Interview: Disabled Students’ Liberation Officer, Eileen Xu

The Student interviewed Eileen Xu on how her time as the 2018/19 Disabled Students’ Liberation Officer has been so far. According to statistics from the University of Edinburgh, the number of disabled students at the university has almost doubled. However, in the academic year 2017/18 they still only represented 11.5 per cent of the student population. Eileen outlines in the interview what she has been focusing on, her plans for Disability History Month in November, and finally what she believes the university itself can do for its disabled students.

Firstly, could you outline the aims of your manifesto?

The aims of my manifesto fall under four categories: improving accessibility, building community, educating staff & enhancing student support.

How did you attempt to implement the suggestions put forward in your manifesto?

To improve accessibility, I have met with the relevant people in projects such as the development of the new Student Centre, been involved in the effort to establish Changing Places toilets and sat on the implementation group for the university’s Disability Review. As for building community, I recently started DisabiliTEA, a new monthly get-together for disabled students in Edinburgh; as well as running Welcome Week events [such as] Liberation Lunch, Check Yourself! and the Activities Fair. In improving staff education, I have so far met with the head of the Student Disability Service (SDS), Paddy Corscadden alongside VP Welfare Kai [O’Doherty], learnt about current training and am still figuring out the scope for improvements. Finally, to enhance student support, I’ve been signposting to SDS via flyers at events, and have met with Paddy and Kai to understand where we can make improvements for student support. 

There are now welfare officers in all of the university’s societies. Do you think this will benefit disabled students and encourage them to join different societies?

It’s certainly a positive move and a good start – though they will potentially need extra training as we see how it goes.

Do you have any particular plans for this year’s Disability History Month?

I’m hoping that Disability History Month will be an opportunity to engage students and highlight the work we’ve done so far. I’m planning creative self-expression and writing workshops with the aim that students, if they wish, can showcase their work at the end of the month at a performance night. The month’s theme is music, and we are focusing on creativity and the talents disabled students have to offer. Other events are still being finalised. 

Do you think the university should do more for their current disabled students? Any suggestions?

Working and strategy groups are positive, but it would be good to see more action being made on recommendations. Things such as special circumstances still need more work and the consistency of support around the university is still a big issue.

Do you think the university focuses enough money and resources on facilities for disabled students?

I believe it’s always possible to do more, it would be positive if the university moved beyond the minimum legal requirements and instead became a fully accessible and welcoming environment.

What do you think about the statistics that the university is accepting more students but the number of disabled students is not changing?

I think work still needs to be done regarding issues such as access and support services to show that Edinburgh University welcomes disabled students. It’s also important to bear in mind that issues such as cuts to benefits and high tuition fees will also affect disabled students’ ability to access higher education.

Do you think the university could do anything else to encourage more disabled students to choose Edinburgh? If yes, any ideas?

Yes, there’s lots of space for improvement – improving the accessibility of buildings and facilities, improving and expanding the student support we currently have and ensuring disabled students are not excluded from activities etc. will all help encourage more disabled students to choose Edinburgh.

Do you think anything from your manifesto will be too hard to achieve by the end of your time as a Liberation Officer?

Obviously a lot of these issues are very big, but I’m optimistic that starting conversations on big issues will mean that they are carried on even once I finish my time as Disabled Students’ Officer.

Image: Susanna Henderson

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