Daniel is a deaf first year student who  started studying at UCL in September, however by the end of first term he was already close to dropping out. Until Christmas his access to lectures was severely restricted as UCL failed to provide him with a reliable British Sign Language interpreter. His experience shows how unprepared UCL is to fulfil its legal obligation of providing access and support to disabled students.

Daniel was excited to attend his very first lecture, however the experience soon turned disappointing and disorienting as he found that the BSL interpreter, who UCL assured him would be provided, was nowhere to be found. After the lecture he turned to UCL to explain what he assumed must have been a small mistake on the university’s part. However, he was met by administrative staff who appeared to be under the impression that the responsibility for assuring that Daniel had access to his lectures laid with him, not the university. “Their approach seemed to be ‘you chose to come here, you sort out the issues,’ ” Daniel characterised his interactions with UCL. Over the next term Daniel and his parents were left on the their own trying to secure basic accessibility to Daniel’s lectures.

“I feel that I have really been taking my support in sixth form for granted… just knowing she’ll always be there for all of my classes seemed normal,”

As UCL does not have any in-house interpreters, the university contacts outside agencies. However according to Daniel, it was his parents who were left arranging everything whilst UCL “just signed the papers that we [Daniel’s parents] gave them.”

Additionally, the agencies themselves often proved incompetent. Throughout first term Daniel’s family had to change agencies three times before he was provided with a reliable interpreter who attended his lectures, and even so Daniel says that something went wrong “about every two weeks.”
“I feel that I have really been taking my support in sixth form for granted… just knowing she’ll always be there for all of my classes seemed normal,” says Daniel.

Even the Student Support and Wellbeing team, the UCL body which should be the first and most reliable point of contact for disabled students, at times appeared unreachable.  When Daniel’s family tried to schedule a simple meeting,  a senior member of staff claimed they were “unprepared” to attend one and did not suggest any alternatives. Eventually, Daniel and his parents chose to come to a drop-in session, hoping they would finally be able to express their concerns, however their meeting was ‘terminated’ after only eight minutes.

“I would ask other disabled students to seriously think about applying to UCL”

Meanwhile, the problems only seemed to be accumulating and Daniel was struggling, feeling alone, helpless, and unable to adjust to the new inaccessible university environment. Whilst he was left without a reliable interpreter through all of first term, he also encountered issues with the note-taking agency hired by UCL, Randstad.

The note-taker who was sent to assist him turned out to be hard of hearing himself, something he had failed to disclose to the agency. When Daniel tried to sort the issue out with Randstad he again found himself ignored.

Similarly, even a simple flashing doorbell, which can be purchased online for about £15, was not installed in his accommodation until November although UCL agreed upon installing one in August.

“If it weren’t for my parents I would have dropped out.” Daniel says recalling his parents’ support and determination. At times they would be forced to take extended periods of time off work and travel to London in order to negotiate basic accessibility for their son from a university that seemed largely unconcerned and unwilling to co-operate.

“I would ask other disabled students to seriously think about applying to UCL,” Daniel said, before mentioning that if it weren’t for his department’s willingness to support him, studying at UCL would have been unbearable.

In the light of the report released by the Disabled Students’ Network in January, Daniel’s story unfortunately does not come as a surprise. He is only one of the many students who are persistently let down by UCL’s inability to provide cohesive and reliable support to its disabled students.

Weronika Strzyżyńska

This appeared in CG Issue 71