When it comes to choosing the best university to apply to there’s much to consider for the aspiring student preparing to enter further education; from the courses on offer to the cost and availability of living accommodation, not to mention the proximity of the student bar to the nearest curry house! Here in the UK, one in ten university students is registered as having a disability. No surprises then UK universities are keen to make their campuses easily accessible to all, although not all get it right. What factors are most important then for the wheelchair user to consider when selecting a suitable college or university?
Suitability and accessibility
Accessibility is extremely important. This doesn’t just depend upon the landscape of the area you’re considering but also on the type of wheelchair you use. If there is a huge hill in the middle of the campus this could well be totally impractical for a manual wheelchair user, but not a problem for someone with a power chair. The same applies to the layout of the local environment too. Some university towns are very hilly whilst others are almost completely flat, so bear this in mind when making your shortlist.
A good place to start asking for information which could possibly save you a wasted journey is the university’s disability office. Some colleges may not have great accessibility now but this may be set to change imminently, so it’s worth asking. Many of the older buildings have loads of steps and acres of cobbles in the communal outdoor areas making them totally useless for those students in wheelchairs; but don’t be put off and do ask as there may be moves afoot to remedy this and the university might otherwise be exactly what you’re looking for.
Is the accommodation on offer accessible to wheelchair users?
It’s all very well being able to use lecture theatres easily but not much good if you can’t use the on-campus student accommodation. Wheelchair users require bigger rooms with wider doors to accommodate their mobility equipment. On the subject of doors; avoid heavy ones as these make it much harder for wheelchair users to access their rooms. Some colleges have installed automatic push-pads and will make sure that adaptations are put in place to ensure that wheelchair users can move around easily.
An en-suite, properly adapted bathroom is important too including an easily accessible shower with a seat. If you require a carer to help you with day to day personal care, most universities will accommodate them in a nearby room but you must tell the disability office staff as soon as possible.
What about university social life?
The social side of university life is arguably the most difficult part of the whole campus experience for wheelchair users. Check out how accessible the Student’s Union bar is. Some are all mod-cons and a breeze for the wheelchair user whereas others are positively a no-go area.
You’ll also want to find out what social activities are on offer outside of the alcoholic beverage department. Just because the university you favour is renowned for its able-bodied sports teams doesn’t mean they don’t have disability sports on offer too, if that’s your bag. If you’re more into the sedate side of things, you might prefer somewhere that has a debating society, a chess club or something of that ilk.
Check it out
The most important thing when considering which university to go for is not to rule anything out without checking it out first. Make a list of everything you want to know, contact the disability office and ask, then follow up with a visit. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.