Aim to advocate for students with disabilities

Ensuring students with disabilities have a place around the table is the aim of Otago Disabled...
Ensuring students with disabilities have a place around the table is the aim of Otago Disabled Students’ Association representatives (from left) Rose Abdul Aziz, Sean Prenter and Lauren Dewhirst. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The number of University of Otago students facing life with a disability could be more than 1500, Otago Disabled Students’ Association president Lauren Dewhirst says.

But they belonged at the university, and they belonged at Otago Polytechnic, too, she said.

If students with disabilities needed help, the newly formed association was there for them, Miss Dewhirst

said.

The association was being launched at a time when stigmas were disappearing, and more people were starting to realise they were entitled to support, she said.

"It’s about realising that and reaching out.

"In terms of community, the community we are trying to build and create, it’s about people being able to have a place where they feel accepted and can be themselves, but also where they can be with people who are like-minded."

The 60-member association for people with disabilities and their allies was launched last week.

It would advocate for people with disabilities at both Dunedin tertiary institutions, Miss Dewhirst said.

It was the first time in more than 20 years there had been a disabled students’ association in Dunedin, she said.

Association general executive member Rose Abdul Aziz began student life able-bodied, but said in her first year she had to learn how to adapt to life with an autoimmune disease.

Now she saw how discrimination in favour of able-bodied people was everywhere, she said.

Sometimes it was obvious — for example, if a lift broke down, that could ruin a disabled student’s day.

But there were less obvious places a student with a disability might need help.

For example, students could get access to a note taker, or special conditions in exams, if they needed to, she said.

The association was there

to try to level the playing

field, she said.

"We’re all very capable and we’re achieving a lot.

"It’s all about equity."

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

 

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