The power of community
Disabled Students UK is a community organisation both in its structure and operations. We created the organisation after a 2020 report describing widespread disability discrimination at a London university was spread, elicited recognition from disabled students all over the UK. When we started exchanging stories, we could see how our shared knowledge could transform Higher Education.
Being composed of current and former disabled students is our biggest strength. We are united by the desire to make Higher Education more accessible and avoid more students going through what we have gone through. Contributing to our operations allows those with lived experience of being disabled at university to channel their voice, expand their expertise and get invaluable employment skills.
There are three ways of being a part of DSUK – as a contributor, a volunteer or a Director.
All members of our Facebook working group are considered contributors. The group currently has 400+ disabled student activists from 60 different universities. This group and subgroups (such as those focusing on research, the complaints process, university-based activism etc.) connect previously fragmented networks of disabled students across the UK. Coming together across universities, we share information to avoid reinventing the wheel within each university and see patterns more clearly at a national level.
It is essential for our organisation that we raise and incorporate the experiences of our contributors, including those that cannot currently volunteer. Each Director is required to detail how they are listening to and reflecting disabled students’ experiences. We regularly create polls and ask for input in this group. Occasionally we also ask for specific work to be done and put on co-working sessions. Such opportunities are ideal for those who want to contribute but cannot commit regularly.
Our Community Culture document helps keep our community a healing space.
The idea behind DSUK was always to create a platform for disabled students to use their voices rather than speaking as a sole representative. For those who want to get more involved and commit some time to the organisation each week, there is the option of becoming a volunteer.
As volunteers, we all have lived experiences of issues in accessing our education. Most have years of experience as activists at our university, mobilising the disabled student body, creating information campaigns or influencing decision-makers. This gives us unique insight into the issues and solutions associated with HE accessibility.
Too often, disabled student activists crumble under expectations that they should do activism in the same way as non-disabled activists. At DSUK, we have a disability-informed structure that builds on strengths, supports weaknesses and allows contributors to participate at the level they have the capacity for at the time. For one, all of our work is performed online, and we do not have fixed working hours. We emphasise accessibility, collaboration and clear communication around limitations and ask volunteers to write down essential access requirements when they join us.
The Directors have the ultimate legal and operational responsibility for the organisation. DSUK currently has 4 Directors: Our team