The university has reduced their Access All Areas annual budget from £300,000 to £250,000, sparking concerns from the Students’ Union about the pace of improving campus accessibility.
The £50,000 cut follows commitments by Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Richardson, to ensure and improve campus accessibility for students.
The Access All Areas (AAA) team was established to improve access for all students and staff on campus in both existing and developing UEA buildings. This came after concerns specifically regarding access for disabled students.
Dr Katherine Dean, a Senior Lecturer in Research at UEA, writing on her blog in 2017 described the difficulties for people living with disabilities in accessing UEA buildings. In response to such concerns, the Vice-Chancellor committed to improving disability access across campus. In the past, there have been concerns about the budget’s limitations, as expressed by Dr Dean who said: “A single powered door can cost £15,000 to buy and install. If we only addressed our highest priority items, this would cost over £1 million.”
The university said the decision to reduce the budget “was not taken lightly.”
A university spokesperson said: “The decision was considered in the context of all works that have already been undertaken by AAA in conjunction with Estates, and the Estate Strategy.
“Currently we are working on the delivery of the Estate Strategy which is a multi-million pound investment across campus which will impact on many areas, including the improvement of accessibility for all.”
However, the budget reduction has brought concerns about its impact on disabled students and staff. SU Disabled Students Officer Emily Cutler said she was apprehensive about the announcement.
“There are loads of access issues across UEA and a budget of £300k a year to fix them really is the least the University could do. “So we’re very worried that there appears to have been a cut of £50k to an already paltry budget.” She added: “We’re calling on the Uni VC to keep to his promise, restore the budget and set out a proper plan to make this campus accessible for all students as soon as possible.”
A university spokesperson said they have seen “huge improvements to accessibility across campus over the last seven years, due to the efforts of the Access All Areas (AAA) Group and our estates team.”
“Making our university campus accessible to all continues to be a priority and we are making significant investment to tackle some of the least accessible buildings on campus over the next few years.
“The recent refurbishment of the lecture block on campus included a comprehensive hearing loop system.”
The university said plans for a Building 60 and Building 0 are inclusive of disabled staff and students.
“Work has already begun to construct Building 60 to deliver a fully accessible science and teaching building which will be achieved with input from AAA Group working with the design team.
The provision of high quality additional seminar space within Building 60 will mean that Blackdale will no longer be required, which will remove a poorly-designed building that does not fully meet our needs going forward.
“Project Zero will deliver another fully accessible learning and teaching building to replace current spaces in the Arts 1 and 2 buildings.
There are also plans to adapt the Lasdun teaching wall, including aims to completely strip back the current building to its structure.
“This will enable us to tackle a significant portion of the accessibility issues in the building,” a university spokesperson said.
The wall is “one of the most challenging buildings on campus because of its age, design, structure and the fact that it is listed,” they said. “We will be continuing to tackle existing accessibility issues that we find across campus with the continued support of the AAA Group.”