So you’re getting ready move to Cambridge – congrats, and I hope you’re excited to get stuck into Freshers’ Week! I’m Emrys, the CUSU Disabled Students’ Officer, and this article will hopefully give you a quick primer on accessibility during the week and beyond. ‘Accessibility’ is a broad concept, with lots of potential factors feeding into people’s experiences of spaces and events – plenty of these will be relevant to everyone whether you consider yourself disabled or not, so read on…
A space, event, piece of information, etc. is ‘accessible’ if everyone is able to take part in it on equal terms, regardless of disability or other differences. It’s not as simple as something being either accessible or inaccessible, though – there are many different kinds of people, disabilities, and access needs!
Which bits of Freshers’ Week might be inaccessible?
For starters, Cambridge isn’t the most up-to-date city when it comes to step-free access (i.e., access for wheelchair users, and others who can’t climb stairs for any reason). Your college should be able to provide you with information on whether Freshers’ events in college spaces have step-free access or not, and there’s a page on the Disabled Students’ Campaign website with access information for several of the pubs and cafés in town where events might be held. Most Cambridge clubs are unfortunately pretty inaccessible, especially for wheelchair users. On the other hand, you should be alright at the CUSU Freshers’ Fair, where there’s temporary road matting and lift access – we have a page on the CUSU website detailing access information for the event!
For anyone who struggles with crowds, noise, and other triggers for sensory overload or anxiety, you might want to avoid the clubs and head for quieter events like the Graduate Union’s tea and cake socials and film nights. There’s usually a wealth of these more welfare-focused socials in colleges, too. For society-seeking, your college will likely put on its own smaller Freshers’ Fair – but the CUSU Freshers’ Fair also has quiet hours, from 3-4pm on Tuesday 2nd October and 10-11am on Wednesday 3rd October, during which all music will be turned off, and the fair’s capacity will be reduced to minimise crowds.
There are plenty of people for whom a lack of seating might cause access issues – anyone with mobility impairments, chronic pain or fatigue, or conditions causing dizziness may struggle with remaining standing for extended periods. If that’s you, don’t be afraid to ask in advance whether Freshers’ Week events will have seating available, if that information isn’t already provided by the event organisers! Some, but not all, of the CUSU Freshers’ Fair will have seating available – if a lack of seating is prohibitive, but you still want to check out the societies and campaigns on offer in Cambridge, you can search in the CUSU directory and drop into the CUSU Campaigns Freshers’ Squash in the SU lounge, where we’ve got plenty of seating available (including squishy sofas!). You can also contact CUSU to be allocated a disability pass for the Freshers’ Fair, which you can pick up from us or from the Disability Resource Centre before the fair – this will allow you to skip queues and avoid the one-way system.
These are just some of the access issues facing disabled, and other, students during Freshers’ Week – if you’re an event organiser, think about how you can make events accessible to students with, for example, hearing impairments and visual impairments too. Try to provide large-print or plain-text versions of any resources, and consider asking your college to purchase a portable hearing loop system if they don’t have one already. Make sure you’re providing access information for your events publicly too – there’s an access statement generator on the Disabled Students’ Campaign website to help you out!
Where can I go for more info?
Your college JCR/MCR (its representative body for students) should have a Disabled Students’ Officer of its own – those that don’t will at least have a Welfare Officer, who should be able to help you out. Your college nurse might be a useful person to get in touch with, too. Give the CUSU Disabled Students’ Campaign Facebook page a ‘like’, and join our community Facebook group if you identify as disabled in any way (and that can mean lots of things, from mobility issues, to mental health problems, to dyslexia and dyspraxia, to autism and ADHD, and many more!).