‘We’re being fobbed off’: why disabled students are losing out in lockdown

May 21, 2020 by

Disabled students need extensions to their deadlines and extra equipment, but are finding it hard to get them

When Harrie Larrington-Spencer was knocked off her bike at the end of the first year of her PhD, she was left with a brachial plexus injury. “My left arm and hand barely work and I have chronic pain,” she says. She knew her injury would affect many aspects of her life, but was surprised to learn just how hard it would be to do her university work as a disabled person.

“No reasonable adjustment would make me not at a disadvantage to my non-disabled peers,” she says. “There is also the ingrained but generally unseen ableism inherent in academia.”

Larrington-Spencer is used to being unable to attend writing retreats or being reprimanded for using her foot to open doors, but the coronavirus pandemic has presented the biggest challenge yet.

“I have some facilities provided at home in terms of desk and office chair but it isn’t set up professionally, and no matter how many YouTube videos I watch I can’t get it right. Without it the pain and difficulties in working are exacerbated,” she says. She also lacks the computer processing power to run the assistive software she needs. “My computer will crash every time.”

Despite this, Larrington-Spencer considers herself one of the lucky ones – she’s entitled to apply for a six-month extension to her PhD. “It’s great, but the fact that I have to apply is ridiculous. I am already registered as disabled with the university and have already had to prove my disadvantage and disability through that process,” she says.

Larrington-Spencer was among the 1,700 signatories of an open letter sent to the research councils this week, urging for automatic funding extensions for all PhD students who are registered as disabled, neurodivergent or chronically ill. The letter also asked for grants for the assistive equipment and technology necessary for working remotely.

Zara Bain, a final-year PhD student who suffers from several conditions affecting her immune system and is one of the organisers of the letter, says many disabled students are so busy trying to adapt to the circumstances that they simply don’t have time to apply for extensions. She sees the bureaucracy as part of a wider misunderstanding of what they’re going through.

Source: ‘We’re being fobbed off’: why disabled students are losing out in lockdown | Education | The Guardian

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