The University of Edinburgh’s Student Council has voted to improve access for physically disabled students. This will be done by mandating Edinburgh University Students’ Association to lobby for accessible Changing Places toilets across the university’s campuses.
The motion, presented by fourth year Politics student Oona Lilly Miller, passed with 100 per cent of the vote at last Thursday’s Student Council meeting. Amongst other measures, it requires the Students’ Association to lobby the university to finish incomplete facilities. Additionally, all University of Edinburgh campuses must have one operational Changing Places toilet by the 2019-2020 academic year.
Changing Places toilets, as described by Muscular Dystrophy UK, are “vital in helping disabled people”. They have a number of features distinguishing them from other accessible toilets, including: a height adjustable adult-sized changing bench, a tracking hoist system, and room for the user and up to two carers at a time.
The university has previously faced criticism for failing to provide enough support for students with mobility impairments. After pressure from students, it commissioned and published a Disability Review in July 2017, detailing its plan to improve access for disabled students.
Explaining her motivation behind the motion to The Student, Miller said, “My sister decided not to apply to Edinburgh University because the city, and the university, is too inaccessible for someone in a powered wheelchair.”
Miller continued to say, “I immediately just felt a sense of responsibility, having found this out. I thought, at the very least, a motion at Student Council would put the university in the public position of responsibility it hadn’t been in already.”
“It’s going to improve [physically disabled students’] lives at university substantially, as well as allowing more people to apply to university that maybe didn’t feel like they could before.”
Figures released by the university’s Student Disability Service indicate that physically disabled students are amongst the least represented groups within Edinburgh’s student body. During the 2017/18 academic year, there were a little over 41,000 students enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. Of that number, 81 were registered as having some form of mobility impairment, and this number has fallen by over 20 per cent in the last five years.
Eileen Xu, the Students’ Association’s Disabled Students’ Officer, responded to the vote by telling The Student, “The implementation of the Changing Places motion will allow the Students’ Association to lobby the university to take a good hard look at their accessibility across the board, and hopefully will encourage them to consider accessibility as more than just a check-box they need to tick, but as a way to improve student life and break down barriers for many students coming to Edinburgh.”
“Changing Places toilets are massively important, and their presence on campus would not only make life significantly easier and better for their users; but also show that the university cares about their disabled community.”