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Lucy from Bailrigg FM interviewed Molly Lawson, the new students with disabilities officer.
What have you been up to over lockdown?
A lot of Animal Crossing if I’m being honest, a lot of training with the Students Union too. We (the Part-Time Officers) are getting the same training as the Full-Time Officers which has been really helpful. I’m also learning sign language which has been a lot of fun and working on my dissertation of course but that’s much less interesting.
Could you give us a little bit more detail on what your role in the Student’s Union (SU) involves?
There are three aspects of my role. Number one is the fact that I am a member of the executive committee which is the main political body in the SU- so I get to vote on all the policies that go through. I am also Chair of the students with disabilities forum which is an informal space where students with disabilities get together and run campaigns. The third role is running campaigns personally using the forum and by myself.
Why did you decide to run for this role?
I decided to run because I could see problems, while an academic rep, with accessibility in my department. Through being an academic rep I met more people with disabilities who had the same horror stories that I did and decided that I wanted to change that.
What are your aims for the next academic year?
One of the main things I want to do is collect information from all across the university- undergraduate and postgraduate. With this information, I can find out if the current system is working for them. I can already estimate that it is not from personal experience and experiences from my friends. Compile the information into a report and talk to the university about it to see what we can do. That’s my main thing- I want to improve the accessibility of lectures and seminars. I am also working on an accessibility framework for the students union- there should be a policy by which disability is recognised within the union. Campaigns and communications have to be accessible, this was started by my predecessor and I think it’s a really important thing going forwards.
A few days ago we got the email of the Vice Chancellor’s plan in regards to changes that are going to happen due to the Covid-19 pandemic. One of these changes will be that the university will be taking a more blended approach to education in Michaelmas term- combining traditional in-person sessions with a range of supplementary digital sessions. How do you think this change will affect students with disabilities. How will you make sure this impact is reduced as much as possible?
Honestly, I think we need to know more before we can assess exactly how it will affect students with disabilities. There will be some aspects which are positive and negative. So for example, lecture recordings are going to become the standard which means that people with chronic illnesses will now be able to access them in a much easier and more flexible way. Similarly, I have a visual impairment so before when lecturers couldn’t give me the PowerPoint slides I couldn’t follow along but now they’re recorded and online that makes it so much easier for me. I am determined to talk to the VP for Education, the VP for Welfare and the President and be in the room essentially. It is too easy to overlook accessibility issues without a disability yourself- even when it is completely innocent essentially and I think that is why you need a student in the room and I want to do that.
One of the first things that you said you want to do in your role is to improve the accessibility of the SU. First of all, what do you mean by accessibility? How do you plan to do this?
That covers things like image descriptions or alternate text for images on Instagram. It covers there being a BSL interpreter at university events. Making sure that whatever platform that we are using online like this uses captioning software for people. These things are incredibly important and in part do happen- until they are policy we can’t guarantee that everyone is following them. If it passes executive committee people will have to follow it which is very exciting.
You’ve talked about Freshers Fair and making that more accessible- what would this mean this year if it has a more digital approach due to Covid-19?
Everything I’d intended on doing has just been thrown out the window. For example, students with autism get earlier access to the Freshers Fair but that’s not the official start time so some stalls haven’t even been set up- that’s appalling. Second, I was going to introduce that other students with disabilities such as mobility issues or anxiety could also go in earlier but none of that is now possible. I don’t think it will be face to face like it usually is. I don’t know exactly what I can do to make it accessible online beyond the policy. For example, if every society was to put up a video describing their society making sure they have captions and things like that, making sure that however they are on social media is accessible. It is absolutely something I am going to be working on but I still don’t have any information on how it’s going to run which is unfortunate.
What is the students with disabilities forum and how can students with disabilities access this?
It is an informal space that used to be a more formal meeting but now any student with a disability, which is actually half of the campus, is eligible for this. There are tea and coffee social events or there is training on resilience and stuff like that. Any student with a disability is automatically part of the forum, you just might not come along. I think people don’t know about it which is a shame as it is a lovely way to connect with people. It’s sort of a subdivision of the SU but it is really just like any other society and there is no membership fee with everything guaranteed to be accessible.
We have been away from campus for quite a while now. What do you miss most about university life?
I miss the people. I still consider myself very much introverted and I didn’t think I’d miss it as much as I would I love walking down the Spine to work and then you bump into a friend and decide you’ll just go for a coffee or something. I miss the social aspect of everything, the societies, my friends and people who will be my friends. I miss meeting new people basically.
Obviously, on-campus there are a lot of places that people might miss as well. Two of those places we have an argument about amongst the student population and that’s Sultans or Ketcap- which do you prefer?
Can I make a confession- I have never been to Ketcap ever in my life despite living in Furness so it was so close. I love Sultans, I think the 1 am breakdowns in Sultans when you’ve been in the library or a night out, either way, it’s just as applicable. Going to Sultans in the middle of the night when Game of Thrones was on, do you remember when Game of Thrones starting at 2 am- that was the best time. That was good.
Thank you for talking to us today!
Thank you for having me!