. Describing the process as stressful, multiple people state phone-call anxiety and quick dismissal of issues – especially neurodivergent ones – as barriers to a positive experience.
“I cannot make my own appointments as I can’t make phone calls, and while they allow my parent to make them on my behalf, this feels kind of belittling as a grown adult. Online booking would allow me to be independent,” says one respondent. “The Health Centre is desperately understaffed, and as a result is quite inaccessible to disabled students (with its loud and poor-quality hold tone, and appointment places only being available to request around 9 am),” read another response. “As someone with phone call anxiety, the fact that my only options are to call at opening time the morning I need an appointment and pray or to get an appointment literal weeks away is terrible. That being said, the university Health Centre has given me the best trans-related treatment, information and options of any NHS practice I’ve dealt with so far,” a comment sums up.
To reference the Warwick Values Moodle, everyone deserves equal respect and opportunities
While it is true that the University has services in place for a variety of issues, the sheer inaccessibility detracts from their credit. I would like to draw my final example – that of media inaccessibility – from my own experience as a volunteer at the British Transplant Games earlier this July. For those unfamiliar, the British Transplant Games are annual, nationwide games aiming to raise awareness of the need for organ donation, encourage transplant recipients to lead active lifestyles, and show appreciation for, and remember, donors and their families. Teams from hospitals across the country come together to participate in a medley of sports, from which participants even go on to compete at the World Transplant Games.
Not only was there minimal advertising, but there were also no posters, signposts or other directives for participants, officials, and volunteers during the four-day event. Taking incorrect turns or driving past the venue was so common that volunteers were stationed outside every day to ensure that cars could spot their t-shirts and thus gain entry to the athletics centre. Despite most events taking place on campus, little attention was given to it at the time.
The final question on the survey touched upon this topic by asking whether respondents knew about the University being a host for the 2023 transplant games. An overwhelming 80% did not know about the event at all, with an additional 10% finding out about it only through non-university-managed media. It is not a question of resources – a stick figure on a sheet of paper could have served as a landmark, and as a form of marketing- instead, it marks negligence and irresponsibility. Even the Language Centre, for all its renowned courses, neither provides nor endorses any courses on BSL as of now, when one in every six adults in the United Kingdom remains affected by some degree of hearing loss.
Whether it is motor, cognitive, or even media accessibility, there is a clear trend being depicted currently. To reference the Warwick Values Moodle, everyone deserves equal respect and opportunities. Concurrently, it is imperative to remember that this does not pertain to peers only.
When contacted for comment, this is the University of Warwick’s response:
A University of Warwick spokesperson said: “Accessibility and inclusion are top priorities for Warwick, and we will continue to look at the different ways we can make campus accessible to everyone. Assistance available includes bespoke equipment or services, as well as assistive software and physical access support. Those who wish to discuss their own individual needs can book private appointments by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. We will continue doing all we can to improve accessibility across campus whenever possible”.