Accessibility and inclusion have become huge buzzwords recently, but for people living with disabilities they are so much more than words. They represent the difference between being able to exist safely and securely in a space or being left feeling uncomfortable or unable to access it. Accessibility is what makes the University of Newcastle a safe place for people to study or work.
This means it is important that the University is constantly working with accessibility in mind, not just as a buzzword but in terms of action. Assoc. Prof. Jamie Mackee, a member of the University of Newcastle’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, co-chair of the Accessibility Action Plan Working Group and academic in the School of Architecture and Built Environment, says the University’s Accessibility Action Plan (AAP) is working to make the University “more inclusive by providing equitable and inclusive access to everyone”.
Katie Butler, the University’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator (co-chairing the Working Group with Mackee) and a proud disabled person, echoed this sentiment, saying that a new and improved AAP is essential to give students and staff with disabilities the best chance to succeed. “As a disabled person myself, I know that when I am in accessible and inclusive environments, I tend to feel my presence and contribution is valued, and I can participate on par with others, without needing to navigate barriers,” she says.
Mackee says that the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee is working with the University to improve accessibility for people like Katie in the new plan. He says steps to achieve the new AAP “are moving quickly” and are a top priority for the Committee. “From talking predominantly to students there is still a long way to go. One of the big issues is that physical access to buildings is difficult in many cases. Many of the campuses are old, pre-dating any modern building regulations guiding disability regulations and access. There is much to be done to upgrade these facilities that should be a priority for the University,” he says.
In addition to improving access to buildings, the plan will look at ensuring all University software packages are accessible with assistive technology and providing support services such as reasonable adjustment plans to help students with disability have equal opportunity in class. “We are consulting widely so that we can hear all voices and that as many stakeholders as possible have an input; we are being inclusive,” he says.
Students with and without disabilities are encouraged to have a say about what should be included in the new AAP. Insight into areas you as a student think could be more accessible is super valuable as the new AAP is created. There are a few ways to have your say about what the University should be working towards in terms of accessibility:
- Drop a suggestion in any of the suggestion boxes around the campuses, located at:
Student Services Building, AccessAbility reception, Callaghan
Auchmuty Library, Callaghan
UNSA Building, Callaghan
Student Kitchen on level 1 of NUspace
- Give a suggestion online here
- Jump on Zoom and give your thoughts on Wednesday the 16th of November 2:30-4pm
- Come along to a yarning circle on Thursday the 17th of November 2-3:30pm in L326 Auchmuty Library, Callaghan Campus
- You can also reach out to Katie directly with your feedback, if you would like any further info on how to be involved, or if you need anything to be able to participate fully in the consultation activities.
The University says on their website “we have made it our priority to remove the structural, attitudinal and environmental barriers which may stop a staff member or student with a disability from giving their best.” The new AAP is a step in the right direction to achieve this, and student feedback is key for ensuring that the University can be more accessible to staff and students.