The big read: Disabled student says 'my future has been stolen' after Sheffield university failings

A disabled student dropped out of his studies at the University of Sheffield due to institutional failures in providing disability support.

Thursday, 9th September 2021, 10:24 am
Daniel is registered blind and feels that he received more support at school and college than at university.

Daniel Swain, who is registered blind, secured a place at University of Sheffield last year and expected to receive the same levels of support he had throughout school and college.

However, following early failures by the university to provide adequate support, he decided to drop out of his Philosophy degree in October 2020.

In documents seen by Sheffield Telegraph, the head of the philosophy department apologised on behalf of the department for the late response to Daniels’ learning support plan, and the lack of accessibility in some of the teaching materials.

Liberation officers at University of Sheffield said that what Daniel experienced was unacceptable.

Daniel said: “They have stolen my future, they stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. I was hoping I would be able to make something of myself. Because of their failures it led to everything going wrong for me.

"I had a lot of support at school, I was able to overcome my disability. It was the same at college, I achieved A, A*, A* in my A levels. I had to re learn how to do everything that I had done before, but I got on with it.

"I expected the same if not better at university – universities have access to a lot of funding and staff should know how to better support disabled students.”

Daniel had been speaking to Disability and Dyslexia Support Service (DDSS) prior to starting his degree and they had created a learning support plan to help support him in his studies.

Sheffield Views..Pictured is Sheffield University Firth Court...Pic Steve Ellis

The plan included accommodations such as providing reading materials in accessible electronic formats, and ensuring these materials were provided in advance,

However, Daniel realised that the support plan which was sent to the department of philosophy’s Disability Liaison Officer on September 7, had not been circulated until September 28, when Daniel had already begun his studies.

Daniel also explained in his formal complaint that, contrary to the advice of his support plan, resources were often inaccessible because they were often scanned PDFs or included images without alternative text descriptions.

Daniel added: “The teaching materials didn’t meet accessibility standards - under law they should have. It was shocking to hear they weren’t ready for a student with a disability. It’s just not good enough at all."

When Daniel raised these issues he was told in an email that first year is hard for everyone and that he should be generous to himself. Daniel added: “It was patronising. It showed a total lack of understanding.

"These universities are always talking about how inclusive they are but if there were inclusive disabled people wouldn’t be dropping out of university. There’s no barrier you will ever face that’s greater than a disability - that’s why it’s important they need to make changes.

"People always say don’t let your disabilities define you, but that’s a lie. The system disadvantages you if you have a disability. It’s not an individual failure - universities are big organisations. It’s an institutional, bureaucratic problem.”

Daniel explained that he didn’t want to go to another university and he is not confident that he wouldn’t encounter the same problems if he did.

A University of Sheffield’s spokesperson said: “We are very sorry that a Learning Support Plan was not fully implemented by a students’ department at the start of the last academic year.

“We are working proactively with our Students’ Union to improve our disability support and producing extensive guidance on implementing Learning Support Plans and the recommendations they make.

“We continue our commitment to addressing barriers to participation to ensure we provide inclusive curricula, learning and teaching environments. Further information on disability inclusion can be found at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/inclusion/disability.”

In a joint statement, Sheffield SU’s Liberation Officer, Shona Tulloch, and Disabled Students Officer, Iz Ostrowska, said: “What happened to this student is completely unacceptable. We also know from personal experience that some of the key issues raised are not unique to this case.

“Following our Officer role review this year, we now have both a Liberation Officer and Disabled Students’ Officer in place ensuring that our SU can more effectively represent disabled students at the University of Sheffield.

"We will be prioritising this issue and are working in partnership with the University to make sure that this never happens to another student in the future.”