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Zoom Socials And Specialist Tech: Starting Uni Online As A Disabled Student

August 27, 2020

While not all students are happy about the shift to online learning this year, it’s widely seen as good news for the nearly 100,000 disabled students studying at English unis. “We’ve been asking universities for years to study online,” says Aleksandra Mroczek, a disabled second-year journalist student at Newcastle University.

Sana Ali, wellbeing officer at the University of Leicester’s students’ union, says that although the opportunity to study online will be welcomed, this means that students will be more reliant on tech than before. Universities will need to provide access to reliable hardware for those who can’t afford it. Mroczek, who uses specialist software such as Adobe Premiere, has already invested in a new laptop that can run the programs, but this won’t be possible for all students.

If you have a disability, rest assured that all universities will put a support plan in place. This will include letting the relevant school know about requirements that need to be met to ensure you’re given the same tuition. This includes establishing deadlines for assessed work, and the possibility of extensions based on your needs. The uni will also check in regularly with you to make sure you’re being given all the support you need.

At Ali’s university, Leicester, there’s a specialist accessibility centre, which runs meetings with new students to identify their needs, whether that includes a support worker, or extra programs installed on their computers such as screen readers. At Newcastle, Mroczek received an email before arriving on campus from a student disability adviser. Some unis will contact you first, but if you don’t hear from them make sure you reach out.

“Disabled students should do the best they can to understand the support that they require and be clear to institutions on this,” advises a spokesperson for the National Union of Students. “We would advise any disabled student who doesn’t feel that they are getting the support they require to contact their students’ union.”

When it comes to socialising during the pandemic, there are silver linings for disabled students. Despite big advances in recent years, a lot of traditional student activities haven’t always been as inclusive as they should be. The move online may allow students to participate more frequently and readily in events and socials held over Zoom or Teams. “It’s important, now we’ve explored the digital realm, we should continue for our disabled students,” says Ali. “When we get back on to campus, people will forget that it’s a necessity for some.”

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