Universities still failing on disability access, warn campaigners

Universities are still failing to provide good access to disabled students, according to a study by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign published today.

A survey of students’ unions and university disability advice teams at 100 universities, published to coincide with the start of the annual university clearing period this week, found disabled students could struggle to find a course and university that meets their access needs this year.

The poll was carried out by the charity’s Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners.

Lack of accessible accommodation and teaching facilities

The report, University Challenge, found that one in ten students will not have accessible accommodation, cooking and dining facilities integrated into mainstream university life.

Just under half of universities do not have teaching and study rooms and libraries fully accessible for disabled students and nearly 40% of universities do not provide a fresher’s guide for disabled people.

Under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, which came into force from 2002-5, disabled students have the right not to be discriminated against. However, the report said that despite improvements on lift and ramp provision, universities were still not as inclusive as they should be.

Non-disabled twice as likely to go to university

National figures show that non-disabled people are twice as likely to have studied at university than disabled people.

The young campaigners are calling for a meeting with business secretary Lord Mandelson and higher education minister David Lammy to discuss their findings and put pressure on universities.  

Commenting on the report, MDC chief executive Phillip Butcher, said: “Every student has the right to make their choice of university based on academic and social concerns, rather than because of the practical facilities available. It is vital to ensure all students have access to the same opportunities.”   

Universities improving

Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “The statistics in the report show that initiatives introduced by universities have led to significant improvements in facilitating access to university and offering support while studying.

“Universities recognise that there is always room for improvement and this is an on-going process. They are continually monitoring provision in order to improve the support they can offer.”

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