What is it like being disabled on campus?

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Jackson Langford uncovers what it’s like to be disabled on the UON Campus

It’s something that I’m sure you can’t possibly understand unless you have gone through it yourself or have seen someone close to you deal with it. Disability affects an astonishing 1 in 5 people nationwide, and 90% of those people have disabilities that aren’t immediately visible. Not only do those with a disability have to work that little bit harder to get through a standard uni day, but society’s cruel, prejudicial ways have made things that little bit more difficult. People with a disability have an employment rate of 39.8%, while those who without a disability have an employment rate of 79.4%. While we often whine about the woes of presentation essays and the fact that the Subway on campus still doesn’t have a toaster, these are trivial issues compared to those faced by students with a disability.

An ex-student with a disability, who wishes remain to anonymous and will be called Jess for the purpose of this interview, spoke about her experiences on campus. “The biggest issue I found at the university,” she said, “was that it did not cater for people with a disability as a whole. Whilst there may have been lifts, they were not necessarily close by so it meant walking over the hill or further just to get to it.” How many times have you whinged about the walk from the Shortland Hub to the McMullin or ICT? For those of us without a physically limiting disability, it would seem that we are making a mountain out of a molehill, but for those with a disability this phrase can take a more literal meaning.

While the infrastructure of UON provides its own challenges to those without a disability, what is refreshing to see is that discrimination amongst the student body against those who are disabled are apparently scarce. “I don’t think there is an issue,” Jess said. Though Jess hadn’t personally hasn’t come across any issues, Australians still display subtle methods of discrimination against those who are disabled, with 90% of disabled people that participated in the ‘Scope 1 in 4’ poll saying that they did not have their need to feel valued and to belong met.

For those of you are living with a disability, Jess did offer some guidance as to how to handle what is an already daunting experience. “Make sure you tell the appropriate people as soon as possible about where your classes are located and if they are hard to get to. I waited 3 years for it to be right,” Jess said. “Also, be sure to sus out the closest disabled parks as I found this was the most convenient thing when trying to find a classroom.” It’s also worth noting that for those of us without a disability how appreciated and respected it is when we offer those in need a helping hand. It doesn’t take that much effort to help someone up the stairs who is clearly struggling.

Despite the blaringly obvious fact that UON haven’t quite accommodated people with a disability as well as they could have, there are support services in place. UoN’s Disability Support Service has a plethora of ways they try and help those with a disability. By registering with the DSS, you can obtain anything from ergonomic furniture to formal exam support to equipment loans all in place to make your university experience as easy as it can possibly be. You can also convene with UON’s resident National Disability Co-ordination Officer, Kay Dean. The NDCO program aims to assist people with disability access and participate in tertiary education and subsequent employment.

On a closing note, remember that disability, by no means, defines a person. Whether your disability is physical or not, there will always be people out there that are willing to help.

Image: Flickr, Taber Andrew Brain. No changes made.