Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The *Access Ability Project (*AAP)


The *Access Ability Project (*AAP) is run by the Access and Widening Participation Unit (AWPU) at the University of Greenwich. 

The *AAP aims to assist prospective students on their route in to Higher Education, specifically into University. In essence the *AAP means access for all types of abilities into achieving a University degree. The *AAP specifically assists prospective students with any form of disability, learning difficulty, mental health, and/or addiction. Due to the *AAP’s ethos of access for all, the project also works with prospective students from a wide variety of difficult and vulnerable backgrounds, this can include those who are from a low socio-economic background, spent time in care or prison and/or for whatever reason have not had the same opportunities in regards to education. The *AAP aims to encompass the AWPU’s mantra of inclusion and not exclusion.  

Diversity is part of our remit as many disabled university students do not view themselves as being disabled – especially students who regard themselves as ‘Deaf’, and students with mental health difficulties. The *AccessAbility Project works to a transformative model of widening participation which views disability and diversity as positive asset (taken from the ‘Providing *AccessAbility: Helping Disabled and Diverse Students in Schools and Colleges to Reach University) (2012)

Education is a fundamental human right, and therefore one that should be afforded to all. Unfortunately this is not always the case. There are individuals that may for a variety of reasons feel that they are unable to go to University. The *AAP hopes to remove barriers/obstacles that can be physical, mental or imagined. By imagined I mean misconceptions that an individual may have from their environment, schooling, family, peers and so on. For example, a student I work with, who has a variation of cerebral palsy, was not given an adequate level of education until he was 15. He spent the majority of his time playing with ‘coloured blocks’ whilst craving for knowledge. It was assumed that due to his disability, he did not have the ability to follow an academic route and ultimately obtain a job. It was only until he received a mentor; that he was enabled and empowered to have a real and substantive access into education. 

No matter who you are, what your capabilities are and what University you decide to go to, there are things that you have to prepare for in the path to University and the stages before your first day. The *AAP can help those from a typically excluded background or those that feel that they may have more obstacles to University than others. 

Providing Mentors/Ambassadors is one of the services that the *AAP offers. Ambassadors are trained to be able to provide adequate and up to date information on the University process. This includes how to apply for University, information on student finance, particularly Disability Student Allowance (DSA), the support that is available on arrival and throughout a person’s studies. Ambassadors are chosen on the basis that they are students themselves, and either have a disability, learning difficulty, mental health condition and/or any addiction. This enables the mentor to give advice on their own experiences, thereby being relatable and approachable.  Mentoring can also be done via online emailing to ensure that everyone has access to this service. 

Ambassadors are also trained to offer support. This can be note taking support during open day visits and other events organised by the University, such as an Into Teaching event. The Into Teaching event was primarily concerned in delivering presentations on routes into the teaching sector for disabled and dyslexic students. There is a great need to promote access into teaching for such individuals because they are a minority within the sector and therefore underrepresented. The Ambassadors that worked during this event helped to encourage and promote the idea whilst assisting with the students needs on the day.

Other support can include a personal tour guide, talks and advice regarding student life, help with UCAS application forms, personal statements, and support whilst doing an Access to Higher Education course; are among the main types of support Ambassadors can offer. Personally, the support that Ambassadors can offer are the most important elements of what the *AAP does. This means that the Ambassadors can have face to face contact with the prospective student and tailor the support given to their individual needs. The contact generated also means a more fulfilling experience for both the Ambassador and the prospective student. Treating everyone as an individual is vital when working with people that have a variety of needs.

As an *AA Ambassador, I was lucky enough to be able to work with a brilliant charity called Open book. Open book started as a charity that helped ex-offenders or those still in prison to better their future via education. Their remit is now much larger and they work with and alongside a variety of charities that seek to help those from a vulnerable or deprived background to improve on their socio-economic prospects. The support offered goes far beyond academic support. Open book treat those who attend as family members and offer all kinds of advice and support. Open book encompasses the ethos and philosophy of the *AAP.

As an *AA Ambassador I have also been able to have a greater level of contact with other disabled individuals. As a result I have learnt more about myself and have become more confident in speaking about my experiences as a disabled student and passing on information I have acquired along the way. I have been able to show potential students that education for all is possible and that anyone can achieve their academic goals.  

So what is the *Access Ability project? It is a project that is organised and delivered to prospective students from disabled and diverse backgrounds by current students from the same background. It sees the individual’s assets rather than limitations and tailors the support to suit an ‘education for all’ ethos.

The *AAP is run by Melanie Thorley and a team of *AA Ambassadors. Melanie is contactable via her email address: m.thorley@gre.ac.uk

Relevant links: 



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