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We are working for change through four methods

1. Research

We run initiatives such as information campaigns, protests and petitions to raise awareness of issues of accessibility in higher education among the general public and in targeted demographics such as students, parents and families, and university staff.

2. Network

We support disabled students and disability networks at different universities to come together, spread awareness and organise resistance. Because being a disabled student can be exhausting and isolating, so we have created social spaces which are designed to be restful, positive places where disabled students can connect with one another.

3. Complaints Collective

We give guidance and peer support to individual students in navigating bureaucratic university complaint procedures.

4. Politics

We lobby the government and regulatory bodies for the enforcement of the Equality Act (2010) for students in higher education.

We believe that we can best achieve change by attacking the problem from different angles simultaneously. It is important that our movement builds from the bottom up in the sense that disabled students themselves know best what they need, and we are strongest when many of us are working together. At the same time, we see the importance of working top-down, targeting key bodies and decision-makers and making it impossible for them not to see the problem.

So far we have achieved the following:

  • Launched a Facebook group for struggling students, providing much needed advice and support.
  • Created guidance for disabled students on the COVID-19 situation.
  • Set up a collaboration with the student newspaper Tabou which will be releasing articles on this topic in September.
  • Set up a collaboration with several student groups to effect change within universities complaints and investigations processes.
  • Set up a collaboration with the disabled-people led organisation ALLFIE to gain insight into disability activism and disability law.
  • Launched a Discord discord server and regular socials for disabled students to get to know each other.
  • Launched a Facebook group, website and a Twitter page to spread our message and make connections.
  • Created a mission statement and established our organisational structure.

In the coming months we are planning the following projects:

  • Creating a space for disabled students to learn from each other and get to know each other
  • Lobbying the OfS to intervene in the case of on any university that does not account for its disabled students in its COVID response.
  • Writing articles, blogs, and opinion pieces
  • Collating and sharing disability wisdom.
  • Participating in a study on student disability activism.
  • Creating a report specifying how university oversight should be improved.
  • Creating comprehensive complaints guidance for disabled students.
  • Launching an awareness- raising campaign in September
  • Creating a survey investigating disabled students’ experiences

Our work

Disabled Students UK uses disabled-led expertise to create structures of accountability in regards to accessibility in Higher Education. We achieve this using three methods:

  • Empowering disabled students
  • Sharing disabled students’ unique insight into university accessibility
  • Informing policy to enable accountability

Our general approach can be termed activism by expertise – we work to bring about positive change through a strategic, evidence-based approach rooted in the lived experience of disabled students.

Through our work, we create a virtuous cycle of empowerment, insight and accountability: Disabled students’ insight helps incentivise and inform universities and oversight bodies, causing them to create better structures of monitoring and accessibility. These improved structures empower disabled students, making it possible to keep benefitting from their insight.

Let us look at each of these areas of work in turn

Empowering Disabled Students

When DSUK was created in 2020, disabled student networks at different universities were highly disconnected. Our organisation has now united 400+ disabled student activists from 60 different universities. By coming together across universities and sharing information, disabled student communities can avoid reinventing the wheel within each university and see patterns more clearly at a national level.

We run several platforms for information sharing and peer support, including groups for researchers, Disabled Students Officers and those going through often harrowing university complaints processes. Through these groups, our contributors can learn, exchange information and support, and channel their voice.

In collaboration with these groups, we have created guidance for disabled students on complaints and the pandemic. We have provided training for NUS incoming sabbatical officers and offer consulting for Student Unions on supporting disabled students at their university.

Research and Knowledge Dissemination

We have created an online directory of information about the issues experienced by disabled students and their solutions, including our report on the COVID-19 impact on disabled students. This report was widely spread and has been highlighted in parliament and quoted in publications by the Disabled Students’ Commission and the Higher Education Commission.

Externally, we support the creation of disability-informed research by providing consulting to external researchers.

To further spread disabled student insight, we provide public speaking services and engage with the media. We have spoken for Disability Rights TV at a conference by the National Association of Disability Practitioners and featured in WonkHE and the Disability News Service articles.

We offer universities and other stakeholders premium access to our research and content through our “Access Insights” membership.

Informing Policy to Enable Accountability

Our evidence-based approach has attracted significant interest from decision-makers, resulting in an invitation to present at the APPG for Disability and collaborate with bodies such as the Disabled Students’ Commission.

Our goal is to bridge the gap between those who have first-hand knowledge of what works in HIgher Education Accessibility and those who have the power to create change. For those universities committed to benefiting from their disabled students’ insight to guide accessibility, we provide training and consulting on building structures for this.

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