EUSA Elections 2022 Voices

Interview with EUSA Disabled Students’ Officer Candidate, Lucy Caswell

Lucy (she/her) is a third-year English Literature and History student. She is running to be Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s next Disabled Students’ Officer (DSO). The Student interviewed Lucy to find out more about her campaign.

Why are you running to be the next Disabled Students’ Officer?

I have spent my time at Edinburgh trying to push through the multiple barriers that the disability services put up in order to access the help I need. It has been disheartening and I got to the point where I just felt so sad, frustrated and angry thinking about the thousands of students who have to deal with the same every year. Disabled students represent a huge, largely silent community at Edinburgh who systematically gets pushed aside and beaten down. I want to do my best to change that and give a voice to many people who have shared their sadly similar experiences with me. Constantly feeling like a burden is not what your university experience should be, no matter your background!

What is your most ambitious manifesto point and how are you planning to implement it?

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I think my most ambitious manifesto point is to build on current DSO Mia’s work with her success in implementing a one-time accessibility fund – I am hoping to make this permanent.

Coming from a low-income, single-parent household myself whereby I have never received any familial financial help, I feel really strongly about this. When you are disabled and require extra facilities that are expensive (therapy, ergonomic tech, accessible accommodation) you often have to choose between earning money to fund this or focusing on your studies. On top of this, the university scrapped the scholarship they gave to low-income students last year, and if I did not receive that money I would not be able to study here. I think this is a huge setback for low-income disabled students and what they can access in order to thrive at university. This is why I want to make this accessibility fund available every year to every disabled student. I have a lot of work to do in order to figure out how. But, I am in the process of talking with Mia to get an idea of how she was successful in getting the ball rolling! 

I am also hoping to consistently communicate with organizations like The 93% Club, whom I have spoken with already, in order to build on their fantastic work at encouraging social mobility at the university!

What are your views on the Covid-19 hybrid teaching system and accessibility? How are you planning to keep teaching more accessible to students with online teaching options?

I think the implementation of hybrid teaching is vital in order to create a more accessible university experience – I for one have benefitted massively from this. Certain schools such as the School of History, Classics and Archeology have a policy of not recording lectures, for example. I know that myself and other disabled students have felt pushed aside in order to protect intellectual property. I am planning on lobbying schools to change this policy. They were able to do this during Covid-19 when able-bodied students were not able to attend in person, so why can they not continue?

Additionally, students were told that if they are not able to attend classes for any reason (not in Edinburgh, isolation, etc.), staff would be able to account for last-minute absences by making the lecture/seminar available online. However, this promise has not been upheld by everybody. Having experienced all sides of this issue myself makes me very aware of where the university falls short in creating accessible learning and where it has been successful. So, I am hoping to push all schools to learn from the successes and lobby them to change. Not doing so is, frankly, ableist.

Do you have any collaboration plans with other liberation officers for disabled students with intersecting identities?

A big part of my campaign is to make the role of DSO as intersectional as possible. For example, I was not aware until speaking with the Trans and Non-Binary candidates that free period products do not tend to be in every accessible toilet at the university when it is the university’s policy. This is not just a trans and non-binary issue, but also an accessibility and a women’s issue. I have already found that by sharing our experiences with each other we are already learning more about how our roles overlap and with that information we can be more effective in making changes!

Disabled people do not exist in a vacuum – it is not the only aspect of our identity. Disabled people can be of any race, gender identity and sexual orientation. All of these elements of our lives inform our experiences and that is vital to remember when implementing new policies.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Disabled students, and in particular low-income and widening participation students tend to have a shared experience of major Imposter Syndrome. We are constantly feeling that we need to fight to be validated and I have found it to be a huge relief when I find other students who have dealt with similar obstacles in their education. This kind of community is crucial and I really hope with my experience in committee roles in various societies that I can help foster more of this community spirit and uplift my fellow disabled students!

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Image Credits Lucy Caswell