‘Widespread ableism is exhausting’: What it’s like being a disabled student at Soton
“I’m tired of being ignored”
University is a daunting experience for anyone but disabled students can feel like they are overlooked and forgotten about in university life.
Sophie*, a student at Southampton, suffers from a physical disability leaving her exhausted, suffering from regular migraines and experiencing chronic pain.
She was keen to point out there are a number of wonderful staff members, including her personal tutor, “who are incredibly conscious and understanding” but the “widespread ableism in the university itself is exhausting and disgusting and I am tired of being ignored.”
Sophie spoke to The Soton Tab about what it’s like being a disabled student at Soton Uni:
‘I was told by one member of staff that it was my responsibility to ensure field trips were accessible for me’
Sophie told The Soton Tab “a few experiences” where she was not contacted regarding field trips for her degree and she ended up having to approach her department herself, despite being assured she would “always be contacted before a trip so necessary adjustments could be made.”
One staff member even told Sophie that it was her own “responsibility to ensure field trips were accessible” for her.
Sophie found this frustrating as the university should have measures in place to ensure disabled students aren’t left at a disadvantage or made to feel like it’s their job to make necessary arrangements since the uni should provide it in the first place.
‘That should be my choice, no one else’s’
The experience Sophie had one of these field trips was also below the standard you would expect. Her status as a disabled student was announced “loudly” to everyone on the trip. She said, “not only did this make me incredibly uncomfortable, but exposed my difficulties to all my course mates, something that should be my choice, no one else’s.”
Sophie also recalled her friend having a similar experience where “they were not only misgendered, but they too had their problems aired to a room of other students.” This sort of behaviour from a member of staff is shocking and has a real impact on the student involved.
The Soton Tab spoke to the uni about these concerns and they told us whilst they can’t comment on individual cases, “if any student feels they are not getting the support they need or they believe private information has been shared without their consent they should speak to Student Services.”
They told us they are “committed” and “make every effort” to ensure both staff and students, regardless of their circumstances, have access to campuses, learning facilities and services.
‘It is not acceptable or difficult to provide for’
Stairs are another cause of concern for disabled students, even those with invisible disabilities like Sophie as some days it can cause a great deal of pain or distress. Sophie pointed out there were three buildings that she knew of where the lift was “difficult to find and not signposted.”
“It is not acceptable or difficult to provide for. A few extra signs pointing students who need them to the lifts would be a simple fix.”
She also pointed out in some buildings, the lifts are further away from the main lecture theatres so this consequently means it takes longer to actually get to the room.
‘Allowing staff within departments to decide whether or not they care enough to provide this support, is ableist’
Disabled students have also been campaigning for years for lecture recordings to be more widely available. Disabled students have long been told lectures are better experienced in person and it was up to the individual lecturers whether they recorded their lectures. Universities across the UK have swiftly turned this over in light of the pandemic as most classes moved online.
Sophie said she was “fortunate” to have her department record all their lectures but she said that “allowing staff within departments to decide whether or not they care enough to provide this support, is ableist.”
‘The university are excluding students’
Sophie told The Soton Tab how she has messaged the Student’s Union, a society and the university directly regarding image descriptions and video captions across social media. Some people can’t necessarily process the information as it is given, so adding in extra information makes it more easily accessible.
She said the university failed to reply to her even after 3 messages, the student’s union replied but they still don’t do it and the society has since captioned all videos and gave image descriptions. “With the current situation, social media is more important than ever for students and yet the university are excluding students.”
Sophie told The Soton Tab there is a form available from the Student’s Union where you can report such issues but it is not widely known and therefore not always used. The form covers a range of serious issues so Sophie says she was shocked it isn’t better publicised.
“Surely this should be accessible, so students feel supported and encouraged to report the issues they experience.”
A university spokesperson told The Soton Tab:
“We are committed to supporting staff and students with disabilities and make every effort to ensure that campuses, services and learning facilities are accessible to all.
“Students are encouraged to speak to our Student Services teams if they have a disability, specific learning difficulty, or long term physical or mental health condition so we can ensure we are providing the right support across our campuses.
“We are unable to comment on individual cases, but if any student feels they are not getting the support they need or they believe private information has been shared without their consent they should speak to Student Services. If a student needs immediate assistance they can always speak to our Student Life team who are available to support students twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
The Student’s Union has also been contacted for comment.
*Name has been changed