On January 20th, UCL Disabled Students’ Network published a report detailing the issues surrounding disabilities at UCL, containing students’ testimonies and recommendations for improvements to the treatment of disabled students at UCL.

As of the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for a university to discriminate against a student based on disability or long-term mental and physical health conditions; but the testimonies of the students show UCL has been doing just that.

The report also states that ‘disabled students are significantly less likely to complete their university course’ and that ‘universities are failing to provide [them] with equal access to education’. UCL hasn’t met the Gold Standard requirement for the Disability Standard since its application in 2017.

There is an overall lack of understanding of how to support disabled students. One student says, ‘whenever I would bring up my situation to my examinations  officer, he would advise me to either drop out or simply get on with it’ and the student was also ‘told by a senior member of staff that UCL is an “institution that requires minimal level of functionality from its students.” ‘

“cancer and chemotherapy is not considered a long-term health condition”

The misunderstanding of the law leads to one student being told that ‘having cancer and chemotherapy is not considered a long-term health condition’ and therefore they were not entitled to extenuating circumstances, despite the Act stating a person with cancer has the same rights as any other disabled individual.

Some UCL students also encountered ableist and eugenicist rhetoric. One testimony states that a Genetics professor ‘taught about Eugenics in a way that called out racism, but which validated ableism’. He also mimicked sign language, conflating his random hand actions to an official language. Most egregiously, he taught quantitative genetics using an example showing why killing disabled people would not, mathematically speaking, remove the disease genes from the population…

He effectively espoused the idea that disabled people should be exterminated – but not in such an inefficient way.’ One student experienced blatant discrimination when their supervisor said they were ‘too disabled to do [their project]’ and forced them to move projects, and that if they refused to do so, the supervisor ‘would make sure [they] never graduated and never got a job in that industry’.

UCL’s new campaign #UCLcares is hard to miss on social media and on campus, however experiences of disabled students continue to put a question mark over the catchy hashtag.

The report offers up extensive recommendations for how UCL can ensure fair treatment of its disabled students. Some of the recommendations include appointing a Disability Inclusion oversight team ‘headed by a professional who is either an expert on disability studies, or is an access consultant and disabled themselves’.

The role of the team would be creating a plan for implementing improved disability support across UCL. The report
throughout stresses the importance of an overarching policy for protecting disabled students, instead of expecting individual departments and bodies to ensure equal treatment within their contained environments. Moreover, the report urges UCL to ensure all staff are appropriately trained in the law regarding equal treatment of disabled students to avoid any misrepresentations.

‘when we tried to talk to people about these issues, all we would get is deflection, it’s a very interesting strategy that UCL employs…’

Zohar, the Disabled Student officer told The Cheese Grater that they struggled to obtain a rent adjustment on their accommodation, which is a legal requirement as of 2016. UCL has continually failed to inform their students of their rights to reduced rent accessible rooms.

Zohar said, ‘when we tried to talk to people about these issues, all we would get is deflection, it’s a very interesting strategy that UCL employs…’ Zohar also said that the Union has only just started to take issues of disability seriously, and whilst they do well on issues of mental health, there is still a problem with supporting students with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The report calls for more transparency and accountability at UCL when it comes to the treatment and support of students with disabilities. The failures to support students, as highlighted in the report, fundamentally disadvantage disabled students and hinder their access to fair, equal and rigorous education.


Sophia Robinson

Additional reporting by Joanne Land

Header Image: https://news.derby.gov.uk/10-ways-we-support-the-equality-act-2010/

Image: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2018/oct/support-ucl-international-students

This appeared in CG Issue 71