Supporting roles

May 25, 2017

The contributions to the feature “Access all areas” (18 May), on the problems caused by poor disability access on campus, contain some very familiar points – the assumption that disability applies only to students is frustrating, not least because, as pointed out here, some students believe that academia is only for the “perfect” and so they have no role models.

I have a visual impairment and constantly find myself in bizarre situations where I am asked to look at papers that have type that is too small for me to read – and some of those papers deal with approaches to reasonable adjustments. I was once told off by someone from centralised student support services who had a visually obvious disability that I was not being sufficiently supportive to a student “because invisible disability is just ignored and trivialised by those who don’t understand” – she was horrified when I told her that she was somewhat blurred to my eyes because her need to sit in a dimly lit office conflicted with mine to have bright (some say painful) lighting.

We became good colleagues after that and, I believe, were able to help devise pragmatic student support approaches that were consistent with aiding the students in minimising the impact of their disability on their achievements but also not pretending that every disadvantage could always be abolished – sometimes you have to accept that something is beyond you or find innovative, though suboptimal, workarounds.

I sometimes think that a reasonable adjustment I would like to see would be a feeling that we are able to be open about our disability to students and colleagues without the fear of being labelled “difficult” or underachieving.

Alison Cooper

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