Newcastle University's inaccessibility problem

Gemma Powell on the treatment of disabled students at the University

Gemma Powell
19th October 2020
The University had failed to make this academic year accessible for all. We see this in the lack of plans in place for students with disabilities, those with caring responsibilities and those stuck abroad.

Many disabled students said they have felt pressured by the University to return to campus. An anonymous computer science student expressed that their school had not communicated effectively with students, failing to mention there was an online and in person version of induction events. The student suffered severe anxiety around entering campus in the week prior to entering Tier 3.

The University have not effectively communicated about the educational tier system

Whilst the tier system was designed by the government and not the University, they have not effectively communicated with students exactly what will happen at each stage of the tier system. Many students were only aware of the tiers and changes due to previous Courier articles.

The tier rating changed on Wednesday 7 October from Tier 2 to Tier 3, meaning students would no longer receive lessons in person from the Thursday. This rapid change is simply not good enough where disabled students are concerned. When the inevitable reverse of this tier change comes, 24 hours’ notice will not be enough time. Autistic students find it hard to cope with immediate change, while students using mobility aids require more than a day's preparation time.

The University aren't providing the same level of education to those opting to study online

The obvious solution to this would be to opt to study online like other vulnerable students. However, the University actually aren’t providing students who chose this option with the same level of education.

An anonymous final year modern languages student told The Courier: “Because of my disability, I am at high risk from the virus. But I recently found out from my school that when we are back on Tier 2, there won’t be online seminars for some of my modules. They won’t even record them for me to access from home! I will effectively be left to fill in the seminar worksheet without any support from my lecturers or input from other class members. This will be the case for able-bodied, self-isolating students too. Surely this will give an incentive to more people to go to lectures when they are sick.”

This has also been confirmed for other subjects such as English and History.

The University risk breaching the Equality Act 2010

Though a difficult balance to strike, a desire for normality simply cannot outweigh an accessibility need.

A Newcastle University spokesperson said: "The School of Modern Languages is fully committed to supporting students to meet their individual needs and all the modules that this student has chosen are either already available online or have recorded sessions - we hope that this offers reassurance."

"The School adjusts its teaching of modules when it is made aware that a student is studying remotely to maximise individually tailored support. This was done when the student contacted the School and additional support has also been offered."

"On the advice of Newcastle’s Director of Public Health and in collaboration with Newcastle City Council, the University as a whole agreed to move to Tier 3 of the Department for Education’s guidance on delivery of teaching during COVID-19 outbreaks."

"All programmes are being delivered online except where present-in-person sessions are essential to meet programme learning outcomes or satisfy accreditation requirements. This will be reviewed next week."

"We recognise that this is a difficult time for students, and we continue to provide support on and off campus."

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