Disability Equality Strategy and Action Plan
In spring 2022, we launched our new One University Disability Equality Strategy and Action plan, which aims to improve the experiences of our disabled staff and students.
Progressing equality, diversity and inclusion is essential to creating a University culture and environment where colleagues and students feel they belong, and are supported to meet their full potential.
The views and experiences of staff and students form an essential part of our disability equality strategy and action plan. Input was sought via various consultations, including a University-wide survey in 2021, where staff and students were invited to tell us what new actions the University should take to continue to progress disability equality.
This helped inform the action plan developed by the Disability Equality Steering Group, which included staff and students from the Disabled Students’ Committee and the Disability Staff Network alongside other key stakeholders.
We acknowledge that we still have work to do, therefore our strategy and action plan is a live document that we will continue to review, update and amend over time as we progress the actions and learn from our experience, our community, and experts in this area.
The strategy aims to bring about transformational change by addressing the challenges experienced by disabled students and staff, and ensuring their needs are met within an inclusive and understanding culture where environmental, attitudinal and organisational barriers have been reduced or removed.
Our ambitious plan sets out to improve the representation, progression, retention, experience and success of disabled students and staff at the University, transforming the University of Sheffield into an institution of choice for disabled people.
Comprising five overarching objectives, and over 50 separate actions assigned to key stakeholders from across the institution, the action plan is a live document that is regularly reviewed by the Disability Equality Delivery Group. Our progress is monitored against agreed timeframes and is reported to the University Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
We will continue to welcome constructive and critical engagement and challenge from our community in order to advance our strategy.
It is vitally important to me that this work continues to be driven by the experiences and priorities of disabled staff and students, and that we continually attend and are responsive to what our colleagues tell us about emerging and overlooked challenges. There is a great deal for us to do but I have been heartened by the enthusiasm of University leaders to support and implement positive change. For us to make profound and meaningful progress, all of us in leadership roles need to learn about, understand, and champion the critical importance of disability equality.
Brendan Stone, Chair of Disability Strategy Delivery Group
- 1. To create an equitable, inclusive and open culture
Objective 1: To create an equitable, inclusive and open culture that facilitates belonging and promotes respect for disabled staff, students, and the wider community
In order to make positive changes to our culture, we must make disability equality an integral part of everyday business and create a supportive and understanding environment for disabled colleagues and students. The foundation of this work must be a better understanding of disability and the value and importance of a more inclusive culture.
To achieve this we are developing training to enhance the understanding of disability amongst our staff and students. This will be supported through clear guidance, signposting to additional resources and a more consistent use of Equality Impact Assessments to ensure decision making is fair and does not disadvantage disabled staff and students. This work will be embedded in our business planning cycle through the departmental planning framework.
- 2. Maintain and develop accessible flexible teaching, learning and assessment
Objective 2: Maintain and develop accessible flexible teaching, learning and assessment to best support disabled students' academic experiences
We know that despite its many challenges, the pandemic has also brought some opportunities and for some enhanced accessible provision for learning, teaching and assessments. Building on the learning from the last couple of years, faculties will continue to develop the use of inclusive and alternative forms of assessment and embed the use of digital tools in their future approach to learning, teaching and assessment where there are clear pedagogical and student experience benefits.
- 3. Create an accessible campus
Objective 3: Create an accessible campus through improved physical and digital space for all staff, students and visitors
The nature of our campus brings obvious accessibility challenges, which we are committed to address through the action set out under this objective. Work in this area includes a systematic review of physical accessibility across all areas of campus, this will build on the existing annual survey of teaching spaces that is conducted by AccessAble.
Estates and Facilities Management colleagues are currently reviewing the recommendations from the latest AccessAble report in order to prioritise and integrate the required changes and improvements into the relevant estates plans. We are also committed to ensuring that students and staff are involved at the early design stages of planning for both new buildings and changes to existing facilities. We are again taking a holistic approach here, ensuring that the work to improve the experiences of disabled staff, students and visitors becomes an integral part of the relevant existing processes and not a separate strand of work.
Similarly, and this is of course closely connected to the second objective, much of our work around digital accessibility is about ensuring that it becomes a key consideration in our day to day practices, this includes work by the Digital Education Management Board and IT Services to measure the extent that digital systems/tools meet relevant standards and to embed expectations around these standards as part of procurement considerations; working with colleagues across the organisation to raise awareness of accessibility for video production and ensuring that all of this is reflected appropriately in the digital education plan.
- 4. Provide a clear pathway of equitable support for disabled students
Objective 4: Provide a clear pathway of equitable support for disabled students, including postgraduate research students
Under this objective, we will map the whole disabled student journey, from pre-application through to employment and beyond, this includes many of the improvements that have already been covered, but also actions such as disabled student specific careers and employability provision.
We are also committed to increase staff awareness and comprehensive uptake of Learning Support Plans, and are conducting a review of the creation and dissemination of plans to inform this work. Of course much of this work also is about better access to important resources and information and we are developing an online hub to ensure that finding and accessing information is easy and consistent across the organisation.
We also know that student life is about the full experience and are looking at how we can better support sports clubs and other student activity groups to aid inclusion and enable disabled students to access these activities more easily.
- 5. Attract and retain disabled staff
Objective 5: Attract and retain disabled staff, supporting their personal development and career progression
Through improving the experience of our disabled community and creating a more inclusive environment for everyone; we hope to become a more attractive choice for disabled students and staff. This work includes commitments to achieve Level 3: Disability Confident Leader Status and will help us to recruit, retain and develop our disabled staff free of barriers and bias. Work is also underway to improve our approach to reasonable adjustments processes, ensuring they are fair, equitable and consistent and that specialist support is accessible to inform this work.
I’m pleased that the Disability Staff Network has been able to take such an active role in feeding the views and experiences of staff into the Action Plan. It’s vital that disabled people continue to be at the heart of this work and although there is a long way to go, I am confident that we will make progress in the coming months and years if we continue to work positively together towards change.
Dominic McHugh, Chair of Disability Staff Network
It’s no secret that there’s a lot of work to be done to improve lives for disabled students and staff at the University of Sheffield. As our Students’ Union’s first ever Disabled Students’ Officer, it’s been a priority to contribute towards accelerating positive change for our disabled community on campus.
I’ve been pleased to work with the University and to represent student views in order to broaden the scope of this new Disability Equality Action Plan. I’m especially proud of the commitments to more accessible and flexible teaching, and to the creation of new peer support networks for our disabled staff and students. This plan will drive forward the change that’s needed, and help us to create an inclusive environment where everyone can feel valued.
Iz Ostrowska, Disabled Students’ Officer 2021-22
We're really pleased to be undertaking the projects related to the Disability Equality Action Plan. Whilst we know that students do already value the support they receive when working with our Disability and Dyslexia Support Service, we're clear that there's more for us to do to be assured that disabled students can have the best possible experience whilst they are at the University.
Andy Winter, Director of Student Support Services
Both the terms ‘disabled staff/student’ and ‘staff/students with a disability’ are used to reflect and respect the differences in individuals’ choice of language and identity.
The definition of disability, under the Equality Act 2010, is “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long term’ negative effect on your ability to carry out normal daily activities”.
The University supports the social model of disability: the principle that physical and mental impairments may not necessarily be disabling in themselves but often become so in the context of practices or environments that make it hard for disabled people to participate fully and/or restrict their opportunities.
At the University of Sheffield, we consider disability in its widest context and this includes, but is not limited to, physical disabilities, neurodiversity/ specific learning difficulties/learning differences (eg dyslexia), autism, mental health conditions, chronic health conditions and sensory impairments and also recognise that not all disabilities are visible or permanent.
If you have any questions or feedback about the University's disability equality work, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
No good preaching about equality and improved access, unless we do something about it in a practical, hard-headed fashion.
This is easier said than done. As well as the normal bureaucratic challenges, the real and ongoing mountain to climb is attitudinal. As William Blake in his poem, London, puts it: “those mind-forged manacles” which get in the way of treating others as we would wish to be treated ourselves.
That is why the action plan and the ongoing work of listening, learning and responding is vital for everyone on the learning journey and, of course, in progression in life and work.
Lord David Blunkett
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