The Student Interviews: The Student Disability Service’s Assistant Director Jan Gardiner

How important is disability awareness in a fast-paced world?

I think it is very relevant. Especially when you consider statistics regarding students who disclose disability to the university, which has been increasing year on year.

Our first records which go back to 1993 have 400 students disclose disability, but now we’re up to 4000. That covers the whole range; students with physical impairments, sensory impairments, but also includes students with hidden disabilities, ongoing health issues like epilepsy, chronic fatigue, mental health conditions, learning disabilities and things that just come under the umbrella term of ‘other’.

What do you think are the active steps taken by the University to help students with disabilities?

I think the university is doing a particularly great job at raising awareness about disabilities, and not just with the students but the staff as well.

I think there was a bit of an impetus to that in 2010, when the UK Equality Act came in, because although the Act protects a lot of spheres like gender, sex and race, a lot of the focus was on disability and the provisions of the Act related to disability are quite specialised.

So that created a lot of media awareness and public conversation about it.

Do you think students are open about their disabilities, whether it’s a physical one or a mental disability?

The thing with physical disability, is that the student has to reveal it to the University as it is apparent. But with a learning disability, or a mental health issue, they don’t have to come forth and reveal it to us.

Often we have students who meet us once but don’t come back and that is quite upsetting because we know of so many mechanisms we could employ to help them.

As fellow peers, how do you think the student community should behave with students who might have disabilities?

Of course, the key is to just be friends with them. Be there to assist them if and when they ask for it, be accommodating of them and so on.

With mental health issues, I think the safest bet is to alert the disability service, or talk to them about seeing us, or their doctor, because the last thing we want is the student community to be even more stressed out because of these pressures.

How do you think social media and pop culture in general address the issue of disability?

I’ve heard of a TV Show called Thirteen Reasons Why, which I believe addressed a lot of issue concerning anxiety and depression amongst high schoolers.

While I haven’t watched the show myself, I think it was the catalyst to a lot of dialogue and that is always important.

Social media, I think has both pros and cons. It is easier to have a discourse over issues on social media but at the same time, there is so much speculation.

There is so much pressure to appear a certain way on social media that it sometimes adds up to stress and so on.

Can you tell us a bit about the services the university is providing students with disabilities and the things you believe need to be improved?

I think we’ve come a far way from where we started off from, but then again, I believe we have far more to go as well.

In terms of aid provided to students, it’s all very catered around that particular individual’s needs.

For example, for students with learning disabilities, we have proof readers, we have mechanisms in place that allow them to entail certain benefits like extra time before an exam, no marks off for spelling/grammar errors and so on.

For visually/audio impaired students we have specialised software and transcribers to aid them during lectures and exams. So it’s really all about the individual needs.

 

Image: Su Hongjia @ Wikimedia Commons

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