Finding detailed accessibility information for Oxford colleges has traditionally been a very difficult, if not impossible, task. Accessibility information is rarely known or readily-available and—where it can be found—it rarely covers social spaces like dining halls, common rooms, bars or libraries.
In 2016, five disabled students at the University of Oxford (four of whom were Rhodes Scholars) started the Oxford Accessibility Project (OAP): a crowdsourced, student-led initiative to collect and publish detailed accessibility information on all 44 of Oxford’s colleges and permanent private halls. Since 2016, the OAP has seen more than 150 student and staff volunteers collect comprehensive data on the accessibility of almost 20 Oxford colleges.
Throughout 2019, the OAP worked closely with the Conference of Colleges and the University’s Estates Services team—in particular, with Miles Young, Warden of New College and Ben Smith, the University’s Accessibility Advisor—to institutionalise the College Access Guide and to, ultimately, have it subsumed into the University’s existing Access Guide, which has traditionally focused on University buildings only.
The OAP College Access Guide launched publicly on Monday 4 November at Rhodes House, following the launch of the University’s redesigned Access Guide in September 2019. The OAP is excited to see its grassroots resource grow in the years to come and hopes it might be a useful foundation for the work of the University’s new full-time College Access Auditor, Janet Higham. Mrs Higham, who officially joined the University in January 2020, is the first College Access Auditor in the University’s history. She now embarks on a two-year journey to audit, advise on and publish about the accessibility of each of the University’s colleges and Permanent Private Halls. Mrs Higham’s work will create a new, comprehensive College Access Guide as part of the University’s official Access Guide. This resource will empower future generations of disabled students, staff and visitors to explore Oxford with greater ease and peace of mind, as well as equipping colleges and PPH’s to improve their accessibility to all.
This is an exciting time for disability inclusion and accessibility at the University of Oxford, with a renewed focus and commitment by the central University and the Conference of Colleges to making Oxford more inclusive, open and accessible to everyone. Indeed, Mrs Higham’s appointment signals a step-change in the University’s and colleges’ collective commitment to improving accessibility, fast-tracking the previous 20-plus year timeline for auditing all colleges by tenfold.
The OAP is proud to have played its part in this journey as a key student-led initiative pushing for greater accessibility initiatives and resources at the University of Oxford. The OAP sincerely thanks its volunteers and partners for their invaluable support over the years, as well as its generous funding partners: the Rhodes Trust’s Scholar Support Fund, University of Oxford’s Van Houten Fund, Lincoln College’s Annual Fund, Oxford Hub’s Social Enterprise Awards and the University of Oxford IT Services’ Innovation Challenge Fund.
Matt Pierri (Victoria & Lincoln 2016) is the CEO and co-founder of SociAbility. SociAbility is a young, motivated organisation working to mainstream accessibility information to empower people with disabilities to greater social engagement. Matt is an Australian lawyer currently based in Oxford as a Visiting Scholar at the Blavatnik School of Government, where he is researching the role of stereotypes on disability law and policy-making. Matt has also been an active voice in the disability space, having co-founded Wheels in Motion (an Australian non-profit that raises funds and changes social perceptions around disability perceptions, and the Oxford Accessibility Project. Matt recently completed a Master in Public Policy and MSc in Social Science of the Internet at the University of Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar.