Supporting Disabled Students:
King’s College London

Training session


“One of the best EDI training sessions that I have ever attended.”

Celebrating Disability recently worked with King’s College London, to improve the  disability confidence of staff working with prospective and current students and to provide guidance on how best to support disabled students.

After one tailored training session, employees within King’s College London’s Social Mobility and Widening Participation department gained more of an understanding of how to provide appropriate support for their disabled students, from prospective students applying to take part on WP programmes to those attending events hosted on-campus.

The Background

King’s College London is an internationally renowned university delivering exceptional education and world-leading research. Established in 1836, King’s was one of the two founding colleges of the University of London, and today the university is spread across five London campuses. With over 41,000 students enrolled at the university in 2021-22, King’s College London is the fifth largest UK university by total enrolment, and it receives over 70,000 undergraduate applications every year.

Statistics indicate that there are currently 332,300 disabled students in the UK, a significant number of whom will be applying to or enrolled at King’s. With an increasing student population, the university is experiencing growing numbers of disabled students. This was keenly felt by the King’s department of Social Mobility and Widening Participation, who work to address underrepresentation in higher education with young people and their families.

Aniqa Rob, Widening Participation Officer (Outreach for Medicine & Dentistry and Partnerships), explained:

“As practitioners we didn’t necessarily have a background in understanding how to cater to the needs of disabled students.”

Aniqa recalled that creating a steering group within the department was an important first step to increasing disability awareness and inclusion: “We researched and created guidance on how we could adapt our programme to suit the needs of any students that join us and disclose that they are disabled.” The department also sought help from the King’s Disability Support services, who were “really useful in giving us advice and tips.” For example, King’s disability staff advised Aniqa and her team on how they could structure application forms to encourage prospective students to disclose their disabilities.

However, it became clear to Aniqa and her colleagues that “[they] needed staff training for our specific context.” The team decided to seek external disability awareness training because, Aniqa explained, “it’s coming from someone who’s an expert in the field and with lived experience.”

Our Successful Proposal

The Social Mobility and Widening Participation department found Celebrating Disability through an online search. Aniqa recalled:

“I was researching all the different training providers online and I came across Celebrating Disability. The main thing that attracted us was how on the website it says you can design your own content; you can ask for what you want to; what your objectives are; what your aims are for the session. And then Esi would create a session around your needs.”

Aniqa was drawn to our training because it “was more flexible” and tailored than many of our competitors, whose training used “a generalised existing structure.” She liked the fact that our “training seemed to be much more informal and reflective in discussion, where staff members were able to exchange conversations with Esi and learn so much more.”

Increasing Employees’ Disability Confidence

The training session, called “Creating Inclusive Classrooms for Disabled Students,” took place on the 18th January 2023, with 20 King’s employees in attendance.

Esi opened the sessions with an engaging introduction, where she encouraged participants to reflect on what they most wanted to get out of the session. She introduced a series of eye-opening statistics about disability, like the fact that there are around 14 million disabled people in the UK, or that only 4% of disabled people are full-time wheelchair-users.

One participant called it “thought provoking”.

Participants were then given an overview of disability inclusion. First, Esi explained what defines a disability according to the Equality Act 2010. Then participants were encouraged to distinguish between the different models of disability, and Esi showed how the Social Model (the idea that people are disabled by barriers, not by their bodies) is more progressive than the Medical Model or Charity Model. Aniqa recalled that learning about the Social Model was a turning-point for her and her colleagues: “It’s something many of us weren’t aware of.”

There was lots of dynamic discussion about language, and participants were encouraged to reflect on the benefits of identity-first versus person-first language. Aniqa explained: “We discussed whether or not to refer to people as a disabled student or a person with a disability, the general language of disability and the way you can politely address things.” A participant called Mary agreed:

“Esi is a great presenter, and did a really good job of challenging us when we should be using different language, or could be more inclusive.”

Aniqa was drawn to our training because it “was more flexible” and tailored than many of our competitors, whose training used “a generalised existing structure.” She liked the fact that our “training seemed to be much more informal and reflective in discussion, where staff members were able to exchange conversations with Esi and learn so much more.”

An important takeaway from the session was the discussion about how to provide further appropriate adjustments for disabled students, building on the legal responsibility universities have to make “reasonable adjustments” for any student who is disabled. In small breakout groups, participants were encouraged to discuss how further adjustments can be either reactive or anticipatory.

According to Aniqa, learning about classroom adjustments was especially beneficial, “because we do a lot of our WP sessions in the lecture theatres at university, so it’s useful to know how we could make adjustments.” Mary said:

“It was really helpful to talk specifically about how we could change our programmes and events.”

Today, Aniqa and her colleagues feel confident in their understanding of the “ways in which we could plan and deliver for an inclusive atmosphere and environment.” An anticipatory adjustment might mean “giving regular breaks”, while a reactive one might mean “getting [a student’s] student ambassador to support them one to one if they need to.”

Creating Inclusive & Accessible Classrooms

The biggest outcome from working with Celebrating Disability was that after undertaking our training, the team members at King’s felt they could immediately put measures into place to increase disability inclusion in their work with students. The word “actionable” recurred several times in the post-session feedback: one participant, Abi, said that she “came away better informed about disabilities and with actionable goals,” while another participant, Yasi, described our training as “an informative session that covered many different topics and helped me to identify actionable steps that I can implement in my work moving forward.”

Already, in the few short months since the training, “lots of adjustments have been put in place.”

The first adjustment is in the delivery of WP programme content. Aniqa explained: “One of my colleagues said he’d make sure his slides are accessible in terms of the font size and the font style because he delivers an online programme.” Aniqa and her colleagues also now understand that it is preferable to read out the slides, to help students with various disabilities (eg. visual impairments or learning disabilities) with comprehension. She explained: “As practitioners we don’t usually read out slides, because we think it’s not going to be appealing for our audiences, but it’s actually quite important to read word-for-word from the slide and then explain what you want to say.”

Meanwhile, the department also now has a better understanding of how to make handouts and printed reading materials accessible. Aniqa explained:

“Two other colleagues have said that now when they’re printing out resources for in school delivery, they communicate with the teacher to see what sorts of needs [students have] or how they can accommodate.”

Going forward, the Social Mobility and Widening Participation department also intends to provide a quiet space for all prospective students taking part in WP events on campus, after trialing this with success. This will provide respite for students who don’t “want to be in the hustle and bustle of the programme or the lecture theatre.” Aniqa stressed that although “it might not sound like such a big thing you’re doing,” it is “really those little adjustments that go a long way.”

Better Supporting Disabled Colleagues

Though the session was targeted at improving support for disabled students, an unexpected outcome of the training was that the employees who attended now also feel better informed about how they might support a disabled colleague:

“Now we’re aware of the different disabilities out there, we know anyone can be experiencing it. It’s not just students, of course.”

Once they were better informed about disability inclusion through our training, Aniqa and her colleagues realised that they didn’t know how to safely evacuate a physically disabled staff member from the building in the event of an emergency. Aniqa recalled their concern: “If there was a lift that wasn’t working, then we’d need some training on how we’d get the person out safely.” Now, the department has completed an additional training session on fire evacuation and employees feel reassured that everyone now knows what to do in the event of an emergency where someone injured or with a physical disability needs to be helped to leave the building.

Key takeaways for King’s College London

The Social Mobility and Widening Participation department is left with a number of key takeaways:

  • Feeling confident to provide reactive or anticipatory adjustments for WP participants
  • Increased confidence to use disability-inclusive language
  • Viewing disability through the social model
  • Increased awareness of the diversity of disabilities
  • Better informed in how to support disabled colleagues

Next Steps

Though the King’s Social Mobility and Widening Participation department has already put into place several measures to support its disabled students, Aniqa stresses that their work is not yet over:

“Inclusion is ongoing. You can always continue to learn and implement things as you go.”

Training sessions tailored to your needs

Designed around your specific goals and outcomes to empower disability inclusion

Designed and delivered with lived experience of disability

All trainers talk from a pan disability experience. We couple that with realistic recommendations for your workplace.

Immersive, interactive and outcome focused

Using a variety of engagement methods to encourage safe, open conversation

Resources to track your return on investment

Benchmarking and action plan tracking enabling you and your delegates to track progress

To discover how you can build disability awareness and confidence across your organisation, send us an enquiry or book an exploratory 45 minute call with Esi. We would love to discuss your goals, objectives and how Celebrating Disability can best support you and your team: