Take a bow if you are ramped up

March 11, 2005

Exeter University's Disability Research Centre has helped raise awareness of, change attitudes towards and improve teaching for disabled students.

Exeter was also the first institution in the country to have a mental health adviser seconded from the National Health Service. While most universities have mental health officers, Exeter is unique in that it works directly with local mental health organisations.

These are just some of the attributes that make the DRC a good example of the type of initiative that is sure to catch the eyes of judges assessing which university has the best disability provision for the inaugural Times Higher Awards.

Emma Shelton, manager of the DRC, hopes the university's innovative approach to mental health care will help bridge the gap between mental health institutions and universities. She said: "Unlike schools and colleges, universities are more independent and have less experience in catering for students with disabilities."

The DRC aims to overcome stereotypes and misconceptions about students with disabilities. Ms Shelton said it had been important to include disabled people on her team because such professionals were "positive role models" for students.

Another institution pioneering initiatives to improve access is Hertfordshire University, which requires staff to attend equal opportunities training. Not content merely to ensure that its new De Havilland campus complied with the Disability Discrimination Act, Hertfordshire also fitted it with Braille signposts and tactile paving for visually impaired students.

It is such efforts, which go far beyond basic compliance with minimum standards, that will impress judges of The Times Higher Award for Outstanding Support for Students with Disabilities. The judges will also seek nominations for a range of support projects, from intranet or e-learning innovations to personalised student help.

Sian Davies, officer for students with disabilities at the National Union of Students and an awards judge, said: "The best institutions are not simply looking at improving access for students with disabilities to academic study, they are looking to improve access to the whole student experience."

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