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Balliol seeks to improve accessibility with ramp installation

Balliol College will have increased accessibility for disabled people, if proposed plans are approved by the Oxford City Council.

The proposal, currently awaiting permission, planning intends to install a stone ramp with railing on the Broad Street site by early next year and will provide step-free access to the college’s quad and porters lodge. The modification will make the entrance to the college compliant with the Equality Act 2010.

The Act stipulates that there is a duty to make an adjustment when a feature arising from the design or construction of a building, or a feature of the approach to, exit from or access to a building unfairly disadvantages disabled persons.

The Domestic Bursar of Balliol College, Fran Wright, has stated the college always seeks to “increase our disability access in projects where we feasibly can’’. The main issue that complicates the efforts to make Balliol, and the University of Oxford more broadly, a more accessible place is the age and value of many of the buildings.

The Broad Street site consists of old, listed buildings, some of which date back to the 15th century, which poses obvious obstacles to improving disabled access: the buildings were not constructed to accommodate for disabled persons and any adjustments made may fail to preserve and maintain the history of the buildings. However, the Domestic Bursar also commented that the college is aware that “we need to do more to help all disabled students” in spite of these logistical difficulties.

These necessary changes are made more urgent due to a growing number of disabled students at Oxford. Admissions statistics from the University website show that in 2018, 9.2% of admitted students had declared a disability on application, against 6.0% in 2014. The number of applicants with a disability equally increased over the same period with 1,201 applications in 2018 compared to 775 in 2014. Of the 2016-2018 UK intake, just under 2.5% of applicants cited wheelchair/mobility as their disability. The requirement for equal accessibility across the university and colleges for all students is there- fore very pressing.

At present, Balliol College owns several rooms across its undergraduate and graduate accommodation sites that are specially adapted for disabled students, with disabled showers. The Master Field project, the college’s building development in the area between the Master’s Field, Jowett Walk and St Cross Road, will additionally provide more accessible student rooms once it is completed in 2021. There is accessible teaching space on the main site and access to the Hall via a lift yet, as the disability map available on the Balliol College website shows, there is limited access to many of the staircases on the main site.

If the proposal to improve dis- ability access is approved by Oxford City Council, it may encourage the possibility of further projects in Balliol College. “The staff at Balliol work very hard to accommodate all students,” said the Domestic Bursar, “and to make the college as accessible as possible to everyone.”

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