UCL News


Provost's View: Championing a culture where Disabled people can thrive

3 December 2015

It is currently

Portico org/">Disability History Month, which has given me pause for thought about what progress we have made on disability equality at UCL in recent years. The theme of the month is 'then and now' and looks at the portrayal of Disabled people in the public realm. So it is timely that members of UCL's Staff Disability Forum recently made a series of short films about their experiences of working at UCL. The films include advice for other Disabled staff and also feature views on what UCL can and must do better.

Much has been said on gender and race equality and I think now it's time to talk about and take steps to address the barriers Disabled people still face at work and at study. We do this in a number of ways at UCL. To date, we have established a Staff Disability Forum and associated Enable@UCL network. Our Deafness, Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre is the largest research centre in this field in Europe. The centre is currently developing new postgraduate programmes in Sign Language and Deaf Studies, as well as interpreting and translation. DCAL's success is largely due to the talented team of Deaf and hearing staff and the extent to which they work together cooperatively. The Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre is generating a body of research dedicated to improving the lives of Disabled people around the world. UCL also has a central budget for reasonable adjustments to enable speedier and easier procurement of equipment and services for our Disabled staff.

UCLU won the NUS campaign of the year award for their Try it! Campaign. While I recognise that these sorts of campaigns can divide opinion, what I personally learnt from my participation was just how complicated the day becomes when you are confined to a wheelchair and try to navigate your way around campus. Everything took three or four times as much time and I had to plan my movements earlier, as well as rely on physical help from others. I also felt much less empowered, less self-confident and I found it difficult to project and 'to be myself'. A salutary lesson.

So there is much more to be done. A number of improvements have been made to our estate, and we are currently finalising an Inclusive Design Standard to which our future building work will adhere, but many of our buildings are still not accessible (and not simply because they are listed), our IT systems are not at the level of accessibility a world-class institution should aspire to and the level of disability equality awareness of managers can be patchy at best. We also need more Disabled staff to be senior role models. Many people have 'invisible' impairments and if senior staff work within a culture where they can be open about such impairments, it will encourage more junior staff with disabilities that they are able to progress.

I'm determined for disability equality to be as high profile as other equality areas, despite there not being an equivalent higher education charter mark, which is why I'm firmly behind the fourth objective of our Equalities and Diversity Strategy, to 'champion a culture where Disabled people can thrive'. What this means to me is that our physical environment and attitudes must be geared towards how we can enable people with impairments rather than unwittingly hold them back, either by our behaviours or inflexible attitudes. Our Disabled staff and students have the right to work and study in environments which are compatible with their access needs and which do not place them at a disadvantage to their peers. UCL managers and teaching staff must be absolutely proactive in making this happen.

UCL and Global LGBT+ issues

Continuing on my theme of equality, UCL has an extremely proactive LGBT+ group that has been turning its attention to global issues. Last week I chaired a panel discussion on LGBT rights and the question of Universities as 'global citizens.' The challenge was to consider how universities generally, and UCL in particular, could improve consideration of LGBT issues when we are working globally, including in parts of the world with very restrictive attitudes and laws. This was a great example of UCL 'at its best', hosting a really inspirational debate with difficult and complex issues under discussion by a diverse expert panel, coupled with excellent participation from the audience. We covered not only the ways in which we might improve support for our LGBT staff overseas in such locations, but also our role through fostering debate, as well as research and education, in encouraging such countries to consider a more liberal approach to LGBT issues.

UCL has also been working in partnership with Stonewall to establish a Global LGBT University Forum. The aim of the forum is to help solve some of the tensions that arise with respect to:

• Reflecting institutional values and commitment to LGBT equality on satellite campuses and partner colleges

• Implementing inclusive global policies in different legal contexts

• Preparing students and staff for outward international mobility (including on overseas placements)

• Supporting international students to arrive and integrate into UK campuses, providing education of LGBT rights and promoting good campus relations

• Establishing and supporting LGBT societies and staff networks abroad.

These are complex issues, and I am pleased that we are engaged in furthering solutions to them.

Athena SWAN

Many of you will be aware that UCL has been making fantastic progress in achieving Athena SWAN awards. We are one of just seven institutions to hold an Institutional Silver award, and UCL currently has more Silver departmental awards than any other institution. There have recently been some changes to the charter, which I welcome. Until recently, the Athena SWAN charter focused on women's representation in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine). However, the charter has now opened up to include departments in the fields of Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Business and Law. The focus of Athena SWAN has also shifted to consider gender equality more broadly. I would like to encourage all our departments to engage in the Athena SWAN process. Increasingly, we have found that innovative activities and good practice that are put in place as a result of Athena SWAN leads to a working culture that supports all staff.

While I am on the subject, I would also encourage you to promote or indeed enter the Rosalind Franklin Appathon - a national app competition to empower and recognise women as leaders in STEMM.

As you hopefully will be aware by now, my stated ambition is for UCL to be the most inclusive university in the UK and for us to be a sector leader in delivering real outcomes on equality and diversity.

Professor Michael Arthur

UCL President & Provost

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