officer blog


Welfare, Community & Diversity

Nathan Wyatt


A Day On Campus In A Wheelchair

I spent a day on campus in a wheelchair. Here’s what I learnt:

To mark the start of Disability History Month, myself and Holly Summers (Disability Part-Time Officer) set out on a mission. We were adding our campus venues on an app called Sociability, which is designed to help disabled people with building accessibility. We took photos of all the entrances and open spaces, even the toilets – it then dawned on us; did I really understand what accessibility looked like?

We set off from upstairs in Union House – Holly has a sleek, aerodynamic purple wheelchair with carbon fibre panelling, and I was in a borrowed chair with a duct tape hammock instead of a footrest, and wheels with so little grip that they were shiny! This didn’t stop us – we made our way to the lift and individually travelled down – challenge #1! Luckily I had been in this lift before or this would have taken much longer. To get downstairs you have to continually hold down the button or else the lift completely stops.

After navigating this, we made our way down to the post room. The post room now is much better than its previous home in the arts building – a cramped room that was only accessible to wheelchair users via the back entrance, adding 10 minutes to your journey. The new location offers a lowered counter and wide double door entryway, a huge improvement.

Our next location was The Shop – a mixed bag overall. It’s very easy to feel like an obstacle when in a wheelchair – especially when you’re in a busy, cramped space like the shop. Things were difficult to reach, it was hard to navigate the aisles around other shoppers and I even got a duffel bag to the face! There are good bits to the shop though – they have a lowered counter on request. Holly told me that she will very rarely go to the shop by herself, as its much easier with a friend to help.

It's easy to forget how much of campus is concrete and stairs – but this presents a huge obstacle to wheelchair users and those with accessibility needs. Sure, you can navigate around campus, but it will take you twice as long as a someone walking. Where there aren’t steps, there’s usually a steep slope to push yourself up instead! It’s times like this that you remember that UEA was built in the 1960s, a long time before accessibility was a priority.

Surprisingly, only one lift on campus was out of order - Congregation Hall! It just so happened that it was the lift that we wanted to use. Instead, we had to use a back entrance that gave us access to one floor of the building. Holly recalled the experience of a friend who had a class moved to Cong Hall, only to find out that the room had about an internal staircase – she had to stay at the top of the stairs for the entire session!

It’s important to remember that whilst UEA has taken big steps to becoming an accessible campus, we’re not all the way there yet. There are still huge barriers that disabled students face every day –from longer journeys, difficult shopping experience, and inaccessible buildings.

I’d encourage every member of the university’s Executive Team to go around campus in a wheelchair, and experience UEA how disabled students do. Its time we made the ‘UEA: the University of Easy Access’ a reality.