By Margaret Stone, Senior Lecturer, Advancing Integrated Urgent Care Practice, University of Derby
I have an invisible disability. An injury to my right arm meant I had to leave my old job. However, I’ve made it my mission to be positive and talk about my abilities and what I can do, as well as changing things for others.
When you’re disabled, you’re different. I don’t like looking different or being treated differently. The more I can be like everyone else, the better I feel. Over the past ten years I’ve been involved with disability networks at two universities, Derby and de Montfort, and we’ve achieved a lot to help reduce the feeling of ‘standing out’ that a disability can bring.
Making a difference
At de Montfort we were fortunate to have input into designing the estate before it was built. This meant we were able to advise the architect that the very lovely glass balconies they had created would be a real hazard for someone with visual impairments, so metal railings were incorporated into the design. We also ensured that a flat path was created through an outdoor space that would have been entirely cobbled.
Key to progress generally was consulting with our estates team on a regular basis. Simple things make a difference, like ensuring the hooks in the disabled toilets were brought down from the top of the door to the right level for a wheelchair user. A colleague found it difficult to stand whilst waiting for the lifts, so we got flip down seating attached to the adjoining wall. The estates team had a small budget to carry out these changes.
Before Covid we had introduced Sunflower lanyards for staff, students and visitors to signal they have a hidden disability. We use the sunflower sign outside toilets and lifts to remind people that some disabilities are hidden. We introduced accessible maps which show you how to get around the campus avoiding steps and highlighting lifts and are now getting these maps put on the back of visitor badges as QR codes.
One icy winter, we realised estates weren’t gritting around the disabled car parking spaces, so they added this area to their routine – a simple fix which meant that people with mobility issues could come to work without fear of slipping and falling over. We’ve also created short-term passes for the disabled parking spaces, so if you break your leg for example, your temporary disability is recognised too.
I remember one action by a university team which made a profound difference to me. I requested a chair for a meeting with arms on to support me better. When I got there, I realised they had provided everyone with the same type of chair. This made me feel totally accepted. It meant I didn’t stand out, I was the same as everyone else and for once could sit with the people I would normally choose to sit with. At many meetings my chair means I have to sit at the front, or at the side, which can be a very isolating experience. It’s difficult to feel included in a team when you’re sitting far away from them.
We inputted a lot into training for managers on how to interact with and support disabled members of staff and amended lots of policies help to protect disabled staff in the workplace. We suggested a disability passport system, so you could list out the adjustments you needed and didn’t have to explain them all over again to a new line manager if you moved department or needed to access training.
All of these changes benefit everybody and serve to highlight the diverse experience of disability. There’s power in a group – so get organised! I seem to have turned into a disability campaigner, which I’m not sure I ever wanted to be – but I am!
Read more Inclusion and Diversity blogs.