It’s really helpful to learn about your rights as a disabled student at Cambridge. Reasons include reducing disadvantage within your own life, raising self esteem and assisting in campaigning for change.
Some of these areas are changing very quickly, but this section of the guide aims to point you in the right direction to find out more information and explore your rights. Some of these pieces of legislation are woefully inadequate, but they are steps in the right direction from a position where disabled people had very few rights at all. Just because something isn’t currently enshrined in the law, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be, or won’t be one day!
These are some of the rights which might be particularly relevant to you as a disabled student:
Rights by law; the Equality Act 2010 (EA)
The Equality Act came in in 2010 and promotes equality for people in several protected characteristics (age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex and sexual orientation). For disabled people it further means organisations (such as Cambridge University) are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure disabled people can access their services. Examples include accessible buildings, lecture notes in advance, exam access arrangements, extensions to deadlines, accessible college facilities and more.
Rights by law; Equality Duty
This is actually part of the Equality Act but it’s so important that many people think of it as distinct. It requires public bodies, of which Cambridge University is one (as are individual colleges, despite efforts to deny it), to go even further in promoting the rights of disabled people. They must 1) promote disability equality 2) take steps to eliminate discrimination and harassment and 3) publish a Disability Equality Scheme, setting out how they plan to do so.
Human Rights; the UN convention on Disability Rights
This convention, which the UK has ratified, sets out a whole host of Human Rights which disabled people have and aims to ensure these are acknowledged. The convention adopts a ‘social model’ approach, and includes the right to education. Many of the other provisions discussed already are part of working towards an equal society for disabled people, as set out in the act.
Getting your rights met…
Unfortunately, despite increasing legislation and understanding of disabled people’s rights, you are still likely to come across problems. Knowledge and practice are still far below where they should be, leaving disabled students disadvantaged. There are many areas in which the law is not kept to, or is not strong enough and allows discrimination to continue. If you are having difficulties getting your needs as a disabled student at Cambridge University met, then there is help available. Please do feel confident that it is not only you, and you are not being unreasonable. You may want to explore some or all of the following:
- Getting help from the Disability Resource Centre, especially with speaking to your Director of Studies, tutor or college more generally
- Speaking to us; the DSC are here for exactly this, and can help when campaigning is necessary
- Speaking to Cambridge University Student’s Union (CUSU) who can represent and support you. If you aren’t sure about approaching CUSU yourself, feel free to speak to someone at the DSC who can put you in touch with the right person. CUSU is your union and works for you!
Remember that you have a right to access to education on the same level as everyone else. There are likely to be common and fairly simple ways to ensure your access, but even if your needs are complex and unusual you have every right to have them met.