UCL News


Disability History Month 2023 at UCL

15 November 2023

UK Disability History Month 2023 takes place from 16 November – 16 December. Find out more about UCL events marking the month, plus key resources and more information.

A Latinx (invisibly) disabled woman talking and walking alongside her friend, an Asian disabled genderfluid person wearing compression gloves and driving a lightweight electric mobility scooter.

On this page:

Foreword from Indie Beedie, UCL Disability Equality Envoy and Co-Chair of UCL's Disability Equity Steering Group, and Suzanna Chen, Disabled Students' Officer at Students’ Union UCL. 

UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) is a time to recognise that disability is a natural part of human existence and diversity, and that negative connotations and limitations associated with disabilities are manifestations of inaccessible environments and socially created oppression. This paradigm, which has been adopted by UCL, is referred to as the Social Model of Disability, and has an important influence both on how people with disabilities are treated in society and how disabled people see themselves. 

Disability History Month is also a time to look back on the history of disabled people in the fight for equity and reflect on how far society has come over the years. At UCL, it’s a time for reflection on the eugenics legacy of UCL, Francis Galton and the impact of eugenics on the disabled community. We can take pride that as an institution we are beginning to address the legacy of eugenics and continuing on that journey with the Eugenics Legacy Education Project

The theme for UKDHM 2023, ‘Disability, Childhood and Youth’, is particularly relevant to students with its focus on young people with disabilities. Data collected by the UK Government in 2021 suggested that while the number of disabled students in higher education has increased, they are more likely to drop out, and those who finish their degree tend to have lower degree results than non-disabled students. 

These disparities are worth addressing as disabled students make up nearly 16% of the university’s student body, amounting to over 7,000 students. A survey conducted by UCL’s Disabled Students Network (DSN) in 2019 found that 67 per cent of disabled students who responded reported experiencing ableism at UCL. Various disabled students have also identified specific issues like bureaucratic adjustment processes, inaccessible physical environments, additional disability-related expenses, and discriminatory attitudes as negative aspects of their UCL experience. 

UCL takes pride in its history and commitment to making higher education accessible to underrepresented students and names accessibility a fundamental principle. It accommodates its disabled students and staff with support such as physical access arrangements and digital accessibility tools, although it’s acknowledged that there is more work to do to create a truly accessible education offering and workplace. 

There is strength in community and allies from across the university are working to improve accessibility and disability inclusion at UCL and beyond. From medical students challenging the language used to describe disabilities in their curriculum, student-led assistive technology projects, UCL Arena’s inclusive education resources, and department-led projects such as ‘disability and student access to the practice of law’, to disabled student and staff-run groups and networks of peer support, the plethora of ways in which disabled and non-disabled students and staff contribute to a more accessible environment for everyone should be acknowledged and celebrated during and after this month. 

7% of UCL staff have a declared disability; however, we know that disabled working age adults make up 23% of the UK population (ONS, 2023). This suggests that the number of disabled working age adults at UCL is higher than the reported figures. Even if we just took the 7% figure, that is a significant number of people within our community who identify as disabled. If you would like to declare your disability, you can do so through Inside UCL

Disabled staff also report challenges such as the tyranny of protocol, stigmatisation and barriers to career progression. We all need to work together to change the culture at UCL so that the environment is more inclusive for disabled staff and students. This begins with moving away from a deficit model and embracing the diversity of experience and thoughts that the disabled community can provide. Adaptations for disabled staff and students benefit not only the disabled community, but all of us – for example, typewriters and keyboards, the electric toothbrush and closed captions are something all of us use in our everyday lives which were designed for disabled people. This also applies to adaptations that we make as an institution for students and staff, such as access to lectures recording or flexible working patterns. 

Being a person with disabilities can be challenging in subtle and extensive ways, but there is a wonderful community of disabled staff, students, and allies at UCL committed to accessibility and disability inclusion and this month is for you all.

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Please keep checking this page for the latest UCL events taking place this month, plus podcasts and key resources – and mark your calendars for Sunday 3 December, when we’ll be lighting the Portico purple to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities. 


21 November, 5–7pm: London (Brain) Fog: Long Covid and Unfeeling through Crip of Colour Critique 

In this talk Xine Yao presents tentative work toward their new project developing the racial and sexual politics of unfeeling from their award-winning monograph DISAFFECTED as a crip of colour framework. In person/open to all. 

23 November, 1–2pm: Disability Innovation Lectures: Meeting Peoples’ Primary Needs, Now and in the Future

We are delighted to invite you to this lunchtime guest lecture and Q&A with with Dr Rosie Gowran, UCL Honorary Professor, Clinical Lead for the National Clinical Programme for People with Disability, Associate Professor in Occupational Therapy, and Programme Director at the University of Limerick, Ireland. In person/open to all.

23 November, 4–6pm: Disability History Month, Archive Drop-in Session at LSE

This display from LSE's archives will include materials of suffragette Rosa May Billinghurst, papers from the Maternity Alliance Disability Working Group (now Maternity Action, maternity rights charity), GEMMA newsletters, Gay Men's Disabled Group newsletters, the Disablement Income Group (DIG) and more. In person/open to all.

23 November, 5–8,30pm: DCAL (UCL) LGBTQ+ BSL Glossary event: Deaf Drag Fun Night 

A fantastic opportunity to embrace inclusivity, learn British Sign Language (BSL) glossary terms, and have a blast in a safe and supportive environment. In person/open to all.

1 December, 2–3pm: International Day of Persons with Disabilities Conference 2023

Join UCL Student Support and Wellbeing on Friday 1 December 2023 to celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Online/open to UCL students and staff.

6 December, 2–3pm: Supporting disabled and neurodivergent students in Higher Education: Student Success Series (online)

The Student Success Staff Speaker series runs between October to March on a bi-monthly basis, featuring Higher Education practitioners to help raise awareness of issues that disabled students face within HE. Online/open to UCL staff.

11 December, 2–3pm: Disabled women in Academia Panel Event

This panel event brings together women with disabilities in academia at different stages of their careers. They will reflect on their journeys; what support is available and what still needs to be done in academia to empower women with disabilities. Online/open to university staff.

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Support for Students

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Support for Staff

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Inclusive education resources and events

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More information, resources and links

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Image credit

Image courtesy of the Disabled and Here collection, a site providing free and inclusive stock images of disabled people.

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