The ABCs of reaching out to disabled students
Seema* is a student wheelchair user from a Hindu background. Her family are unsympathetic about her disability, believing it is her karma from a former life. Rebecca* noticed Seema sitting alone, and made a point of sitting with her in lectures, having her round for meals and inviting her to CU meetings. Seema ended up going on the CU weekend away. She has not yet made a commitment to Christ, but is experiencing His love through the Christian friends she has made.
Did you know, there are around 230,000 disabled students in UK universities? Or that roughly half of universities admit to not having all their inter-campus transport, libraries and teaching rooms accessible to disabled students?
As a CU you have an incredible mission field on your doorstep. Here are some tips for making your CU more accessible to disabled students:
Book venues for your meetings and weekends away that have wheelchair access and accessible toilets. If you have difficulty finding suitable venues, talk to your Student Union. They should be committed to improving diversity and happy to help you make your events more accessible.
- Be friendly!
The number of disabled students dropping out of university recently rose from 7% to 16%. Students often report that when they complain about lack of access or inadequate learning support, they are referred to counselling, as if the issue were their mental health rather than the university’s lack of appropriate provision. I’m sure you can imagine how demoralising this is. Having a friend who involves them in social events, saves them a seat in the café at lunchtime or offers to go over the lecture with them if they have been unable to take notes can make all the difference to their success at university, and is a practical way of demonstrating God’s love.
Book a sign language interpreter for the meetings during your mission week. You can find Christian interpreters by emailing Interpreting@signsofgod.org.uk. Your Student Union may have diversity funding available to help with the cost of BSL interpreters, and your admissions department can tell you if there are any Deaf students who use BSL.
- Don’t be awkward!
Don’t rush to assist a disabled student who comes into your meeting. But equally, don’t ignore them. Instead, ask if any assistance is needed and be prepared to either help as indicated or stand back and let them manage independently. Don’t assume anything; always ask.
- Email (and other accessible formats)
Produce information about your events in accessible formats. Emailing information means students can adjust settings to enable them to read it. At Torch Trust’s free Worship for All service (http://www.torchtrust.org/smartweb/foursight/accessibleworship) you can upload documents which they will return in large print or as a PDF ready for use with a Braille embosser. Your university’s admin department may have a Braille embosser you can use, or you could contact your local RNIB to see if they can help.
*Not their real names
Ros Bayes is a Training Resources Developer for Through The Roof, a national, pan-disability, Christian ministry with a vision to ensure that the good news of Jesus is accessible to everyone.