Is Royal Holloway letting down its disabled students?

Armed with a Royal Holloway Campus Access Guide, I set out to see just how wheelchair-accessible the so-called accessible routes really are. Starting off in FounderÂ’s, I tried to enter via a route with wheel-chair access. The ramp marked as being just to the side of the reception was in actual fact closed off, and I therefore had to walk all the way around the building, and enter FounderÂ’s via the library. For wheelchairs dependent on electricity, this detour is a squandering of battery charge.

Once in the South Quad, I noticed how deplorably crackled and uneven the paving is. One wheelchair-user, speaking of their on-campus experience, told me that this issue was so bad that they preferred to avoid Founder’s all together. The cracks and unevenness in the paving – a problem which the woodland path between Founders and The Hub also has – rock the wheelchair-user in their chair. The movement is not only uncomfortable: it increases the chances of the wheelchair-user’s possessions from being jerked out of the student’s grasp, or worse, of they themselves falling out. We are not just failing to provide for the needs of these students. We are putting them in danger.

I then went to FounderÂ’s library to enquire about wheelchair access. There is a ramp to get in, but it is too steep for the student to use safely. Wheelchair-users therefore do not have access to the library. There is a book transfer system, however, in which the student sends out a request and the library staff will find the book and give it to themÂ… but what of students who are not quite sure of their topic yet, and therefore need to browse across shelves and shelves of books (as other, non-wheelchair students do, at their leisure)? If the disabled student is not sure of exactly which book they want, they can hardly ask the librarian to shift entire chunks of the library so that they look through it all and can take their pick. I find it quite preposterous that an educational institution can claim to welcome disabled students equally, yet restrict their access of the library. It seems that actions are speaking louder than words in this case. What is incomprehensible still is that, whilst the lack of unrestricted access to the library can be a major obstacle to a student, replacing the current, apparently useless ramp with a decent one would be incredibly easy.

Along the same lines, I have furthermore heard stories of wheelchair-users unable to get to seminars because there wasn’t any wheelchair-access. How can we be a university free from discrimination when – not through any fault of their own, but through our own incompetence – we deprive our own students of the opportunity to learn?

The Royal Holloway Campus Access Guide, I also found, does not have disabled toilets marked upon it. In fact, the only toilet that is marked on the map is the one in the FounderÂ’s building (one, compared to the fifteen for non-disabled students). I find this somewhat baffling. It seems that disabled students are supposed to know by magic where to go.

However, I donÂ’t want to be unnecessarily unfair to the College; the Educational Support Office works hard to ensure, as much as they can, that the needs of disabled students are catered for; for example, the Student Support Worker scheme means that students who need general assistance, library assistance or note taking, are provided with those services. However, that is in part what makes the whole thing so frustrating to me. Royal Holloway does indeed make an effort to ensure that disabled students are catered for, yet the College nonetheless falters on certain key issues. Key, yes; but blindingly simple to solve. Surely if weÂ’re all as intelligent as Royal Holloway likes to think we are, it shouldnÂ’t be too difficult to work out, should it?

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