This year’s theme for UK Disability History Month is ‘Disability, Health and Well Being’. This theme invites us to consider how barriers to inclusion affect disabled people’s wellbeing and it also prompts us to reflect on how far we still have to go at King’s to make sure our environment enables disabled members of our community to flourish.
Events to mark Disability History Month and explore this theme further are taking place across King’s and you can find out about these here.
In this blog, our Senior Sponsor for Disability Inclusion at King’s, Professor Richard Trembath (Senior Vice President Health & Life Sciences and Executive Director of King’s Health Partners) reflects on the progress we have made in the past two years, the challenges we still face and our priorities going forward.
Disability Inclusion has been a priority in the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy since 2019 and, to support this, a Disability Inclusion Action Plan and Maturity Model were developed in consultation with King’s staff. King’s also has a dedicated team to support disabled students, the Disability Support & Inclusion Team, and I am pleased to share some of their work below as well.
Two years ago, we published a blog ‘How far have we come, and how far have we to go?’ in which we reflected on progress on Disability Inclusion at King’s. In that blog myself, and colleagues from EDI and Access King’s were able to share progress in key areas. This included my appointment as Senior Sponsor to ensure disability inclusion is championed among senior leadership and also significant steps forward on digital accessibility and Equality Analysis. Since then, we have continued to make progress and further embed disability inclusion at King’s but we have also faced challenges and have learnt some important lessons along the way. To mark Disability History Month this year I wanted to reflect both on the positive steps we have taken forward but also on those difficult lessons. and how we plan to learn and grow from them.
Learning from our mistakes
At King’s we understand disability through the Social Model, which means we want to focus on removing barriers to create an inclusive work and study environment. While this is our aim, the theme of this year’s Disability History Month calls us to reflect on how well we do this and what the impact is on our disabled staff and students’ wellbeing. Particularly in the last two years we have been confronted with the challenges of making a large historic estate physically accessible to our community. The shortcomings of our buildings and the ability of our processes and structures to find quick and satisfactory resolutions to these barriers, and others, has come to the fore. I hope you will see in the priorities at the end of this blog post that there is work underway to learn from our mistakes, understand where things aren’t working and make sure we work together to overcome these challenges.
Before sharing those priorities and the positive progress we have made in the last few years, I wanted to start with this acknowledgement that we know we don’t always get it right and we are sorry when our progress is not rapid and responsive enough to meet the needs of our community. We are extremely grateful to our staff and student community who are so generous in sharing their experiences, their concerns and frustrations and help us to understand the impact of this work on their experience at King’s and their wellbeing. In so doing, you push us to do better and we thank you for that.
Another key area that you have told us needs to improve is how we communicate with the King’s community about the challenges and progress in disability inclusion. I hope this update goes some way to provide insight into the work in this area and I am also pleased to share that we have new pages on the Disability Inclusion Hub to provide more transparency on the Disability Inclusion Steering Group and our Disability Inclusion Action Plan and Maturity Model.
I am delighted to share some of the key areas that have progressed in the last two years. The activity below reflects work from teams across King’s under the four strategic pillars of Disability Inclusion Action Plan:
- Leadership, Governance & Culture
- Policy, Process & Procedure
- Local Experience
- Data, Outcomes & Evaluation
Under each of these four pillars are a range of objectives that aim to address the structural inequalities that impact disabled people at King’s. Work to fulfil these aims is being carried out across King’s. Below I have highlighted some of the key progress that has been made in the last year.
Leadership, Governance and Culture
- The Disability Inclusion Steering Group (DISG) includes key leaders from across King’s whose work focuses on disability inclusion or who can help us embed disability inclusion projects and practices across the College. The DISG now needs to move forward at pace with delivery to a number of key objectives and needs to ensure disability inclusion is connected to our governance structures and has recognition at King’s.
Policy, Processes & Procedure
- Following previous work from the EDI Function to promote Equality Analysis in King’s policy changes and projects, Estates and Facilities are embedding Equality Analysis into their Capital Projects handbook to ensure the big projects involving new buildings for King’s campuses consider the impacts on marginalised groups, including accessibility and inclusion for disabled staff and students.
- The Disability Support & Inclusion team have enhanced the support of disabled students through a range of actions including:
- Ensuring engagement with the student voice by conducting a student survey in summer 2021. The results of the survey have informed thinking of the DSI Service Strategy and the changes being introduced to better support disabled students in 2022-23.
- Working with Residences to review and enhance the Additional Accommodation Requirements (AAR), ensuring appropriate accommodation offers are made to disabled offer holders and students.
- Collaborating with faculties and departments to improve adjustments provisions and process for students around assessment and coursework.
- A range of new resources have been created to provide information and support to King’s staff and students:
- The Disability Inclusion Hub has been developed by the EDI Function, which includes the Disability Toolkit and the Digital Accessibility Toolkit both published in the last two years.
- The Centre for Doctoral Studies have developed a PGR Disability Support Hub with advice, case studies FAQs and contacts for key services for both PGR students and their supervisors.
- The Centre for Doctoral Studies, with support from the Disability Support & Inclusion team, have developed a reasonable adjustments process for PGR students and are committed to reviewing and continuing to improve this process.
- The Digital Education Accessibility Task-and-Finish Group have developed the Digital Education Accessibility Baseline. This KEATS course outlines the core principles for digital education accessibility and gives guidance on how to apply them to teaching and learning material. A valuable accompaniment to this course is the Digital Education Blog which provides post offering insight on how different teams across King’s are applying the Baseline.
- Access King’s, the Staff Disability Inclusion Network at King’s, has continued to flourish and provide an invaluable space for staff to find community, support and advice. Special mention must go to Abbie Russell who has been integral to the success of the Network since its inception – Abbie steps down as Co-Chair this year and her passion, integrity and collaborative spirit will be much missed. However, Access King’s will no doubt continue to thrive and help hold myself, the EDI Function and all those working on disability inclusion to account.
- Disability Inclusion has been embedded in two new EDI training courses introduced by the EDI Function:
- The Introduction to Equality, Diversity & Inclusion e-learning module launched in April 2022 to provide a baseline introduction to the Equality Act 2010, discrimination and EDI at King’s.
- The relaunch of Diversity Matters training in October 2022 following the procurement of a new training provider brought in to deliver a new version of the training based on revised learning objectives and consultation with the King’s community.
- Estates & Facilities have renewed King’s membership with AccessAble who provide accessibility audits and information for King’s campuses. Access Guides are provided for all King’s buildings and audits of King’s sites are now being used to review and implement accessibility improvements.
- King’s took part in a Student Disability Adjustments Passport Pilot which was led by the University of Wolverhampton. The passport is being developed by the Department for Education and aims to help students transition into employment with the support they need to succeed. Through our involvement King’s students were able to directly influence how the scheme is developed.
Data, Outcomes & Evaluation
- The Personal Circumstances Form and Guidance for the Academic Promotions process have been updated to better support disabled staff members going through the promotions round and we hope to have more influence on this process to ensure it is disability smart.
Based on the lessons learnt from staff and students not getting the adjustments and support they need, many of our priorities and actions for the next year focus on improving how this is delivered at King’s and how the governance for disability inclusion ensures responsbility and accountability are clear.
The Estates & Facilities Directorate have started to introduce a range of new initiatives to improve how accessibility issues are dealt with and how disability inclusive practice is embedded in estate projects and design. A new group is being created to enable specific accessibility challenges to be overseen by the key people who can make decisions and progress adjustments. They are also introducing an accessibility category on the help desk ticket system to ensure accessibility issues are easy to report and are processed quickly to enable swift resolution. Alongside these changes to address existing issues, E&F are also proactively working to embed inclusive design to prevent such issues arising. There is also work underway gathering staff views on office and open plan workspaces, with the aim of improving the accessibility of these spaces.
Disability Support & Inclusion and the EDI Function are working together, with support from Strategy, Planning & Analytics, to ensure disability inclusion is effectively embedded in governance at King’s and responsbility and accountability for this work is clear to the whole King’s community. It is important that disability inclusion is effectively connected to the new Staff and Culture Strategy Committee and the priorities of King’s Strategy 2026.
The EDI Function will prioritise improving the processes and support relating to staff disability adjustments. This will include the launch of the Staff Adjustments Passport as well as training and guidance for line managers and other key staff members who play an important role in the adjustments process. The EDI Function will also review King’s Disability Policy to ensure it meets the needs of the King’s community and includes Workplace Adjustments more clearly.
As mentioned at the start of this blog, communication has also been highlighted as a key priority and the EDI Function will work with colleagues across the College to improve how we share updates and issues and keep our community better informed. The EDI Function will continue to utilise the Disability Inclusion Hub to provide updates and they will also commission new blogs about disability, accessibility and inclusion at King’s.
Celebrating key dates, such as Disability History Month provides the opportunity to shine a light on the contributions and experiences of disabled staff and students in our community has always been a priority for many across the College. Access King’s have a fantastic range of events planned for the next year and there is also work underway to find a permanent home for the Neurodiversity at King’s display created by the KCL Neurodiversity and Mental Health Student Society.
I am confident that with the commitment of so many, that the changes and developments outlined above will help us to better respond to the needs of our community. I hope this update has been helpful and has given you a sense of the fantastic achievements that have been made alongside the important lessons we have faced.
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