Disability Inclusion Student Ambassador Siobhan Smith writes about accessibility in higher education and what we all can think about to make Edinburgh Napier a more accessible place to study and work:
Higher education should be available to anyone who would like to access it. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case for a variety of reasons.
For disabled people, there are many physical barriers. These barriers are often overlooked, sometimes because of the financial implications of removing them, sometimes because of the efforts it would take to remove them however, all too frequently they are overlooked due to people not knowing they are there.
As a wheelchair user, I find myself frequently being told by those nearest and dearest to me that a location is wheelchair accessible… only to get there and find some stairs. I have even done it to myself! I will be returning to a place I last visited before I used a wheelchair and have no recollection that there was in fact an entire mountain of stairs to climb to get inside.
Unfortunately, many access barriers require systemic or industrial changes (which is a topic for another day!) but thankfully, there are some that we can all play a part in removing.
Accessibility isn’t something everyone has to think of, and when it isn’t on your mind then you often won’t notice barriers are there. Accessibility shouldn’t only be on the minds of those who are facing barriers, it should be important to everyone.
Through educating ourselves on what these barriers might be, keeping an eye out for them and then bringing what we see to someone within the Disability and Inclusion team, each and every one of us can be doing something to make higher education just that little bit more inclusive.
We are so lucky here at Napier University to have such an incredible Disability and Inclusion team, they advocate for each and every one of you reading this, often without you even knowing. Find their contact information here: https://my.napier.ac.uk/wellbeing-support-and-inclusion/disability-inclusion/school-disability-contacts
So…what sort of things can you be looking for? (Staff and students alike)
• Signs that are difficult to read. Is the font too small? is it scribbly or uneven?
• Doors that are heavy, narrow, or seem like they should be electric but are not.
• Classrooms that are tightly packed.
• Unclean bathrooms
• Empty toilet paper, soap or hand towel dispensers.
• Red emergency pull cords that are tangled, broken or not reaching the floor.
• Lights that are out of order, or rooms with poor lighting.
• Moodle pages that somewhat resemble a maze.
• Are there subtitles or a transcript with videos that are part of your course?
These are just a few of the things we can all be looking out for. If you have taken the time to read to the bottom of this, why not take a little extra and research what makes for good accessibility? Next time you are making a presentation, doing group work, or planning an event, keep in mind the need to make everything as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.
Say hello to this year’s cohort of Disability Inclusion Student Ambassadors:
My name Beth, having studied for my Masters at Napier, I continued on to undertake my own research in music for my PhD. Alongside this, I am a mother of four, a musician, a songwriter and a producer. I have a variety of long-term health conditions which don’t function in a set manner -sometimes I am tickety-boo and others not so much. I have what is known as ‘invisible disabilities’ and some learning difficulties, or what I would
term learning enhancements. Having engaged with higher education as a hybrid student working remotely in the past and now an in-person student I have an awareness of some of the things both methods can offer – both positive and negative.
I have experience with PTSD, mental health, invisible disabilities, long-term health conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s and other IBD issues along with other obscure really hidden conditions and more. I also have in the past worked with and campaigned for those with Type 1, ME, MS and those suffering the effects of trauma. All of these experiences and insights help me to understand and see what others do not potentially see. With my varied experience, both personally and through friends and family, I am passionate about raising awareness, for inclusive spaces, improving experiences and helping to make the invisible visible! I am looking forward to working as an ambassador for DI at Napier and hope that I can help improve experiences and aid positive change to get the most out of your time at Napier.
Hello! My name is Victoria, I am currently studying for my Postgraduate Diploma in Education for Biology and Sciences. I am a returning student to Edinburgh Napier following graduation from my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences in 2015. I have a wonderful son with ASD and this has sparked a personal mission for me to raise awareness of disability recognition and inclusion. Within the role of Disability and Inclusion Ambassador, I am excited to help highlight the daily challenges faced by students with disabilities at Edinburgh Napier University and work to create a better learning environment for all thus, allowing all students to reach their fullest potential.
Hi! My name is Siobhan, and this is my second year of being a Disabled Student Ambassador. I completed my undergraduate degree, in biomedical science, at Napier and am now in my final year of MSc Nursing.
I am passionate about ensuring there are no barriers for anyone wishing to access higher education. I pledge to do everything I can to aid in reducing and eliminating any barriers which prevent disabled people from easily accessing education at Edinburgh Napier University.
It has been a great privilege to work alongside the team and to see their care and commitment to making improvements. I look forward to the coming year, please keep an eye out for what we will be getting up to and do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any concerns or suggestions!
Hello, I am David Richards! I am a 3rd year in Digital Media and Interaction Design. This is my 3rd year as a Disabled Inclusion Ambassador. I am good at making people feel included and just enjoy talking to people, especially in a role like this. What I am looking forward to most in this position is working in a team and collaborating on different projects and opportunities that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
It feels such an honour to be a Student Ambassador for Disability and Inclusion at Edinburgh Napier University. My name is Nasima Karim, and I am here to study MSc in International Human Resource Management. I am really excited to be in Edinburgh and very happy to see enthusiastic people around Edinburgh city and at our university too. Everybody these days knows about Disability and Inclusion but we need to be kind to people around us including Disable people, The conscious act of kindness can really make a difference in making our University an inclusive and acceptable environment for everyone who is part of it, I think that by accepting people with diverse background and abilities we are already a pluralistic university, we can encourage all students to study in a setting where they will ultimately have the chance to grow personally and professionally. I am eager to work with all students, including those with disabilities.
If you are interested in any of the work of the Student Ambassadors or have any questions for them please send them to Heather Armstrong, Disabled Student Engagement Worker, at email@example.com.
Heather works within the Disability Inclusion team at Edinburgh Napier, speaking to disabled students about their experiences so we can make the university a more inclusive place.
She leads the Disability Inclusion Student Ambassador team.
Thursday 3rd February is Time to Talk Day, a campaign collaboratively ran by mental health charities across the UK which actively encourages people to talk about mental health with the aim of tackling the stigma and discrimination surrounding it.
We all have mental health. Throughout our lives, our mental health will fluctuate, just as our physical health does. We will have times where we juggle the daily stresses of life with little to no issue and recognise when we need to perhaps practice more self-care or seek advice from a friend or family member. But for one in four of us, in any given year, we will experience a mental health condition. It’s during these more difficult times that it can be hard to talk about how we are feeling, whether that is through fear of judgement, feeling isolated or not knowing how to start those all-important conversations.
Time to Talk day aims to encourage us all to normalise conversations about mental health. By doing so, we can help those who are struggling to feel as though they can be open about what they are thinking and feeling. This in turn also helps to foster supportive communities where people know how and where to access help or advice should they need it in the future. By talking, we can quite literally save lives.
For some of us, starting a conversation about mental health can seem scary. We may not know how to talk to someone who is experiencing a mental illness or feel anxious that we may say the wrong thing. We’ve compiled some tips that we believe can help us start these vital conversations.
- Make it a part of your normal routine.
Do you and your friends meet up over a coffee? Do you prefer to binge-watch Netflix? Perhaps you play a certain sport together? Whatever it is that you normally do when catching up with friends or family, start a dialogue about mental health while you’re doing it. Talking about mental health doesn’t have to be formal or scripted. Sometimes the best way to encourage people to open up is by taking the time to ask a simple “how are you?” when you’re going about your daily lives. Normalising the conversation helps challenge the taboo around mental health.
- Listen, don’t judge.
It seems an obvious one, right? But sometimes it can be difficult to listen without judgement. As individuals, we have preconceived ideas and perspectives about the world around us. At the end of the day, it is these very things that make us unique! But it can also mean that sometimes we don’t take the time to listen and empathise with those who are sharing something that is difficult for them. Rather than judging, try and put your personal views to one side when someone is opening up. It can be damaging to invalidate the experiences of someone who is already feeling vulnerable and going through a difficult time.
- Offer to help them find further support.
For a lot of us, simply having a conversation about what we are going through can ease the burden. But other people will maybe benefit from accessing support from a GP, a helpline, or a charity. We’ve listed some places at the end of this post that can offer specialist advice and support, but you can also find lots more services with a quick online search. Whilst some people are comfortable in going to GP appointments by themselves, offer to go with them (if you also feel comfortable in doing so) or even just help them make a phone call. If the person seeking support chooses to do these things themselves, offer to help them write a list about what they want to say or ask so that they don’t feel as overwhelmed when they reach out to their GP or another service. This also helps in empowering the individual who is seeking support. But respect their decision either way and don’t take control of the situation.
- If appropriate, discuss and support them in finding ways that promote self-care.
When talking about self-care, it’s important we carefully consider the language we are using. Whilst it may seem fine to share what works for you, respect the fact that what works for us may not work for someone else. Brainstorm ideas together and consider things like taking a walk with a friend; having a coffee over Zoom; exercising; taking a bath; healthy eating; meditation and mindfulness. Remember to work at their pace and encourage them to try different forms of self-care until they find what helps them.
- Look after yourself.
Having conversations about mental health is
incredibly important and can really help those who are struggling. But sometimes you may be struggling yourself or may even be triggered by what someone else is sharing with you. Do not be ashamed of these feelings – looking after your own mental health is vital too. There are limits to the help you will be able to offer and it’s essential that you understand these. Give yourself time to rest and seek support if you have been triggered. And remember, you are not a medical professional and cannot be expected to be one. Keep these boundaries in mind before starting a conversation.
Where to go for extra support:
- Togetherall is a free, anonymous, 24/7 online community available to all Edinburgh Napier University students. Head to https://togetherall.com/en-gb/ to sign up.
- The Student Counselling & Mental Wellbeing team offers a range of support and advice for students who are experiencing stress, anxiety or other mental health issues due to personal circumstances or academic pressures.
- Breathing Space is a confidential helpline for anyone who feels overwhelmed and needs someone to listen, open Mon-Thurs 6pm-2am and Fri-Mon 6pm-6am. Telephone: 0800 83 85 87.
- Nightline is another confidential telephone and instant messaging helpline run by students for students. All volunteers are trained. Open during term time, 8pm to 8am. Telephone: 0131 557 4444. http://www.ednightline.com/
- Visit the Wellbeing, Support & Inclusion pages on MyNapier for more places to access support and advice.
by Kimberley Sim – Disability Inclusion Student Ambassador
Disability Inclusion Student Ambassador Siobhan Smith writes about Blue Monday and provides some tips about how to manage your Mental Health when things get tough.
“January is the Monday of the months”. Have you heard this before? The societal idea that: A) Monday’s are inherently bad and B) The entirety of January is much the same. Now, of course I am aware that part of this statement is meant in jest however, we cannot deny that we feel an element of the ability to relate to it and each time we do, it holds more truth. I have been asked to write this blog in relation to a specific day (the 3rd Monday in January to be precise) that has been named as ‘Blue Monday’ – with the definition of being the saddest day of the year. This seems to be doing its rounds with much less implementation of relatable humour and instead more of a serious tone. So, before I go on and complete the task I was actually asked to do (sharing ways to self-manage mental wellbeing), first I want to tackle some myths and share some facts.
‘Blue Monday’ was started by a travel company, with the claim that it was evidence-based from a calculation which involved peoples’ low moods due to post-Christmas debt, failed New Year’s resolutions and the weather. The company’s aim was to use this to promote the sales of holidays, selling them as a way to boost the public’s morale. Although many of us can relate to the drop in mood due to these potential triggers, the so-called ‘calculation’ has been disproved.
Why is this important to share? Everyone has mental health, just as we all have physical health. We all experience fluctuations in both, we have good days and bad days. PR stunts such as this one, create a potential trigger in the creation of a bad day that may have otherwise simply have been… a day. No one can tell you what you should feel, or when you should feel it. There is a lot of pressure on us to be happy on our birthdays, to cry at funerals, to be sad on certain anniversaries and be joyful in the face of good news. Sometimes this just isn’t how it is to be, and that is absolutely okay. We, as a society, question ourselves so much. We doubt ourselves and our feelings, we feel invalidated by external inputs and often our emotions are shaped by these pressures.
For some, getting back to ‘normal’ life after the holidays is a boost for their mental health. For others, yes it can be a harder time – for the reasons in the false calculation that birthed the name of the day, and for many others. So, if this is popping up for you and you are feeling fine, good, great, elated, inspired etc… please do not feel any pressure from this named day to question that.
We should be thinking about mental health the whole year through, our own and that of those around us. So whilst days like this, where social media gives us more of a platform to share (and be listened to) about ways to improve our mental well-being, we also have a responsibility to carry on the lessons every day after.
Here are, evidence-based ways, that we can improve our mood… every day of the year!
1. One of the most important things we can do for our mental health is to talk. This can take many forms; talking to a therapist, to a family member, to a friend but it can also be writing in a diary, writing songs, talking into the abyss. Whichever way you find the most comfortable, and the most accessible, for you to talk – go for it!
2. We always hear how exercise can improve our mental health and this can sometimes feel a bit like ‘toxic positivity. Not everyone has the ability to get out and exercise. However, whatever movement you can do, does genuinely have a positive influence (I promise).
3. I would like to finish on this most important note. It is completely normal to have fluctuations in your mood, just as it is normal to have fluctuations in your physical health. However, if you are feeling in a way that is concerning to you (be it low mood, or high mood), then the best thing you can do for yourself is to ask for help.
Here are resources, through which you can find advice and support from those more trained to give it than I:
Edinburgh Napier University also has some great resources to help with Mental Wellbeing, including access to TogetherAll and SilverCloud, information can be found here:
Contact for emergency mental health support in times of crisis:
Samaritans (24/7): 116 123
SHOUT (a number you can text, 24/7): text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258
Edinburgh Crisis Centre: 0808 801 0414
Author: Kimberley Giles
You’ve probably seen when you’re out and about people using sunflower lanyards, but do you know what they are for and what they aim to represent?
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the use of the sunflower lanyard became increasingly more common but the scheme itself has been around for quite some time. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower discreetly reflects that the individual wearing it has a hidden disability, providing a subtle indication to those around them that they may need more time, additional support, or some form of assistance. The scheme has been endorsed by several major supermarkets, public transport companies, the NHS, the police, and a growing number of other businesses and venues.
Those who live with invisible disabilities such as mental illness, learning difficulties, hearing or visual impairments, for example, can find day-to-day life difficult but may struggle to ask for help or adjustments. For some individuals, whilst they may not actively need any extra assistance, they may wish for people around them to simply be aware of the fact that they may need extra time or more personal space.
As someone who lives with a hidden disability, I can find it incredibly difficult when I’m out and about, especially if I’m on my own. In my personal situation, I don’t usually require any specific form of additional help and support, however, I do like to make others around me know that I may need more time, I may need to quickly make an exit, or I may just need more space. My hidden disability also means I am unable to wear a face covering and I use the Hidden Sunflower scheme to let those around me know I am medically exempt.
It’s important to note that wearing a sunflower lanyard, or any other face-covering exemption card, is a personal choice and is not required by law. But for me, it allows me to feel that little bit safer knowing that I am less likely to avoid confrontation from others that would only exacerbate my anxiety. Many others use the sunflower lanyard in this way too. Unfortunately, I still receive judgemental looks from some people, and I’ve heard several people comment to those they are with that they disapprove of me not wearing a face mask. I ask on behalf of us with a hidden disability that if you do see someone who is not wearing a face covering and is using the sunflower lanyard that you kindly withhold any negative judgment.
There are lots of ways you can pick up your own lanyard, including for free from the campus iPoints. Next time you’re in the supermarket, ask at customer services too as they often have them. You can also purchase lanyards, exemption cards, and several other sunflower products from https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/shop.html
I am looking for participants to help me with my research into increasing the accessibility of the Edinburgh Napier Accommodation website and application process for individuals with dyslexia. Participants would be asked to participate in two tasks; the first is the Think-aloud protocol, where you will be asked to carry out several tasks on your computer while verbalising your thoughts and actions. The second task is a short interview questioning your experience with the first task. Through analysing the results from both tasks, I aim to deliver a working prototype of a redesigned Edinburgh Napier Accommodation website and application process which improves accessibility for people with dyslexia. Please get in touch with me at the email below if you would like to help out with my honours project.
Thanks, Jack Slater
Lead Scotland is working with Advance HE to carry out some research into the different approaches and initiatives colleges and universities in Scotland are using to improve outcomes and experiences for disabled students. As part of the research, we are interviewing institutions as well as holding some student focus groups. Edinburgh Napier have taken part in the research to talk about the innovative approach they are developing to create a more inclusive learning experience and environment across the whole university.
We would like to invite any disabled students studying at Edinburgh Napier University to attend an online focus group to talk about inclusive practice as well as the support they have received as a disabled student and how that has made a difference to them. If you would like to take part, please contact Rebecca Scarlett by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to get further information and to register your interest.
Lead Scotland is a small charity supporting disabled people to learn across Scotland. They run the only national disabled students’ helpline in Scotland and use the evidence they receive from the helpline to inform and influence policies affecting disabled learners. Advance HE supports the university and college sector to improve and enhance practice in relation to equality, diversity, and inclusion.”
Snowdon Masters Scholarships
Successful students will receive up to £15,000 towards their fees and a £15,000 allowance while studying. There are a number of scholarships available, and students can apply for any master’s course or university – applications are open for both National and International Students.
Find out more and apply: http://bit.ly/3h5f9wa (Deadline: 6th April 2021)