Happy new year and welcome to the new term. As this term starts we go into YUSU election season, where all positions are open, including Disabled Students' Officer. Elections are very important, they get to set the direction of the Students' Union.
Obviously the Sabbatical positions get the most interest, but I would like to promote and make clear why the position of Disabled Students' Officer is important and it is in everyone's interest for there to be a competitive, open election that students can get involved in.
The Disabled Students' Officer has a responsibility to represent and look after the interests of the Disabled Students' of York. They are seen as the main spokesperson for these students both by the university and the Union. This provides enormous amounts of influence, whether it be commenting on the plans for a new college, or sitting with the Academic Registrar to discuss campus signage, the Officer will be involved. Part of the responsibilites of the Disabled Students' Officer is membership of 3 committees. These are: Information Directorate Disability Committee, which is reponsible for accessibility in the library, E:Accessibility Forum, which is responsible for making the VLE and IT accessible, and Disability and Accessibility Forum, which is overall responsible for improvements to campus and providng a friendly environment for disabled people (staff, student, or visitor).
These responsibilities should make it clear that the Disabled Students' Officer is heavily consulted by the university at every level and having an officer who will fight for the interests of disabled students absolutley vital. While people may think that YUSU part-time officers don't matter or take themselves to seriously, I know from the volumes of e-mails I have gotten from students, that have inspired campaigns like diabetic-friendly drinks in the Courtyard and clearer indication of when computer rooms are being used for exams, that this position can make an enormous difference to the lives of students.
It also leaves a huge amount of room for innovation, where officers can tackle many issues that are close to their heart, like opening catering doors half an hour earlier during exam time (which helped everyone), slashing the cost of the assessment of need for dyslexic students, putting in hearing loops in lecture theatres, and putting pressure on clubs to be more accessible. Additionally, it provides huge scope for students to get invovled in other campaigns both on a YUSU and a college level, which often affect disabled students, meaning that as an officer position it is at the heart of student life.
Additionally, it involves chairing the Disabled Students' Network, which is the main campaigning body for disabled students. It involves working with activists and college reps (this year we have a very strong bunch) who often provide many fantastic ideas for campaigns (the hearing loops and the clubs came from two disability reps who really took the lead on them) and often can pick up on other issues, or even organise events (like Mental Health Awareness Day, or Access Your Future). Therefore, it is not a lonely position, as an officer you lead a great community of active and engaged students, who are all unified in their desire to improve the university.
A final responsibility of the position is to attend the NUS Disabled Students' Conference (chaired by a York Alumnus this year), where we get to dictate the way our national movement campaigns for disabled students. Over the last year, we actually passed a huge number of motions on a whole variety of subjects (encouraging universities to have accessible freshers weeks, promoting better information transfer between GPs, to name two). This conference is a great way to meet with other disabled student activists and officers around the UK and get ideas from them. At the last conference we got a lot of help on the accessible clubs campaign and managed to make it more effective.
In this blog, it should be obvious that the position of Disabled Students' Officer is one with great responsibility and the ability to affect major changes in the university. Over the last two years the Disabled Students' Network has made some major changes, but there is always more to do and always a campaign to get invovled with, or a consultation to weigh in on and this position cannot grow stale, the university needs to be challenged to continue providing for Disabled Students at every opportunity and that requires a powerful officer leading an activist Network.
If this is all looking like a lot to do, bear in mind that this position can be done by two people. So, if anyone wants to run in a partnership that is absoutley okay and encouraged.
Therefore, I encourage anyone who is thinking of running for Disabled Students' Officer to really go for it, to run for a role where you can make an enormous difference and change this university for the better. Only students who either self-define as disabled, are legally defined as disabled, or who use disability services may run.
If anyone wants to have a more in depth conversation about runnning for Disabled Students' Officer, I am happy to meet at any time. Please do not hesistate to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, ring my mobile (07505478026), just shoot me a message on Facebook, or use any other method of communication to discuss it. I am always happy to meet and discuss with students anytime in person or through a phone or internet.
Let's see a great and engaging election this year for Disabled Students' Officer, for the last two years running we blasted the other Part-Time Officer Races out of the water in terms of turnout and interest (on the first day of voting last year we actually had more votes cast for DSO than for some Sabb races), let's keep that momentum going and make sure students are talking about this position, so it remains relevant, engaging, and gains the respect it deserves and needs from the university.