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Reflecting on Accessibility

Alison Nicholson, Disability Support Champion, takes a fresh look around College as Disability History Month draws to a close.

A tutor at Hughes Hall for several years, Alison is passionate about accessibility in its widest sense, and has supported many students through a range of positive, thought-provoking and challenging experiences, during their time here.

She has been finding out what practical benefits the recent – and comprehensive – works around college are bringing to our community (and their guests) who experience any condition that makes it more difficult to do certain activities or to have equitable access to College life, and indeed wider society.

She recently met with Jon Horwood, Head of Facilities, for a tour of our site.

Alison Nicholson, Disability Support Champion and Tutor, toured the College grounds with Jon Horwood, Head of Facilities, to review recent accessibility improvements.

Let’s start with the changes being made inside the College buildings such as the modifications to many of the doors?

We have fully automated 11 doors across the site to increase accessibility. And a fully accessible flat is now available for current and future student use. This spacious and thoughtfully designed accommodation offers a wet room and adjustable work surfaces in the kitchen, along with a range of other adaptations.

And outside, the recently laid paths around the back of the College lawns will presumably offer a step free, accessible route to the library?

Yes, all the gravel paths at the rear of the Margaret Wileman Building have been replaced with a surface better suited for wheelchair users or indeed anyone with mobility issues. A ramp has also been constructed which provides full access to the library via an automatic door.

It’s great to see these clear visual changes as improvements take place but have there been any other improvements implemented which are just as important but are not quite so obvious?

Gravel paths and steps around the back lawns and providing access to the library have been redesigned and landscaped during 2023 to provide more accessible routes and entrances.

We have undertaken work to improve the landscaping of the grounds, to create a less cluttered site, with clear and designated spaces for bins, planters and bicycles. We have also reduced parking close to the main building which provides more open space. Signage has also been improved using a clearer, larger black font on a white background.

With repainted speed bumps too, these improvements will be of particular benefit to those in our community who are visually impaired.

I particularly welcome the inclusion of improvements for those with non-visible disabilities. Can you share any examples of recent projects which have been implemented to meet the needs of those in our community with hidden disabilities?

We strive constantly to adapt our buildings to better suit those with non-visible disabilities. For example, we have reviewed and updated our use of materials (carpets, curtains etc) and colours in rooms to help create calm, ‘unfussy’, and quiet spaces with good acoustics. Chairs have been replaced in the Maletin, Pfeiffer and the Pavilion Rooms which offer greater comfort and more flexible seating. Visual alarms have been fitted in flats, and individualised Personal Evacuation Plans are put in place to support students with particular disabilities or conditions.

The recent creation of a room on the first floor of the Margaret Wileman Building dedicated to quiet reflection, which also serves as a multi-faith space, is a welcome addition for many in our community.

Are there any longer term projects being planned for improving accessibility within the site?

Yes, and any future development to the estate will be informed by ‘inclusive by design’ principles (we work closely with the Accessibility and Disability Resource Centre on these) as well as current Building Regulations. Part M of the Regulations gives clear instruction as to what is required in new developments with regards to accessibility.

Our Accessible Access Guide to Hughes Hall also contains a lot of useful information for both College members and visitors to our buildings and grounds. An accessible site which meets the needs of those with disabilities will be at the forefront of any future decision making.

Thanks Jon. In summary, it’s fantastic to see this investment – but there is still more that can be done. I look forward, in time, to hearing about future plans which will make Hughes Hall increasingly inclusive at the point of design, rather than inclusive by response.

As I ease into my new ‘Champion’ role, I’ve already learnt that for any students with queries about arrangements around a disability, including Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD), there is a huge amount of support available, both within College as well as within the wider University. The Accessibility and Disability Resource Centre (ADRC) is a fantastic source for advice and information; within our community potential applicants can contact the admissions teams to discuss individual needs even before an offer is made.

Alison is assembling an advisory panel of students with lived experience of disability to guide future support efforts, and college improvements. She welcomes students to get in touch with suggestions, inspiration and requests.

Get involved

Our Head of Welfare, Dr Benjamin Marshall, as Disability Liaison Officer for Hughes and working closely with the ADRC, is very keen to take a proactive approach to accessibility, and is always pleased to hear from any students who need support with getting relevant adjustments made.

I also look forward to assembling an advisory panel of students with lived experience of disability to guide future work, and to hearing from others in the college community who have an interest in helping me take forward positive, inclusive initiatives, whether these be campaigning on a particular issue, awareness raising events, or suggesting practical changes to their environments.

If you would like to get involved in improving accessibility at Hughes Hall or have any ideas or suggestions, please contact Alison on anicholson@hughes.cam.ac.uk.

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