Back in August and ahead of the proposed start of my postgraduate degree in September, I organised a visit to Coventry University to discuss and put arrangements in place…
Coventry University Visit #1
Despite Covid-19 and the uncertainty that the pandemic has caused, I attempted to organise another trip to Coventry University. I had corresponded with the disability team and my course director via email, but I wanted to go visit to refresh my memory and see if my requirements would be met.
Together with my dad and my two PA’s, we arranged to meet a member of the disability team and have a tour around the campus, while getting to see the teaching buildings I would likely be in if any face to face classes go ahead.
I would also get the chance to see any appropriate changing places facilities equipped with a hoist would be available for me to use, come September.
On the day of the visit, I was able to book assisted travel from Birmingham New Street to Coventry train station which felt bizarre after going so long without travelling by train, especially to a new station.
Birmingham New Street seemed prepared when I told them of my arrival. We arrived promptly at 9 am for the 9.30 am train to Coventry and we were also able to get an idea of what the station would be like if I was to catch the same train to Coventry in September.
We were able to get on the train and settled in our seats quite easily, as there was nobody in our carriage. The train journey itself took 20 minutes and was quicker than I anticipated, as this train was terminating at London Euston and travelling at peak hours.
Assisted Travel was waiting for us and had the ramp ready to get me off the train. Compared to Birmingham New Street, Coventry station was quite small and deserted due to Covid-19. None of the food and drink outlets seemed to be open, which added to the strangeness of the Covid situation.
Outside we found a wide taxi rank, containing a number of vehicles, including taxis from different companies. As expected, the taxi drivers were not very welcoming and on seeing my wheelchair, hesitated to offer me a ride. They continued to usher me to the other taxi drivers for them to take my fare. After persisting for my fare to be accepted, we finally got a taxi driver who helped us into one of the larger taxis and drove us to the University.
Upon visiting the University earlier this year, I was rather disappointed at the appearance of the campus because of the ongoing constructions. However, this visit showed that some of the construction work had cleared and it was much easier to get on campus.
We still had to go the long way round to find the most accessible route, but overall I was relieved to find that accessibility in September would be straightforward. A member of the disability team met us on time and showed us into the main teaching building for my course.
There were two lifts in the building, both very small and were able to fit me and one other person. To access the sixth floor of the building where my classes would be situated, a key card was required to operate the lift.
My student key card would be programmed to do the same once I was a student. Once we had gone up in the lift, we had to wait for two more members of staff to open shutters which prohibited access to a lot of the sixth floor. This all seemed very long-winded, but I understood that the campus had been in lockdown since March and had only started to reopen.
The doorway into the classroom was big enough for me to get my wheelchair in, without much problem. I expected it to be a big lecture theatre or seminar room with just one long desk in the middle of the room, but instead it had a long desk and desks with computers around the walls. I tried to line up to one of these desks, but could not fit underneath.
I requested a high-low desk to be put into place so I would be able to fit underneath and work without straining my shoulders or back. The disability team said this would be no issue. They did have access to high-low desks in the library and could get one more fitted in the classroom.
On the way out, we found one of the lifts out of order and I raised this to the Health and Safety Manager and a member of the disability team, as I would be using this building a lot in September and I needed the reassurance that the situation would be monitored, so I would be able to access all of my face-to-face classes.
Moving across campus, I was able to get more of a picture of what it would be like to study at this University and the whole campus seemed more open. The building where the changing places facility was is situated five to ten minutes away from my teaching building. It was a nice walk over and I was introduced to more staff along the way.
It also gave us an idea of how long it would take me to get there and back. I would have to factor in the duration of my classes and the time it would take me to get to this building and use the facility within, so it was good to get a clearer picture.
We were directed to where the changing places facility was and it did have an appropriate hoist as well as all of the equipment I am familiar with. However, when we used the facility, we found that the ceiling hoist was not working.
The staff of the building were shocked to find that it was not working, as it was in use a couple of months ago, but clearly had been switched off due to the University going into lockdown. I told them for this time it was fine, but when I do need to be here in September it needs to be working as this was the only appropriate facility I would be able to use and needed to be monitored closely.
After this was completed, the five of us rounded everything off by talking about all my requirements and queries to make sure that there were no grey areas and everything was all set for me to study in September.
The member of the disability team provided me with a number for an accessibility taxi company and we had no problems getting back to Birmingham. After a long day, I am feeling relatively confident with what is awaiting me in my new venture.
Coventry University Visit #2
During the period of semester one, I studied online via Coventry University’s online forums, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. I did worry about this, initially thinking it wouldn’t be as good as face-to-face learning, lectures and socialising with my fellow writers. To my great surprise and enjoyment, the first semester was very fun and interactive. Everything was live and I could engage collaboratively with lecturers and my classmates. The classes were a lot of hard work but it really opened my eyes.
After a challenging and taxing semester, I scored high on my two assignments. 68% on one and a high pass on the other, with a request of featuring some of my work on the MA website. I feel nervous but very upbeat about semester two.
The end of semester one brought news of possible campus learning. Due to coronavirus, students were limited on campus and elsewhere around the city, but with the rules changing, the campus had the possibility of re-opening. I was equally nervous and excited by the prospect of this. Completing semester one has helped ease my nerves, allowing me to meet my classmates and get to grips with the course. Now I just have to adapt to what is ahead.
Knowing the start date for semester two, I organised a visit to Coventry University with a member of the disability team. On the day itself, we tried to structure it as close as we could to what it would be like on the days I would be at University.
According to my timetable for semester two, I will be having face-to-face lectures every Tuesday from 11-1. As I’m commuting from home, I chose to catch a train that would get me into Coventry an hour or so before my lecture, giving me time to settle before classes start. On the day of our second visit to Coventry, I kept everything close to the real thing as much as possible.
Travelling from Birmingham to Coventry is about 20-30 minutes on the train, a quick journey that would hopefully make everything easy when commuting every week. It may then make it a possibility to travel more than one day a week, so I can use the facilities on campus instead of working at home. On the day of our visit to Coventry, the assisted travel at both stations were very prompt and helpful with only a few hiccups.
It was outside Coventry Station which we faced a problem. As expected when approaching the taxis in the rank, the drivers were reluctant to assist us to get to the University. The drivers passed me through the line, insisting that we couldn’t get in their taxi. It was a frustration and a challenge I always have to face. Hopefully, my Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) will support me through a taxi allowance and pre-organising taxis, avoiding all the agro.
Arriving early on campus before our appointment, my dad and one of my PAs, sat in one of the campus cafes and had a hot drink. This was the first time we really sat down on campus and took everything in. Slowly everything is opening up after the long lockdown. I could start to see what campus was like and where things were located.
When we met up with the disability adviser, we first went to the library which I didn’t see on my first visit, so I was looking forward to this. I was impressed with the layout of the library, it looked modern and spacious. One of the struggles I have around campus is using lifts, as often people who are not disabled use them. I was relieved that only certain people with a particular keycard can use the lift.
My student card gives me access to the lift. The disability adviser told me that to be able to use the library, we would need to book spaces ahead of time to guarantee me a place to study. I was very pleased to see two height-adjustable desks available in the library which would be handy when I come to study using my laptop. I was given the exact reference numbers of these desks so it will be easier when booking. The library itself was quiet and with the booking system, it would be a more safe and more calm place to study.
As well as the library, I saw the classroom my lectures and seminars would take place. It was a large room with computers around the sides. Visiting the classroom before classes start allowed me to gauge where would be most comfortable and accessible for me to sit. There was the possibility of installing a height-adjustable desk too. I also got to revisit the disability and welfare floor, where there was an additional study area available to me if the library was too busy.
One of the downsides to our first visit was that the only disabled toilet with a hoist was out of order. I was not able to use the toilet which was disappointing. I hoped for the second visit I could get the chance to use it, however, the hoist was still not functional. This is a difficulty for me as I cannot use any of the other disabled toilets around campus and with the second semester approaching so soon, I am concerned that it may not be fixed on time. Despite commuting, I want to make use of all my time on campus, socialising and studying. If the correct facilities are not in place, I won’t be able to do this. The disability adviser ensured me that she will look into the problems before my start date.
After leaving the campus, we decided to walk into Coventry City Centre to look around. The campus was not far, so it will be easy to walk back and forth and to the station. On the day of the visit, we didn’t go too far into the city, but it looked like a nice small centre with everything easily accessible. I feel very confident about what I was able to see on the day and beginning the second semester on campus. My only concern remains is the toileting facilities.