Disability is a protected characteristic under the UK Government's Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act 2010 seeks to protect individuals from being treated unfairly because of any different abilities or disabilities they may have. The Act defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
Disability, therefore extends beyond physical impairments and includes mental ill health within its definition. Some students, may not recognise that their difficulties can be classed as a disability until they get to university. Furthermore, sometimes the ways that universities are set up and provide education may present barriers which impedes people with impairments from fully participating.
These barriers may be:
- Physical: for example the design of the built environment
- Procedural: for example the way a course is delivered
- Social: for example negative attitudes towards disabled people – whether consciously or unconsciously held
What is 'Ableism' and 'Disableism'?
Ablesim describes prejudice or discriminatory behaviour and attitudes towards individuals with disabilities in favour of able-bodied individuals. The emphasis here is that ableism occurs to favour able-bodied individuals over people with disabilities.
Disableism similarly to 'ableism' describes prejudice against disabled persons but not in favour of able-bodied individuals. Disableism is the end in and of itself.
Discrimination of any kind based on disability is prohibited under Equality Act 2010 and is not tolerated at St Mary's. St Mary's has zero tolerance for ableism or disableism in our community.
What is a hidden disability?
A hidden disability is a disability that may not be visible or immediately obvious when looking or talking to someone but can have a significant impact on a person’s life. ‘Hidden disabilities’ is an umbrella term that captures a spectrum of disabilities, and can include: autism, epilepsy, acquired brain injuries, mental health conditions and specific learning differences, as well as mobility, speech, visual or hearing impairments. They can also include chronic illnesses such as heart and lung conditions, asthma, arthritis and diabetes.
These conditions can make day-to-day living more challenging and without visible signs or evidence of a disability it can often be difficult for others to be aware or acknowledge the difficulties being experienced. It can also be disempowering and even embarrassing for someone with a hidden disability to have to disclose their condition, particularly if being challenged, for example for using an accessible parking bay or toilet, and can lead to frustration, upset and isolation.
What can universities do?
People with impairments experience different disabling barriers and universities can provide a range of support and adjustments to remove or mitigate the effects of the barrier. This can be done on an individual level, or by anticipating barriers, universities can remove barriers in advance for all students and staff. It is therefore essential that everyone is aware of universities' responsibility to provide accessible and inclusive services and to provide 'reasonable adjustments' for students and staff.
To help ensure we do our best to continuously support our students and staff with disabilities, we have joined the Disability Confident scheme as an employer who is Disability Confident Committed. The commitments we have signed up to as part of this scheme are as follows:
- inclusive and accessible recruitment
- communicating vacancies
- offering an interview to disabled people
- providing reasonable adjustments
- supporting existing employees
Our work as an employer who is Disability Confident Committed is supported by collaboration and consultation with our Disability Staff Network and Disabled Students Network, as we work to centre lived experience in our efforts to create a more inclusive campus environment.
St Mary's Initiatives to Promote Disability Inclusion
The Sunflower Scheme
One core initiative in fostering an inclusive culture for St Mary’s disabled staff and students is our participation in the Sunflower Scheme. Launched by our Disability Staff Network, SMSU, Widening Participation, and Student Services, the scheme allows staff and students with hidden disabilities to discreetly indicate to people around them that they might need additional support, help, or a little more time. Staff and students are able to pick up a sunflower lanyard, bracelet, or badge from student services, registry, the student's union, HR and main reception. Staff and students who would like to find out more information about the Sunflower Scheme at St Mary’s may do so by accessing our Moodle page.
The Disability Confident scheme supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to their workplace. Disability Confident employers of all sizes are:
challenging attitudes towards disability
increasing understanding of disability
removing barriers to disabled people and those with long-term health conditions
ensuring that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations
St Mary’s is currently at Level 1: Disability Confident Committed, having joined the scheme in November 2020. As part of this commitment, St Mary’s is launching a pilot partnership with EvenBreak to conduct more targeted job recruitment for disabled applicants, and has also implemented a policy that requires hiring managers to offer an interview to candidates who disclose a disability and meet the minimum job requirements. As our work continues within the scheme, we will continue making improvements to our policies and practices to embed an inclusive culture for community members with disabilities.
More information on our work with the Sunflower Scheme and Disability Confident can be found on our Disability Confident and Disability Inclusion page.
Resources and Support
Resources and Support for Students
What do I do if I have, or think I have a disability at St Mary's?
Our Student Wellbeing Service offers confidential advice and support to students who have support requirements as a result of a recognised disability, mental health condition, specific learning difference (such as dyslexia, ADHD, and dyspraxia), medical condition(s) or a temporary disability, such as injury. We have over 900 students registered with our service at St Mary's University so you won't be the only one! You can self-refer for disability and dyslexia support here from a phone or computer. For more information on the ways we can provide support, or how we provide that support, visit our Disability and Dyslexia Support page.
Employability Services, through the Careers Service and Centre for Workplace Learning, also offers support and careers advice for students with disabilities, a long-term health condition or a specific learning difference. If your programme has the option to undertake a workplace learning module we can support with finding placements through our relationships with local employers. To learn more, visit our Workplace Learning Moodle pages We can also help with finding disability confident employers and engaging with them positively for example how to disclose. We also have the Employability Confident programme to support employability development for students with disabilities. To find out more and book an appointment please visit our Careers Service Moodle page.
Resources and Support for Staff
We have several options for staff members with disabilities who are seeking advice and support, one of which is applying to Access to Work. Staff seeking wellbeing support are encouraged to reach out to one of our trained St Mary’s Mental Health First Aiders or our 24/7 Employee Assistance Programme. Both of these services are confidential and available to all St Mary’s staff. For more information on the ways we can provide support, visit our Support for Staff Who Have Disabilities page. For line managers looking for guidance as to how best support employees who have disabilities, visit our Guidance for Managers on Supporting Staff with Disabilities page.
We also invite you to join St Mary’s Disability Staff Network - devoted to improving the experience of disabled staff at the University.
Finally, our Dignity at Work Statement and Dignity at Work Policy provide additional support for staff.
External Resources and Support
Citizens Advice – Disability discrimination Citizens Advice is a national charity which offers support and advice to individuals concern regarding: discrimination, employment, debt and money, housing, immigration and other legal matters.
Disability Rights UK Disability Rights UK has a disabled students' helpline, which offers advice to disabled students studying in England. They also campaign to improve disabled people's rights and to tackle hostility, bullying and hate crime.
Mencap Mencap offers fantastic support for students with learning disabilities
Scope Scope is a charity which offers support and services for individuals with disability and their families. Scope is an advocate for equality and offers their assistance to employers to help them recruit and support disabled staff.
Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) Action on Hearing Loss is dedicated to eliminating barriers for individuals who have hearing loss, they offer support, training and other services to achieve their goal of a world inclusive of individuals with hearing difficulties.
British Dyslexia Association British Dyslexia Association seeks to promote a dyslexia friendly society, inclusive of individuals of all age groups.
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