Working with disabled students in Oxford is a constant reminder of how diverse my peers are. On a regular basis I will meet people with astounding, unique circumstances who study here at Oxford, despite the obstacles the structure of our society puts in their way. As a group, we face a number of challenges, but the Student Union (OUSU), the Disability Advisory Service (DAS) and the University as a whole are working to tackle them.
Read Cherwell’s investigation into disabilities at Oxford University here
We are an eclectic group of people, and one not often associated with the typical image of disability. Well over half of Oxford’s disabled students are classified as having a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD), such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, and the majority are ‘invisible’ disabilities, such as some long term health conditions and mental health problems. Given how much we vary from the stereotype, many disabled students do not categorise themselves as disabled, and miss out on the support they deserve and may need to excel in their social and academic lives.
The Disability Advisory Service (DAS) is an excellent resource for students who already identify as disabled, providing advice on how to get funding for necessary adjustments and acting as an intermediary with examination staff and colleges to provide academic adjustments. However, there is little in the way of advertising to get our message out to the student body at large.
This year, we are running a Disability Awareness Week in sixth week to help students find out about what disabilities mean to students in Oxford, and we are breaking the OUSU stereotype of miscommunication by letting colleges organise and run their own events. I certainly hope to see many students going to film screenings and British Sign Language workshops, and finding out more about Oxford and disability.
Disability can often be a taboo subject, and taken to be very serious. However, we have a lighter side — many wheelchair-using students would love to go clubbing but are excluded from this aspect of Oxford’s social experience due to poor disabled access. Following the recent removal of Junction’s disabled access, the Disabled Students Campaign will be making it a priority to apply pressure to clubs that do not live up to their responsibilities to disabled students.
Finally, I want to see disability campaigns working with the other liberation campaigns. I am excited that WomCam has appointed a disability breakout group, and I would love to see the LGBTQ campaign and Oxford’s other advocacy groups following suit, and embracing intersectionality. Working together, we can tackle some of the most difficult issues that affect us all.