The number of people entering postgraduate study with disabilities has doubled in the last decade, according to the Higher Education and Funding Council for England (HEFCE). But while positive news, in reality, do people with disabilities in postgrad study receive the support they need?
Universities now more accommodating
Disability Rights UK say that the trend of more disabled students in postgrad study since 2005 reflects the learning environment becoming more supportive and inclusive. This, they say, began in the late 1990s when a widening participation agenda come to the forefront.
In fact, universities today are generally very willing and able to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. But the quality and size of those services and the support on offer can significantly vary from place to place. Learning providers are also now more aware of their legal duties to their students with disabilities. Especially since the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010 and amendments made to the Disability Discrimination Act in 2001.
The majority of universities now have trained staff experienced with working with students with different disabilities. And furthermore, in disability support departments have become more integrated into wider student services within recent years.
Barriers still exist
But while we’ve come a long way, Disability Rights UK still see many barriers for postgrad students with disabilities. One particular challenge they often come across is careers advice. They argue that careers advice for disabled students and support to transition into employment is an area still in need of much improvement. Quite often, disabled graduates feel tempted to simply stay in education as a safer option. They often fail to research whether postgrad study will actually help them get the job they want or receive adequate support and information.
But at some institutions, there is still the age-old problem of accessibility. Some older buildings and libraries are simply not accessibility to wheelchair users. And accommodation can be an issue too. If students require accommodation for carers, then they may have to cover that themselves.
Interested in postgrad study?
For anyone considering postgraduate study, but worried about the effect of a disability or chronic illness, they shouldn’t feel discouraged. It can be challenging, but they certainly won’t be the only one. Disability Rights UK advises anyone with disabilities to start their search in the same way as people without disabilities. Consider the course subject and type, and funding – then visit, and ask questions around your particular needs.
While many people my wish to remain private about their disabilities, telling the university is an important way of ensuring you don’t have to cope alone, especially if things get tough. If you experience problems, you’ll find it easier to get the help you need. You may be able to have your circumstances taken into account or arrange a break if you need to.