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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