What universities can learn from Manchester Metropolitan’s approach to disability

Picture of Manchester city hall
By Samuel Buckley

Over the 13 years organisations have been using our Disability Standard to develop and improve the ways they work with disabled people, only 2 universities have joined the ranks of the highest-scoring organisations – Manchester Metropolitan University and the Open University.

Under our Disability Standard, organisations are scored, on a 100-point scale, according to how good practice is in different business areas and how well the whole organisation approaches disability. Top scoring organisations enter our Roll of Honour – scoring Bronze (70%), Silver (80%) or Gold (90%). So far, only 2 universities have made it into one of these top three tiers.

Manchester Metropolitan became the first and so far only university to achieve a top Gold score in 2017, garnering a mark of 92 on the Disability Standard’s 100-point scoring system.

So what sets the top-scoring Manchester Metropolitan University’s approach aside from the other 130 universities operating in the UK?

Perhaps more than anything else, we’ve found that a key ingredient of a successful approach to disability is positivity. Manchester Met’s positive culture around diversity and inclusion went together with willingness by staff to take responsibility for their work on accessibility.

Crucially, Manchester Met also analysed their current practice and sought opinions from staff and students. They are particularly responsive to feedback and the need to make adjustments creating an accessible 3D campus map for a disabled student for example.
Finally, the university’s good practice was enabled by the way that it distributed knowledge among its staff, using bespoke guides for disabled staff, managers and job candidates, to support the processes around adjustments.

Indeed the staff were credited by Jean-Noel Ezingeard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, who said: “The award is result of a tremendous amount of work from the Equality & Diversity team, our Disabled Staff Forum, Equality & Diversity Champions and colleagues across the University that have worked very hard to deliver the environment that’s been recognised by the award. Beyond the badge, this is also a celebration of our positive culture toward Equality and Diversity – something we are all proud of.”

Using the Disability Standard repeatedly over several years helped the university to identify areas for improvement, enabling staff to develop practice to the point where the became a sector leader.

In short, then, Manchester Metropolitan’s success is down to its approach – as it is with any organisation – rather than resources. Likewise, a similarly unified approach garnered the Open University a Bronze rating in 2016.

Universities have a lot to gain by taking this whole-organisational approach to disability. Britain’s universities employ some 750,000 people, and cater to around 2.28 million students. A great number of these will have disabilities or long-term health conditions – and they will walk away from services and workplaces that don’t welcome or include them.

Perhaps even more pertinent is the fact that a university, as with any organisation, that welcomes disabled people is one that welcomes everyone.

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