Since the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act in 2005, it has been illegal for education providers to treat disabled students less favourably because of their disability.

Although there has been a recent increase in the number of disabled students entering higher education, Trailblazers have continued to hear about challenges that still remain unaddressed when planning to study and remain in higher education.

Trailblazers highlighted a lack of information aimed specifically at existing and prospective disabled students. They also felt under-represented in governance issues at their university, as we found that only one third of universities have a society representing disabled students in the students union. There are also concerns about planned changes to the Disabled Student’s Allowance and how this will affect young disabled people who are planning to go to university.

In 2009 we published our report University Challenge (2009), highlighting the challenges related to accessing higher education. Four years later, we published our follow up report, University Challenge (2013), which showed that despite an increase in the number of disabled students entering higher education, young disabled people still face challenges when planning to study at university.

Our report revealed:

  • Sixty percent of survey respondents said there was not enough information for disabled students on university websites regarding accommodation
  • Three out of four said organising care from their local authority was not straightforward to organise
  • Eighty percent said their university careers service did not offer support specifically for disabled students
  • Thirty percent said their graduation ceremony was in an inaccessible or non-inclusive setting
  • Only 20 percent of universities have a suitably adapted toilets with hoists in university buildings.

My local council had never sent a disabled person away to university before. They were quite insistent that I should stay and study at my local university (ranked 119th as opposed to Oxford, ranked first) and do a course that I had absolutely no interest in. My decision to move away was treated with complete bewilderment; there was no understanding of how my care package would be accommodated, and the idea that agency care was more expensive in the new local authority caused real problems when negotiating my Direct Payments.

Zoë Hallam (pictured above), studied at Oxford University

Trailblazers are calling for:

  • the government, local authorities, and universities and colleges to prioritise at least one person as a disability officer to give expert advice and support to disabled students and ensure that the transition to university is as smooth as possible.
  • the government, local authorities, and universities and colleges to ensure that all university and college websites have fully comprehensive and accessible information for disabled students.
  • the government, local authorities, and universities and colleges to provide free accommodation for personal assistants required by disabled students who need 24-hour care to ensure that they receive the support they need to study.

You can read the most recent report here. Trailblazers continues to campaign on improving access to higher education. If you are affected by these issues and would like to share your experiences or be a media ambassador, contact us here.

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