In conversation with the Disabled Students’ Officer

Alex Holland was recently elected as the Disabled Students’ Officer on theKCLSU Student Council. He is a second year English Law and Hong Kong Law student from Norwich. We caught up with him to find out more.

 

Why did you run for the role?

To improve student welfare support for disabled students across the College. Several areas of student welfare provision are already excellent, but many students are not aware of what support is available to them, how to access it, or even whether they are entitled to it. Any student who feels that they have a condition which may affect their studies should make themselves known to the College as early as possible in order to access support, ideally long before term starts. Specific adaptations to King’s residences are currently done on an ad hoc basis, so if a student requires adapted accommodation they need to tell the College in advance.

The College’s Disability Advisory Service (DAS) contacts applicants who declare a disability on their UCAS applications or contact the College about it, but of course they can only offer support to those they know about. What doesn’t help the situation is that some schools and colleges are reluctant to advise students to declare disabilities on university applications for fear that it would disadvantage them. Universities must work harder to dispel myths like these, by being transparent about how they use the information on university applications; students will only be disadvantaged if they don’t declare. Unfortunately I think this myth is reflective of the stigma which still surrounds disabilities today.

How can the system be improved?

The DAS are extremely busy at the beginning of term and students have to wait up to four weeks for their appointments. Part of the problem is insufficient resources. It’s a real problem that the service is strained at the times when students most require support.  Given that approximately 10% of the student body has declared disabilities, I think the resources of DAS should better reflect the number of students they serve. I am currently working closely with a member of the Disability Awareness Society, as well as the other Liberation Officers on the Student Council, to set up a disabled students’ forum, a safe space for students to give feedback about the student services at King’s.

In the past, disabled students have had little opportunity to voice their concerns to the College beyond individual complaints. A forum would allow students to meet and identify areas where the College can do more. Also on my agenda is a meeting with the Accommodation Office to ensure they’re properly catering for students; King’s need to provide more affordable accommodation for disabled students because adapted accommodation in the private sector is often expensive.

I notice that you passed two motions at Student Council, what were they about?

The first motion will create a portal on the College website which would include key information about disabled access to university buildings. this was in response to a report published last month by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign which assessed how accessible universities are for disabled students, in which King’s scored very poorly, meeting only one out of five criteria. The main issue is that accessibility information on the website is currently dispersed across over several web pages, making it difficult for current and prospective students to easily find accessibility information.

The other motion concerned the KCLSU website, which doesn’t include any accessibility information whatsoever. KCLSU have promised to put me in touch with the website manager to address this.

What are your other plans for Council?

I think the present lack of union affiliation with a service such as Nightline is unacceptable. I think the recent report in the Evening Standard of the suicide of a Brunel student highlights the importance of these services. I will be pressing Student Council to make this issue a priority. I am also supportive of establishing a Peer Support Network across the College, which is in its early stages.

Is there anything else that you want to focus on?

Disability History Month is from November 17 until the end of term. I am working closely with student societies and KCLSU to put together some interesting events. I can’t say too much, but keep an eye on the KCLSU website!

The role of disabled people in society has been sorely neglected and it’s important that disabled people don’t feel invisible. The 2012 Paralympics brought greater awareness of disability, but only briefly. I hope we can reinvigorate some of the same spirit we saw in 2012.

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