Credit: Dom Fou via Unsplash

Is the student experience accessible?

By Hailie Pentleton

Our Views Editor Hailie is up to her usual tricks with another article about inaccessibility and university.

I am just as grateful as the next person that student election season is over. I don’t want to see a personalised Facebook frame for at least another six months, and I’d rather eat my hand than beg my friends to endorse my candidacy again. Campaigning is a tricky business, made even more difficult when the only option available to candidates is to throw some infographics into the ring and hope they meet your target audience before they’re drowned out by the algorithm. The question is, who is the target audience of election paraphernalia? More often than not, it’s the 18-year-old, middle class, non-disabled, neurotypical student from the front of the brochure. 

Words like “accessibility” and “inclusivity” are thrown around like Canva flyers, but what does it actually mean to cultivate an accessible and inclusive environment. When candidates for next term’s VP of Student Activities were asked how they would make the social side of the university experience more accessible to non-traditional students – for example, disabled students, parents, carers, mature students – the conversation focused primarily on the physical accessibility of the rooms available to clubs and societies. This isn’t a criticism of the individual candidates, who each offered their own spin on the role, but it is symptomatic of a culture that treats accessibility and wheelchair access as synonymous. When it comes to accessibility, there’s so much more to it. 

I signed up to at least 10 mailing lists during Freshers’ Week, and I attended a big fat zero of the society events I was interested in. Making friends when you’re neurodivergent is hard enough. The thought of a sub-crawl makes my skin crawl; the idea of having to talk to anyone is enough to keep me in the house on the least-demanding of days, without throwing strangers, and shots, and social anxiety into the mix. I’d wanted to get involved with The Glasgow Guardian since my first day of first year. It took me until halfway through second year before I showed up to a meeting, and I had a panic attack outside the building beforehand. What if I walked into the wrong room? Where would I sit? What if I had to introduce myself to people, I don’t want to say my name out loud? 

For the longest time, I believed that it was solely on me to include myself in things. Although it shouldn’t, it feels wrong to expect people to make adjustments for your needs. I feel guilty enough accepting extra time on my exams, never mind asking for someone to give me an itinerary before a half-hour long meeting. Frustratingly, it isn’t always possible to be entirely independent of help from other people. No amount of manifesting will meet your access needs – sometimes you’ve got to ask for help. But, a lot of the time, you shouldn’t have to. 

If you’ve never had to think about your own access needs, it can be hard to know where to begin when looking to make an event accessible. Of course, and I cannot stress this enough, it is impossible to make anything 100% accessible. But there are things that can make it a bit easier on everyone. Adding subtitles to your videos, writing up short image descriptions, and providing a plaintext for those colourful infographics we’re all bombarded with makes all the difference. Hosting events in-person and online, at different times, and offering sober alternatives to drink-centred events allows all kinds of new and interesting people the opportunity to make the most of their student experience. Simply listing details around the physical access of a venue on your event page might be the difference between someone attending. Not only are these things beneficial from a practical standpoint, they reassure potential attendees or members that they’re entering an inclusive and welcoming space. 

Sure, it’s reassuring to know that there’s the option to “contact us if you have any access requirements,” but just think about how much easier life would be if we chose to embed inclusive practices wherever possible. The future is accessible, but let’s start now.


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