Union lets down disabled students

Despite promising improvements last year the Union has admitted it is still not doing enough to ensure disabled students can access its building.

Leeds Student initially raised concerns in an article published last year, after students said they were often unable to get around the Union. At the time the President of Disability Society, Robyn Brockie, told this paper that on two occasions she had been “trapped” in the Union.

Charlie Hopper, LUU’s Equality & Diversity Officer, pledged to improve the situation, promising to invest thousands improving access after admitting to Leeds Student “the Union nightclubs, like so many other venues across Leeds, simply aren’t accessible enough”.

One year on, Jess Magee, a Fourth Year Maths student, has said that despite promises of change, she still finds it difficult to use the Union in her wheelchair.

Magee told this paper how during Freshers’ week she and five of her friends went out to the Headphone Disco. After paying for tickets, queuing for 20 minutes and collecting their headphones, she discovered the lift was out of order. Union staff told her there was nothing that they could do and she was turned away from the venue and offered a refund.

This was not the only time Magee has experienced problems because of broken lifts. “Out of all the times that I have been to the Union for a night out, I think there have only been two evenings where I haven’t encountered a problem”, she said.

Magee continues: “It happens so often and seems that they keep fixing the lift with a bodge job which then breaks soon after. To be honest, I haven’t really seen any improvements over the last year, and it seems that they are failing disabled students”.

Leeds Student investigated these claims and found that the day before  going to print, one of the lifts was out of order and that another had only recently been fixed.

When presented with Leeds Student’s findings, Charlie Hopper, who also served as Equality and Diversity last year, said: “There have been a number of ongoing problems with the lifts at the Union and I am sorry to hear of this incident. In the long term it is my aspiration for the Union is to replace all the lifts that aren’t good enough.”

Magee also said she has concerns about disabled access to the toilets.  “On a number of occasions the loos at the Union have been blocked and out of order, after being used by students who are able to use the other loos, meaning that I was unable to go”, she said.

The 2010 Equality Act gives disabled people legal rights of access to everyday services meaning that service providers have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to their premises.

When challenged as to whether the Union is fulfilling its obligation, Hopper said: “We are working to improve the situation, including training all our staff and ensuring that faults are dealt with as quickly as possible. We realise we have not done enough, but we are actively working to address the problems.”

During the summer, the University Estates Department carried out a Disability Access Audit for the Union building. The audit identified work that needed to be undertaken in order to improve accessibility for those with disabilities.

Modifications needed include making improvements to toilets and the introduction of handrails. Works are set to commence in December 2012.

James Greenhalgh

Photo: Becki Bateman

Leave a Reply