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Disabled students feel “completely dehumanised” by last-minute sports fair

This year’s sports and societies fairs were meant to be the most accessible yet, but instead, students have been left feeling dehumanised as the fair, rearranged with a few hours notice following the Oxford Road flood, abandoned all accessibility measures for disabled students. 

Syd King (he/they), Chair of the Disabled Students Society said, “As a wheelchair user and a stallholder, I was actively advised against attending as an inaccessible location can actively harm me, and the organisers wouldn’t communicate with the SU about access measures – presumably because they took none.”

The original societies fair contained “extensive provisions around accessibility for disabled students.” Daz, the SU’s Diversity and Liberation coordinator explained: “The fair [on Thursday], and the postponed fair that will happen sometime [this] week, will have a Quiet Hour between 11am and 12pm, large print maps, and ear defenders, ear plugs and lip-reading badges available on request. Students with hidden disabilities are encouraged to wear their sunflower lanyards as all stallholders have been briefed on the different access symbols and how to accommodate students with various impairments.”

Photo: The Mancunion

They are encouraging students with access concerns to attend the official SU fairs organised on Thursday and this week, not the Armitage event last Wednesday.

Syd, Chair of the Disabled Students’ Society said, “The Disabled Students’ Society has been trying to set up accessible sport events with the AU for a while, and everything today has highlighted why this isn’t working: the AU does not appear to view disabled people as a part of their demographic.”

The AU does not appear to view disabled people as a part of their demographic

– Syd King, Chair of the Disabled Students’ Society

“Ultimately, as a society and a disabled person, I feel completely dehumanised – I actually intended on viewing some sports societies, but they won’t be getting my membership now, as I couldn’t even speak to them.”

Maia Roberts, who was manning the Ultimate Frisbee stand said the lack of accessibility measures “discriminates against a lot of people who come to university. I think it is important to have [them in place] because people will come to uni and be scared of joining a society if it’s not accessible or if there’s no consideration of them.”

The unofficial sports fair at 11.30am was certainly worlds away from the planned quiet hour. Stallholders were doing keepy-uppies whilst waiting, whizzing past students on surfboard shaped skateboards, and blasting loud music to encourage students to come to their stalls. 

As a society and a disabled person, I feel completely dehumanised

– Syd King, Chair of the Disabled Students’ Society

Fran Spink, Head of the AU responded to accessibility concerns saying: “we’ve pulled something together as quickly as we can. It is an accessible site, we’ve made sure there’s plenty of room between the stalls and there’s ramps and step free access. The best thing to do is to direct anyone who’s concerned to our fair next week which will have way more infrastructure there with accessibility.” 

Photo: The Mancunion

But Andrew Miller, Business Operations Manager of UoM Sport said “obviously we’re not excluding any students, ultimately all students are welcome to this fair, and the fair is fully accessible, disabled accessible.” This goes against the recommendations of the Disabled Students Society and Daz, the SU’s Diversity and Liberation coordinator.

Accessibility goes beyond ramps and wide spaces for wheelchair access. The SU’s accessibility plans were supportive of people with hidden disabilities, who are hard of hearing, or might feel overwhelmed, and could therefore make use of the multiple exit points. 

The AU and sports teams did stress the need for the fair to take place this week, with Andrew saying: “The key for us was to try and support our students to make sure that they have the opportunity to promote their activities and get new students involved. And from a sports perspective, timing is actually quite critical because actually, a lot of sports teams will start trials next week; they’ll then start competing in fixtures in October”.

Fran further reiterated that students had been away from sport for so long, and suggested “I think just any way to get students signed up to clubs is a positive, we’ve not been able to do anything in person for absolutely ages so it’s really nice to like get people back and all clubs are really excited to be here.”

When contacted for comment, Fran Spink said:

“As mentioned on the day, our aim was to try and provide a positive response to the flooding and fair cancellation to ensure groups, both sport and non-sport, had some opportunity to promote themselves and giving the student body an opportunity to meet the groups. The whole intention being to be more accessible by having something rather than nothing and certainly not to restrict opportunities for people to join activity groups due to the unfortunate leak on Oxford Road.

Whilst we tried to accommodate as much of the original plans into this event, such as Covid passports, this was not the same event and certain aspects planned by the SU like the Quiet hour were just not possible due to the time constraints we were under. We therefore did not promote or implement these in this event. However, the priority was always to ensure a safe and compliant event. The fair was accessible and any individuals who came to us with further access concerns on the day were supported on an individual basis.

Regarding accessible sport more widely, we pride ourselves on providing programmes that are inclusive for everyone at every level. We are always open to discussing new opportunities to get more students active and are not currently aware of any approaches from the Disabled Students Society that have not been responded to and we remain extremely keen to work together with them, and other relevant stakeholders, to provide inclusive avenues in to Sport & Physical Activity.

In fact, during my short time in post, one of my key aims is to continue to broaden the opportunities for any individuals wanting to get involved in Sport at Manchester, including people with disabilities, and encouraging a welcoming and inclusive environment, I look forward to progressing with this further.

Tags: accessibility, DASS, disabled students, sports fair

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