Staff Writer Sean Harvey examines the findings of the Adjust KCL! campaign and outlines the progress they have made so in raising awareness for people with disabilities at King’s College London (KCL).
Florian Hansen has fronted a campaign to confront perceived “strategic inefficiency” within the King’s, which the organisation claims has detrimentally affected the experience of some disabled students. Specifically, they focus on issues of interacting with support systems, student residences and accessibility.
The Adjust KCL! campaign is challenging King’s to improve support and accessibility for disabled and neuro-divergent students. This is especially focused on student accommodation, where the Adjust KCL! campaign argue there is “blatant ableism”. According to student testimonies from Adjust KCL!, some disabled students’ reasonable adjustments (sometimes supported by KCL’s own disability team) are refused or neglected with little effort to warn students of their changes in circumstance.
The experience of a post-graduate student trying to keep their room.
One case cited by the group is a disabled post-graduate student who wished to stay in the same room in residences for a following year. Accommodation is not guaranteed in student residences after first year but is often available for students to renew if they want to remain there. This postgraduate student alleges that King’s own Disability Support had verified their Additional Accommodation Requirements (AAR) paperwork which would allow them to rebook their room. Yet after being unable to rebook a room with no explanation from the university or residence in question, the student claims that the eligibility criteria had seemingly changed and they were no longer eligible.
The student believes that the residence had therefore ignored their AAR or neglected to contact disability support for details about their actual eligibility. Since the room had by then been rented out, the residence’s advice, according to the student, was to post their former address and their details on Facebook to attempt to contact the student now living in their requested room to ask them to swap contracts.
In response, they launched a formal complaint because they allege that the rebooking process was changed without warning, that their needs were never assessed by the residence, they were told to disclose personal information on Facebook and that their request for disability accommodation was denied on these grounds. That complaint was rejected after a three month wait – they then appealed on compassionate grounds and, according to the student, they had the original decision overturned five days before they would have been removed from the flat. The student also claimed that it took the support of multiple academics and the Head of Mental Health Support sending emails and making phone calls to prompt action.
The wider issues and overlooked solutions
Moving accommodation is obviously difficult for many and Adjust KCL! want the particular difficulties of less able students to be better recognised by the university. The number of accommodations at the university’s disposal, either outsourced or university owned, and the size of rooms within them are two factors with the potential to alleviate some of these issues.
This obviously requires more attention and better resourcing from the university, especially seeing as student satisfaction has declined overall, spearheading King’s regression on university league tables. This should not be controversial and must become a greater priority for a university with a self-reported operating surplus of £42.2m for 2021. The alleged lack of urgency from the university to solve problems that the students have brought up furthers confusion on what is already the massively difficult challenge of finding safe places to live in London, especially for those with additional needs.
Adjust KCL! claim, through their outreach work to students, that interactions with disability services are often disappointing. Whilst students can receive positive support and individual members of staff are often praised for their care, it is still incredibly inaccessible for many. Often the process is so convoluted and stress-inducing that it can do more harm than good, with students being moved around and continually having to prove to different people their eligibility for support. All this work, especially for mitigating circumstance allowances, often has such a small pay-out compared to the amount of effort that students have to put in.
In terms of reasonable adjustments, which, in the case of the graduate student, was a major source of miscommunication, the university has staff in the disability support team allocated to this specific problem in order to better liaise with students. The testimonies of disabled students at King’s stress that individuals within this team are extremely hard working and compassionate but it is the system which has failed them and others, and not the fault of any individual staff member. Adjust KCL! and their campaigners do indeed stress that issues are rarely the fault of the individuals carrying out the support roles, who are trying their best and are very dedicated, but a structural problem of these services being underfunded to such a level that they cannot meet the actual demand.
Roar approached King’s for comment on the issues and examples discussed in this article:
“We are committed to ensuring that every student at King’s has access to the best possible support. We continue to invest so as to enhance the capacity of our Disability Support and Inclusion Team, and remain focussed on identifying potential barriers to optimum student support, whether that be in our processes or for example managing mitigating circumstances. We acknowledge we have more to do, including addressing issues experienced by our disabled students and greatly value the input, engagement and feedback of groups such as AdjustKCL!, the KCL Disabled Students Society and KCLSU. Working together as we look forward to achieving further adjustments and improvements, for the benefit and experience of our students.”Professor Richard Trembath, Senior Vice President (Health & Life Sciences) and the senior lead for disability at King’s.
Director of Students and Education, Darren Wallis, met with Adjust KCL! to learn their perspective on these issues. What progress will come remains to be seen, but it should not be controversial nor difficult for a university to protect its marginalised students. It is vital that the university learns about the tough experiences of students so it can improve the dissatisfactory systems which are currently in place.