Make Inclusive and Accessible Environments Standard

Tuesday 23-02-2021 - 15:05

Proposed by: Liverpool John Moores Students' Union 

Please be advised this is not an NUS position, but a policy submitted to Liberation Conference 2021. 


What is the issue facing students? 


16.2% of home students have disclosed a disability to their university during the academic year 2018/2019, indicating a 36% increase since 2014/2015 (Bolton and Hubble, 2020). However, these figures remain an estimate as many students do not feel able to disclose a disability. Toutain (2016) cites the inability to provide medical proof of a disability and stigma as the primary barriers to disclosing a disability. Many universities utilise the medical model to support their disabled students as they require clinical proof of a disability before support can be offered (OfS, 2019). The medical model has been scrutinised for setting the foundation for and compounding disability stigma and discrimination (Dirth and Branscombe, 2017). External funding and resources such as the Disability Support Allowance (DSA) can be seen to perpetuate the university’s reliance on the medical model to provide internal support for students. Additionally, many students may benefit from additional support, but do not feel they have a disability and so choose not to disclose their condition as such. However, due to the medical model used by many universities, these students often face this alone and are not eligible for additional academic support. This latter point is particularly important now due to the uncertainty of the current climate. 

Why is this important to us as a movement? 

For too long there has been a distinct attainment and outcomes gap between disabled students and non-disabled students (OfS, 2019) and this is only exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Funding has doubled in recent years to increase inclusivity and to promote a social model of disability, yet despite this,the medical model remains the primary discourse used within universities when supporting disabled students (Ibid.). Many students who may benefit from additional academic support are falling through the net because they are either unwilling to disclose their condition or are unsure if they meet the criteria of being disabled. The system is set up to force students to label themselves as disabled where they may not be comfortable doing so just to access the support, they need to reach their full potential. Additionally, providing proof of a health condition, students may incur and additional financial burden as Doctor’s notes can cost up to £80 a time (Ecceles et al., 2018). Furthermore, despite the ongoing emphasis on the importance of inclusivity and accessibility, many disabled students who have disclosed their condition and have an individualised learning plan report that the reasonable adjustments are not always adhered to by all lecturers. This again impacts on disabled student’s university experience and their chances of reaching their academic potential and highlights that the current system is not reliable and needs improvement. 

What would the world look like if we solved it? 


We propose that universities need to move away from the medical model and towards the social model. A hybrid model may be beneficial in which universities offer an inclusive and accessible environment across the board but still pays attention to the individual needs of their students in the form of bespoke learning plans.  
We are aware that more work still needs to be done to encourage and support students to disclose a disability, particularly regarding stigma. However, we believe that by committing to an inclusive and accessible environment as standard practice we can begin to ensure students with additional needs can still access some support without having to disclose, therefore increasing degree classification, employability and overall student experience. 

Ideas for Implementation 


We believe that the NUS should lobby for universities to move to an inclusive and accessible environment as standard practice. This can include innovations such as: 
·      Access to course materials before lectures 
·      Provision of accessible software open to all students 
·      All lectures to be recorded with subtitles 
·      Remove the need to provide medical proof to access additional internal support 
References can be found here.
If you are a Students’ Union and would like to put your name to this proposal, please complete this form.



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