Access Aberystwyth: The difficulties facing disabled students around campus

photo 5WALKING up Penglais Hill and around the campus itself can be challenge for anyone, especially on Monday mornings heading to a 9am lecture or after a night out in the town! However, for those suffering from disabilities, particularly mobility issues, this is more than just an inconvenience. Suffering from mobility issues and having to use a wheelchair around campus, I have had first-hand experience this year of the difficulties faced by those with mobility issues at Aberystwyth University.

Timetabled rooms

One of the main difficulties I have faced this year is the lack of disabled access on campus having an effect on my ability to attend lectures and seminars. On Penglais campus, there are 81 centrally timetabled rooms, 48 of which do not have disabled access. That means that over half are unavailable to those who have mobility issues. This has a significant effect on the ability to attend lectures and seminars and to work efficiently. The 48 rooms without disabled access include important University facilities such as floor F in Hugh Owen Library. With departmental sections of the library being situated on the top floor, it has a serious effect on students’ ability to work as they are unable to go and look through books that are required for their course. The solution given for this difficulty is to find books using the Primo service and then ask a member of the library staff to go and collect them. However, this is not practical if a student needs to go and physically look at the books on the top floor.

Getting from A to B

One of the obvious features of Penglais campus – the hills! There are disabled access ramps in place to improve the situation, however, these ramps are often still fairly steep inclines which are difficult to use, especially for students using mobility aids such as wheelchairs and mobility scooters.  A number of the doors around campus are automatic opening doors; however, I have found that they are not reliable as they are frequently out of order, and there’s still a large number of doors around campus which do not automatically open at all. For disabled students, particularly those using mobility aids, this means that they have to rely on someone else being around to open the doors for them, which is not always the case. This is a huge disadvantage and a problem that needs to be addressed.

This is a particular problem in the Hugh Owen Library. A lift is available for disabled students to use, but it lacks an automatic door, preventing them from using the lift when alone. In this case, the disabled access could be considered to be more of a hindrance than an aid. For students with mobility issues, independence is something that is very important, and if they have to rely on other students and staff being there to open doors for them, their independence is compromised. One student I spoke to who suffers from balance and coordination difficulties said: “In my opinion, they are doing well for disability access with student support, which is great for help with disability and other issues that the student may have concerns about.” However, they experienced difficulties when faced with some of the stairways around the campus as some of them, such as the steps outside the Union, need to be adjusted as they are too steep for people with mobility issues.  They added: “When there are a lot of people, you can’t get hold of the banisters”.

The University has installed a number of disabled access stairlifts in some of the buildings around campus, but these are once again unreliable as not all of them work. I have found particular difficulties with the stairlift in the Arts Centre. If accessing this stairlift from the bottom of the stairs, you are faced with the difficulty of having no way of requesting for a porter to come and operate the stairlift. Porters are called from the box office, situated at the top of the stairs, which means that disabled students’ independence is compromised once again as they have to rely on someone passing through to inform a porter from the box office.  Aberystwyth University welcome applications from students with various disabilities; however, those with mobility difficulties are advised to contact the University before submitting applications.

Student Support

The University’s student support department is a useful resource for disabled students, offering accessibility support and advice. They are able to arrange services such as note takers, adapted accommodation and special equipment. They are the department to contact with queries relating to disability support, including Disabled Students’ Allowance. I have found Student Support to be a very valuable department when it comes to issues with disability support and guidance; however, there are still many disabled accessibility issues which need serious attention and action from the University.  The University Union also has a Disabled Students’ Officer. The position is currently filled by Matthew Harvey, who is there to support and represent those disabled students who feel they are being unheard and unrepresented.

Accommodation

The University has a number of special adapted accommodations for students with disabilities. There is a variation of adapted rooms at the University with basic adjustments from handrails, visual aids and levels access to fully adapted flats equipped with lower level kitchens and wet rooms suitable for wheelchair access. The University has adapted accommodation in Alexandra Hall, Trefloyne, Pentre Jane Morgan and Pantycelyn.  Trefloyne, for example, has one flat that is a specially adapted large single room, with wider doors and a wet room with a shower with level floor access. Pentre Jane Morgan Student Village has three specially adapted houses, two of which have a ground floor room with a self-contained kitchen, shower room and toilet and another ground floor standard room.

Prospective Students

The University recommends that applicants with mobility issues visit the campus before applying due to the terrain of the campus. Following visits, the University are on-hand to discuss issues that prospective students may have and to help to judge if Aberystwyth is the right university to apply for. Prospective students are advised to contact the University’s disability officer on (01970) 628537 or email [email protected] .