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Access complaint prompts investigation by university

Access complaint prompts investigation by university
26th February 2020 Ian Streets

A university apologised and launched an investigation after a student who uses a wheelchair was left to work in isolation at the top of a flight of steps in a lecture theatre which is a listed building.

Mainstream media were alerted after pictures appeared on social media of Sarah-Marie Da Silva sitting at the back of the room away from other students.

Sarah-Marie, a zoology student told journalists that this was not the first time the University had failed to accommodate her needs.

She said: “Everyone walked up the stairs to take their seats and I was left with nowhere to go – no desk, no seats next to me for other students and I’m right next to the lecturer. It made me feel like an ‘other’.

“A lot of the time there are no desks for me. If there are, they’re movable desks, but the wheels are always locked and I can’t bend down that far to unlock them, so everyone in the theatre looks on at me whilst I struggle to get a desk.”

Within days of Sarah-Marie’s ordeal being reported by the media the story emerged of disabled mum who said she felt “degraded and humiliated” after she was trapped in a lecture room due to a broken lift at the same university.

Rebecca Doyle, who lives with fibromyalgia, hypermobility syndrome and degenerative disc disease, said the began using her wheelchair when she embarked on her course, but soon struggled to learn because she could not get in to certain lecture rooms due to little to no disabled access.

She told the media: “One day I even got trapped in the actual lecture room as the lift was broken and the fire alarm went off and people evacuated. It took that long for them to get me out, that I’m sad to say it but I actually wet myself.

“It was awful and completely humiliating and degrading to be treated so differently and not given the same rights due to a disability.”

Commenting after the reports about Sarah-Marie, the University of Hull apologised and admitted that while it was not possible to make the lecture theatre used by Sarah-Marie fully-accessible other arrangements should have been made to give her the same working arrangements as her fellow students.

Dr Anji Gardner, Director of Student Services at the University of Hull, added that the University carries out independent accessibility surveys and audits across its estate and makes every effort to ensure its campus is accessible to all.

She said: “We are very sorry that this has happened, clearly it is not acceptable. We take these matters very seriously and a colleague from our student services team is looking into what has happened.

“We are committed to working with our students to put in place any additional support or adjustments where needed. Unfortunately, it is clear this hasn’t happened in this case.

“As a University we are continuing to invest in and develop our campus and ensuring our buildings are accessible forms a large part of this.

“This particular building is listed and as a result we are unable to make structural alterations to this room.

“A rigorous process is undertaken to ensure rooms allocated for teaching sessions take into account students’ additional requirements but unfortunately it is clear a mistake has happened on this occasion.

“We will immediately look into what happened and ensure that we take necessary steps to make sure this does not happen again.”

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