Pluto Reporter and Students’ Council Disability Representative-Elect Richard Crake went as a Delegate to the 2016 National Union of Students’ Disabled Students’ Conference. Here’s his report on how it went.
During the Easter holidays I went to a conference held by the National Union of Students for the annual Disabilities conference. At this conference in Manchester delegates from all over the country came together to discuss how the Union could best support Disabled students nationwide, and tackle proposed changes to Disabled Students Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payments and many other items of benefit and support.
During the conference elections were held for the main Disabled Students Officer for the NUS, who were Bal Deol and James Elliot. They both campaigned well and James Elliot was successfully elected.
At the event the NUS showed statistics of Mental Health issues becoming more prevalent to students with 8 out of 10 students saying they had experienced Mental Health issues in that year, a third of which said they had suicidal thoughts. Around the time of 2007 – 2011 the number of male student suicides rose from 57 to 78, and female student suicides rose from 18 to 34. When you look back these are very worrying statistics which many fear won’t be helped due to government cuts to Mental Health services.
From these figures from the students the NUS surveyed, 65% stated workload pressures e.g. deadlines were a cause of mental distress, and 50% stated they worried financially about meeting basic living costs.
We also discussed how changes to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) would affect disabled students. From September 2016 the government will stop funding ‘non-medical’ support for disabled students, such as screen reading computer software. This will now be funded by the universities themselves, with no additional funding from the government. This will be a cut of government spending of £24.5million or more. There has been opposition to this new ruling that this will discourage universities from taking on Disabled Students as the more students they enrol the more money the university will have to spend. The government countered this criticism stating that universities could not discriminate under the Equalities Act (2010), but offered no information as to how this would be monitored to insure discrimination wouldn’t take place. It was agreed at the conference not many students were aware of this legal protection.
There was also discussion around reasonable adjustment, this is where a Disabled Student may need something changed or altered in order to access education. An example given was from a blind student who stated they requested a tutor email work rather than use the Blackboard system, as their screen reader computer program wouldn’t work. This tutor refused and subsequently this student got behind in their studies. This is a case where a reasonable adjustment of emailing this student the work directly would have meant they could have completed their work.
A lot more was talked about at this event, however I will leave it at that for now and conclude that the event was very good and supportive, the unofficial event of wheelchair racing was very enjoyable.
On that note as your Disabled Students’ Representative next year I would love to get in touch with anyone willing to help in my campaigns next year for greater disability awareness across campus. I look forward to hearing from you!