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Disabled Students’ Commission and Advance HE mark International Day of Disabled People

03 Dec 2021 | Hannah Borkin On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021, Hannah Borkin, Researcher at Advance HE, discusses the importance of the work on disability inclusion undertaken by our partners at the Disabled Students' Commission.

Today marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). First proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations, it is an annual event to encourage people to reflect on the importance of disability inclusion across the world. Zoom in on England, and to higher education, where disability inclusion is at the core of the agenda for the Disabled Students’ Commission (DSC). Formed in March 2020, this independent and strategic group takes responsibility for advising, informing and influencing higher education providers to improve support for disabled students.

Since its inception, the DSC has therefore been steering a boat through the rocky waters of the pandemic all the while seeking to achieve its original objectives. And while there have been endless barriers and setbacks experienced by disabled students during this time, the DSC has also witnessed a sea-change in the way in which support is provided. Things disabled students have been asking for years, and previously told were not possible, have been put in place by institutions within weeks. The tide may have not turned completely, but pockets of water are calming.   

Geoff Layer, Chair of the DSC and Disability and Access Ambassador to higher education, considers the vital work the Commission has delivered over the past couple of years, as well as reflecting on the work that still needs to be done:

“The DSC are incredibly committed to driving positive change for disabled people, and we have done a lot of work during the last two years to influence the higher education sector, employers and industry representative bodies to adapt their practices to enhance opportunities for disabled people. We have approached our work from a student life cycle approach, which covers the transition into higher education, all the way into employment. It is essential that education providers ensure all students have the best chance of success, and to work together with employers to ensure that the journey for disabled students of moving into employment from education is not only equitable, but empowering. The benefits for all of enabling an inclusive and diverse society, in which every person can fulfil their potential, cannot be underestimated and so we must look at what support requirements are needed, and at removing barriers to the success of disabled people.”

The theme for IDPD this year is ‘Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era.’ Research conducted by the DSC in August 2021 explored the impact of COVID-19 on disabled students’ experiences, and highlighted stark findings in areas ranging from access and transition into higher education to mental health and wellbeing. Of concern, 80% of all respondents to the DSC’s survey (473 respondents in total) reported that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Nonetheless, disabled students praised the role of staff in considering and accommodating their support requirements throughout the pandemic. Support such as more flexible access to extensions, the ability to study and work from home, as well as an increased awareness and understanding of disability are all things which can, and should, be sustained going forward.

In 2022, the DSC will focus on the provision of Information, Advice and Guidance to ensure disabled applicants can access the support they need and have this in place at the very start of their studies. Continuing to navigate the ebb and flow of COVID-19, the DSC is committed to enhancing the student journey into, within and beyond higher education, and will ride the waves alongside disabled students towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable future.  


Advance HE is proud to support the Disabled Students’ Commission through responsibility for providing secretariat support, as well as overseeing the management, coordination and dissemination of research and other DSC outcomes.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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