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.
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