Accessibility at Leeds Uni
Final year Film, Photography and Media BA student, Kat Padmore shares their best tips and experience as a disabled student at the University of Leeds.
If you’re a disabled student, life can be much harder for you than for your peers. As an autistic student with a physical disability, I know university life is daunting for many reasons that most of our classmates have to think about- how will I get around campus? How can I make sure I understand my academic responsibilities? How do I start making friends who understand what it’s like to be a little different?
The University of Leeds and Leeds University Union have an incredible wealth of resources for disabled students, helping with everything from workload to welfare. Here are some key things to keep in mind when navigating Leeds life with a disability:
If you haven’t registered with disability services yet, this is your sign. This department is full of incredible people dedicated to making our time at Leeds as accessible and fulfilling as possible in many ways. From assistance finding learning equipment to helping with applications for Disabled Students Allowance, the team at Disability Services are there for you anytime. And if you want to help them work even better for us, you can join the Disability Services student panel! I spent 18 months working with the panel to share my experiences as a disabled student, and it was the first time in my educational life that I truly felt not only heard but thoroughly supported. Disability Services have always been a place of solace and solidarity for me when I have felt my lectures and seminars to be inaccessible; they helped me secure lecture recordings, transcription software and exam dispensations in my first year alone. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Leeds doesn’t just support disabled students. There is a school specifically for the study of disability, based in the Faculty of Social Sciences. Some of their current projects include social reintegration for young adults living with cancer, research into disabled survivors of rape and sexual violence, and accessibility for pedestrians in public spaces. You can help them make a change by heading to their “getting involved” section on each project’s website. The school also holds regular talks with guests from NGOs, academia and disability-focused organisations- perfect if you want to become more active in broader discussions around disability. I know that having multiple disabilities myself, I always want to get involved with discussions around accessibility, advocacy and liberation, as well as learn more about disabilities I know little about. Through the research of Disability Studies, I learnt far more about sight-related disabilities and the kind of provisions used to make public spaces accessible; apparently, the bumps on a pedestrian crossing are there to indicate to blind people where the waiting point is. You learn something new every day!
Academic Personal Tutor
Your personal tutor is a vital resource. This person is usually an academic working in your school and can help you balance your module workloads with a healthy social life and any extracurricular responsibilities you may take up. It’s essential to foster a positive relationship with your tutor early in the year and keep them in the loop about any issues you might face due to accessibility issues on the part of the uni. If you worry that you don’t work well with your tutor, you can ask to switch, though this may not always be possible. Turn to your tutor if you need help accessing your lectures or course content- they can point you in the right direction. My personal tutor has been a godsend when dealing with the workload of full-time study with a disability, especially when it comes to balancing practical work with academic research. In my second year, my personal tutor helped me balance documentary production, short film editing and an essay alongside two marked blogs all in one term; if it wasn’t for her tips and guidance, I never would have completed the year.
Equality Officer at LUU
If you aren’t familiar with our exec, let me catch you up. Every year, the students who are members of LUU — almost all of us — elect 6 students into paid positions at LUU called the Exec Officers. These roles include Education, Activities, Wellbeing, Equality and Liberation, Union Affairs and International and Postgraduate. As a disabled student, keeping in contact with your Equality Officer is an excellent idea, especially if you want to help make wider changes at the university and Union to make student life more accessible. They can help you take your ideas to forums at Better Union, Better University and Better Leeds, where students put forward policies and manifestos for other students to vote into action. I, along with the support of Disability Services, took an idea to forum last year targeting accessibility in module content. I proposed that the Union lobby the University to make lecture recording mandatory, not just for disabled students but for carers, commuters and working-class students with jobs. It was incredibly liberating to sit in front of a panel of my peers and explain just how university life was inherently different for me, and make a case for the university to address those gaps in access. I definitely recommend the forums if you want to have your voice heard. If you have an idea, contact Haryati, this year’s Equality and Liberation officer, at email@example.com.
Outside of Leeds and LUU provisions, disabled students ourselves have carved out spaces for community, care and visibility in our student community. We have societies that represent people with a disability, long-term health condition or chronic illness. These include the Neurodivergent Society, Mind Matters, and the LUU Disabled Student Network. If you feel there is a lack of social representation for people with your lived experience, you can form a society following this helpful guide. I get so much joy out of being a member of the Neurodivergent Society, which was set up by my friend Livi. Just having a space to speak with other autistic academics, where no-one will judge you for your stims, interests or mannerisms, is incredibly empowering. Community can be hard to come by as a disabled person, but societies are an excellent way to meet people who just get it.
Accessible Study Spaces
Studying is hard enough without struggling to find accessible places to work. Luckily, Leeds has quite a few. There are two accessible study rooms in the Laidlaw Library, four in the Edward Boyle Library and one in the Brotherton Library. You can book these using this link. Outside libraries, there are quiet spaces throughout the Union, including bookable meeting rooms on the top floor accessible by lifts and comfy lounging spaces in Union Square with an accessible ramp. As someone with a physical disability, I often find it hard to break the habit of studying at home since heading out is extra challenging. It’s always best to switch up your study space and work outside the house when possible, especially if your disability makes you more suspectable to social isolation. If you need to ensure study spaces cater to your specific considerations, ask Disability Services for extra support.
As a disabled student, I understand the worries you have, issues you encounter and frustrations you experience getting your education while living a “different” life. I have found the Uni of Leeds to be caring, compassionate and ready to change if it ensures disabled students can succeed just as easily as their peers. If you want to talk about all things disability, feel free to reach out to me on socials, or maybe I’ll catch you at a society meeting soon!
Written by Kat Padmore