Aston’s Disability Network for staff was established 18 months ago. Chaired by Dr Jane Andrews from the School of Engineering & Applied Science, the Network is keen for all staff to be aware of the support and advice it can offer to all staff. Aspects met Jane to find out more.
Jane explains that the Network has been established to give staff direct disability support. The term “disability” includes long-term health issues, physical and mental disability, mental health problems and it also covers illnesses such as diabetes. The law states that a disability is a condition that you have had for three months and that will last for at least six months. “The Network exists to offer support and advice to staff who have a disability or long term health problem themselves or who are caring for somebody with a disability such as children, family or friends”, Jane says. “It can offer advice about help available to them from the government and also about the benefits they might be entitled to but might not know about.”
Even now, there can be a stigma associated with disability. Jane believes that staff may feel reluctant to tell the University that they have a disability. However, she explains that, “if you don’t tell the University about your disability, then the University is unable to offer you the kind support you might need, whether that might be ordering you an orthopaedic chair or authorising time to spend working from home rather than your office. It is also important to remember that all contact with the Network can be done in strictest confidence. In my experience the University has been extremely helpful, but if you don’t disclose that you have a disability then colleagues and managers can’t do anything to assist you.”
Essentially the Network uses the experience of its members to help the University and University staff work more effectively and efficiently by:
- Providing a safe, supportive and confidential environment in which to discuss issues relating to disability
- Providing a forum to discuss all aspects of living with a disability
- Providing networking and support
- Sharing best practice and expertise
- Providing and exchange to discuss and contribute to policy development across the University
- Contributing to staff development and awareness raising in relation to equality and diversity
- Ensuring the group has a credible presence for the disabled community through the membership and participation of disabled people.
The Disability Network is often asked to complement the advice given by DANU and can offer advice on a whole range of questions about teaching students with disabilities. Some of the questions the Network has been asked over the last academic year include how notes should be prepared so that they are accessible for a student with dyslexia and how best to ensure a wheelchair user is included in classroom group work. Although DANU should always be the first port of call for students, and will always offer assistance to colleagues, some individuals may feel happier approaching the Disability Network. The point is the Disability Network complements the work of DANU to make a huge difference to the students and works closely with the University Executive Team to help make life better for the staff and for the students.
The Network will have a meeting per term during the new academic year and any member of staff who wishes to go along can attend. Meetings are very informal and new members are always welcome. As well as regular meetings, the Network will be hosting a series of talks and events throughout the year, such as a talk on disability benefits. These will be open to all staff and will always be publicised through Aspects.
If anyone would like to join the Disability Network, become an active member, or needs advice, please contact Jane Andrews on ext 3363 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further information about the Disability Network for staff.
Words by Louise Russell
4 August 2011