'Don't pander to me because I'm different!'

Attitudes towards disabled people can “make or break” an individual’s time at university, a conference at LJMU heard.

Health psychologist Rupy Kaur Roberts said treating people with equity regardless of their appearance, speech or physical limitations was “absolutely key” to their wellbeing and academic success.

Rupy said she was delighted with the School of Psychology where she has just completed a Professional Doctorate after five years. She works both for Disability Rights UK and as an advisor to weight management company More Life UK.

Presenting ‘More than just obtaining a doctorate: how good practice can transform a student’s life’, with her supervisor Professor Helen Poole, Rupy, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said LJMU’s approach was compassionate and “really helped me grow as a professional.”

“The staff were very empathetic, curious as to my needs and helped me to acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

“They also made me accountable. I thought I could get out of stuff but they didn’t pander to me because of my difference.

“There was no chance Professor Poole was letting me cut any corners!”

Asking her audience at LJMU's Students at the Heart Conference (June 12/13) to reflect on unconscious bias, Ruby said it was clear to her than assumptions very easily led to unfair treatment.

“If people are treating me differently, that affects how I feel and how I perform,” she said.

“Universities must have empathy and show understanding and respect. We (disabled people) are not here to be ‘fixed’ so we can fit into ‘normal’ society.”

Rupy, who is from Manchester, described her journey as ‘from patient to professional’ and like many others, had negative experiences of authorities growing up, being told she would never be educated and may never be able to talk.

“It would have been comfortable to stay at home and learn by distance but I wanted to fly the nest and actually go to university.

“University can empower all people to thrive and feel valid!”

Professor Poole, who supervised Rupy, said the programme team had help from timetabling and estates who assured Rupy a regular parking spot and easy access to teaching spaces.

“It was very much a partnership with Rupy and to be honest, the ProfDoc is very much a mentoring approach from us.

“Staff don’t assume anything in terms of a student’s needs and I’m proud and happy about that, and especially proud of Rupy.”

LJMU offers around seven Professional Doctorates in Health Psychology each year.

Main Image: Dr Rupy Kaur Roberts with Professor Helen Poole.


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