When sharing her study experience recently at the University of Sydney, student Anna Swan, who is a wheelchair user, said that just attending class by herself is a challenge some days:
‘I’m 21, and sometimes when the class is over three hours, I have to take the class in the company of my mother. Otherwise, I am always afraid I’ll slip or fall over in the toilet’
Anna is not the only disabled student who faces challenges with access to toilets and other buildings on campus, and her story is the start of this exploration into accessibility for students with disability at USyd.
Living with disability
There are over 4 million Australian living with disability according to statistic from the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) declares that people with disability have the right to access the premises used by the public. It also claims discrimination against disabled people in an indirect way is against the law.
The University of Sydney (USYD) has offered a range of services and adjustments for disability support. According to Dagmar Kminiak, the Manager of Disability Services at the University there were around 2,000 disabled students registered with the University in 2019, a slight increase compared with last year.
However the range of old buildings, lack of accessible entrances and lifts in some areas present challenges for students with different disabilities to fit in university life. Therefore, the increasing number of disabled students in universities urgently requires USYD to establish a truly disabled-accessible campus.
Planning for disability services
Dagmar Kminiak acknowledges that not every building in the university has lifts or wheelchair ramps yet, and some buildings “need to be upgraded to welcome more students with disability.” However she notes there is a plan to make “every single facility accessible by by everyone, including people with disabilities.”
The University’s most recent disability action plan has developing an “accessible built environment” as one of its key objectives, and a plan for upgrading priority buildings, paths and parking facilities within 10 years.
One of the problems the University faces in developing a disability friendly campus is simply in assessing what adjustments they need to make for all students.
This is Anna Swan’s first semester studying at USYD and everything seems challenging for her. Yet when asked about the disability support she’s been offered, Anna mentioned that she hasn’t yet registered online.
‘I haven’t registered online because I don’t like to be treated differently and I would better accompanied by a person I am familiar with’, she said.
Making buildings accessible
The accessibility of the Manning House is at a high level. There are unisex toilets in each floor, wheelchair ramps to access the building, clear instructions board at the entrance, disability supported lifts and so on.
A message from The Physical Disability Council of NSW (PDCN) posted in Manning House aims at building connections between USYD students with a physical disability.
Lifts and wheelchair ramps
Most of the buildings in USYD have lifts and wheelchair ramps. However, some old buildings don’t have these two facilities.
In USYD, most of the doors of the accessible toilets need a good push. Taking the Manning House as an example, each of the floors has accessible toilets and has a really noticeable sign for guiding. However, the door of the accessible toilet on the ground floor is really heavy and it may be a challenge for people who use a wheelchair or with a crutch to open. Besides, there is a noticeable problem that some doors of the accessible toilet are designed with door-handle which may be inconvenient for the people using a wheelchair to use.
It is worth mentioning that in the new buildings, such as ABS and F23 the Administration Building, the highest level of accessible toilet has been built. Those accessible toilets use automatic doors with the button ‘Push To Lock’ and ‘Push To Open’; and two pilot lights to show whether it is occupied. Inside, those accessible toilets have an emergency assistance button to contact campus security in case of accidents happens.
The passageway and tactile paving
Most of the passageway in USYD are built with cobblestones which are not that flat and safe for students using a wheelchair or those with a visual disability. Tactile paving has been put in front of almost all stairs to help students with visual disability to notice the obstacle in front. However, there is no tactile paving in the main street from Fisher library to access to Wentworth building.
Most of the lifts and accessible toilet have braille directions. Take Fisher Library as an example, each button of the lifts have braille directions. The entrance of toilets also has braille directions to help students with visual disability.
Building a User-friendly Campus–A New Disability Five-year Action Plan in USYD
USYD now is in the process of developing a new disability action plan which is a five-year plan from 2019-2024.
When talking about the future plan, Dagmar Kminiak said that the University aims to achieve a number of significant outcomes that related to uploading the physical access of the university to the highest standard.
“We are trying to build a user-friendly campus by upgrading the lifts, ramps, and toilets and making sure that everyone can access every building.”
Also, as part of that plan, USYD is going to provide more educational choices for students. To support students with a disability, USYD is planning to employ more staff to look at university design for learning to ensure that is it appropriate.
‘Talking about disability, how can we make the university community which makes everyone feels welcome including people with disability?’, said Kminiak, ‘To focus on culture, USYD aiming to employ more people with disability in university to get more professional training and improve the disability awareness’.
The five-year action plan also focuses on the digital environment by making sure that everything on the website, on the internet, on Canvas, is accessible.
Funding is one of the main challenges since uploading all of the physical infrastructures requires a lot of money. However, the biggest challenge faced by USYD is changing the culture.
‘We need to change our culture. We need to acknowledge that it is something that would be beneficial for our students. That’s about disability awareness, the biggest challenge we are facing’, Kminiak mentioned.
Brief Summary: The key strategies of USYD for building a truly disabled-accessible campus
- Uploading the physical access to higher stranded
- Welcoming more students and stuff to study and work in USYD
- Improving disability awareness and changing the culture
- Making the accessibility be felt but not seen
Do you have any suggestion for improving the accessibility in USYD? Contact details: USYD disability services Phone number: 61286278422 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org