Understanding Disability Workshop Facilitator Guide
Oxford SU Students’ Disabilities Community Resource


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Materials: A device to display the accompanying PowerPoint (if you are using it). Printed participant handouts (including copies in alternative formats, such as large print, if appropriate), materials (e.g. paper and pens) if conducting written exercises.

To consider before giving your workshop:

Familiarise yourself with the materials, and feel free to contact the OSDC Committee with any questions you have about the material.

Accommodate all questions; even ones that seem obvious or ignorant – people have different knowledge and experiences.

Stay calm if someone is arguing or uncooperative, remind them the workshop in not a place for debate and that questions can be asked afterwards or referred to OSDC’s Committee. Uncooperative participants can be asked to leave.

Remember that everyone can make mistakes with regards to disability and the purpose of the workshop is to be educational.



Start by introducing yourself, including your pronouns (e.g, they/them, she/her, him/he etc.)

This workshop is created by The Oxford Students’ Disability Community (OSDC), Oxford SU’s disability campaign. It aims to provide support to students with disabilities and students interested in disability through a combination of social events, support initiatives, and campaigning.

The workshop today is educational - we don’t expect you to have prior knowledge of disability and accessibility.

We ask is that you’re willing to learn, correct yourself if necessary and be respectful. If you have any questions after the workshop or in the future about anything discussed today, or would like advice for making your event accessible, please contact OSDC via the details provided on your handout.

This is not a space for debate on disability discourse but for understanding disability and being aware of accessibility needs in and at Oxford.

This workshop has been designed to be practical, with the focus being to understand what disability is, and how to accommodate it in university settings.

If you are unsure of answers to questions when delivering your workshop, or if there are many questions and time is an issue, feel free to refer students to the OSDC Committee.


What is Disability?

It may be useful to explain that the first part of the workshop looks at defining disability-related terminology. The overall workshop may be a lot of information, but all participants should be given a handout and list of access requirements to remind them of key information. Depending on time constraints, you could ask participants their thoughts to the questions by means such as raising hands or group discussion.

Ask: ‘What is meant by ‘disability’?

A person is defined as being disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if:

they have a physical or mental impairment.

the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

This can cover physical, sensory, cognitive and developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, specific learning difficulties, chronic illness and other conditions.

Not everyone agrees with or identifies with the term disability or disabled - it’s always best to ask someone how they self-define.

Ask: If someone doesn’t have a diagnosis, does this mean they don’t have a disability?

While self-diagnosis can be problematic, it’s important to remember that symptoms come before diagnosis - just because someone hasn’t had a diagnosis yet or is struggling to get a diagnosis, does not automatically mean they do not have a disability. Some disabilities and health conditions can be hard to detect. Many are referred to as an Invisible Disability. This can include things such as mental health conditions, or social/cognitive disabilities, but equally, people can have mobility requirements that may not always be visibly apparent.



Ask: What does accessibility mean and why is it important?

The term ‘accessibility’ refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. Examples in practice may include: step-free access for those with mobility needs, a quiet space for someone with a sensory disability, or using materials with fonts that are accessible to those with visual impairments or specific learning difficulties.

Reasons why accessibility is important can include: reduced isolation of people with disabilities, allowing people to fulfil their potential, diversifying activities/fields, general compassion.



Direct and indirect discrimination

Ask: ‘What is the difference between direct and indirect discrimination?’

Direct discrimination is where someone deliberately treats somebody with prejudice due to their identity. The Equality Act 2010 outlines that indirect discrimination is when a practice, policy or rule that applies to everyone has a worse effect on some people than others, putting someone at a disadvantage.

For example, consider exams: if everyone is given 60 minutes for an exam, but one student has dyslexia and the other students don’t have any disabilities affecting their ability to perform in the exam, the student with dyslexia is at a disadvantage. A “reasonable adjustment” may be providing the student with dyslexia with extra time. Not making an event inaccessible, while not direct discrimination, is indirect discrimination.


Calling out discrimination

Calling out doesn’t just have to be for obvious, direct discrimination: it can be anything from reminding people not to overlook event accessibility, to questioning someone on why they chose to use ableist language or language that belittles a long-term health condition (for example, ‘She spent so long in the kitchen - she’s so OCD’).

Calling out can be difficult: It can take a lot of courage to call people out, especially if it’s your peers or people in a position of authority, but it’s definitely worth trying to do so if you feel you can.

You won’t be able to do it every time: sometimes you might not feel safe doing it, or you may just not have the energy to do so - this is okay. But it’s important to try to call things out if you can.

Feel free to ask the OSDC committee for information and resources if you are educating someone else.

What do you do if someone calls you out?

Everyone slips up from time to time - this is why education is important. Even people who have disabilities themselves do not understand every other person’s disability or experiences of disability.

The best thing you can do is to admit fault, and apologise once. You can use these experiences to determine your future actions  and to educate yourself.


Disability Language & Etiquette

There are some well-known derogatory terms used towards disabled people. Using these terms in general discussion could be upsetting to others, especially as you may be unaware of their relationship to and/or experience of disability. Beyond rude terms, there are other considerations to making when using language to discuss disability.

Terms – Ask how people identify personally. Some people don’t like to define themselves as ‘disabled’, it is best to ask. Some people prefer to be described as, for example, “a person who has Schizophrenia”, rather than “a schizophrenic person,” while others may have no preference. Avoid using the term ‘victim of’. Considering mental health conditions, the charity Mind suggest saying ‘mental health problem’ rather than ‘mentally ill’.

Referring to people who aren’t disabled. Avoid use of alienating terms such as ‘normal’. Generally, ‘non-disabled’ is preferred.

No invasive questions. You may be intrigued about someone’s disability but avoid asking invasive questions (unless you are close friends with a person, or they are offering the information). Invasive questions may include asking how someone’s disability came to be or asking questions about subjects such as disability and intimacy, which has been in the media a lot in recent years.

Speak ordinarily. Do not change how you speak to individuals with disabilities, in the sense that you shouldn’t speak to an adult with a disability in the manner in which you’d speak to a child. Nonetheless, be willing to make adjustments if asked, such as repeating yourself or facing someone for lip-reading, etc. This doesn’t only apply to people with hearing impairments and may also be relevant for individuals with difficulties regarding information processing (frequently the case with autism).

Don’t compare disabilities to short-term states or emotions, nor use disabilities as an adjective or insult. For example, do not compare the experience of panic attacks to nervousness before exams, or describe someone as “so OCD”. Also avoid the use of terms such as ‘psycho’ to explain why someone is ‘evil’ – a diagnosis should not be used as an insult.

Don’t compare people to famous people with the same disability. Not everyone wants to be a Paralympian; not every person with bipolar disorder identifies with Stephen Fry. The glamorisation of lauding disabled people as ‘inspirational’ because of successes, is often referred to as ‘inspiration porn’.

Avoid assumptions such as ‘You don’t look disabled.’ A huge number of disabilities are totally invisible, so don’t assume that you can see disability or that disabilities are always immediately apparent.


Other etiquette

A few examples:

Assistance dogs can be for numerous conditions, not just visual impairments. Avoid engaging (stroking, feeding, etc.) with assistance dogs who are working, as this can distract them from taking care of their owner.

Respect space. Don’t physically touch someone or their equipment (such as a wheelchair) without asking, even if you think you’re being useful!

Be willing to help. Offering help is great, but be accepting if people decline.

Offering flippant advice, such as ‘have you tried…?’ is not useful! The person knows more about their disability than you, even if you share a condition or know someone who does. Experiences of the same condition can differ significantly. 

Remind participants that if they want to know more about disability language or etiquette, please email oxdisability@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk


Making things accessible

People may bring their own equipment to aid them at events. Examples include glasses, mobility aids, back supports, and recording equipment. People may receive modified materials at events (such as lectures). Please stress the following to participants: If someone is recording a lecture, they have special permission and have signed a contract to do so specifically for a disability. They are prohibited from sharing this recording with other people.

Offer information so people know if an event will be accessible for them.
Ask: What information can be offered about events in advance that may be helpful to students with disabilities?


Event advertising (posters, emails, Facebook events, etc.)

Offer information regarding accessibility. E.g. ‘step-free access is available’, ‘accessible toilets within 100m’, ‘water supply available outside the room’.

Give contact information for questions or requests. Provide contact information, including a line such as ‘If you have any accessibility needs, please contact us and we will try to accommodate’. Endeavour to accommodate needs if someone does contact. Also ask guests/speakers if they have any accessibility requirements.

Image Descriptions can be useful for photographs/images/pdfs, since they cannot be read with screen-readers (a device used by people with certain disabilities, such as visual impairments). Image descriptions should be clear and detailed (the appropriateness of detail is likely to depend on the situation). Image descriptions are easy to include but often overlooked. It is also important to copy out all text on images.

Ask: What image description could be included with the following picture?

Example: Harry Potter, a teenager with short black hair and glasses who is holding a wand, Ron Weasley, a redhead boy with a nervous facial expression, and Hermione Granger, a girl with long brown hair, carrying a bag and also looking nervous, are walking through a large door into a dark room.

Capitalise each word in hashtags. Screen-readers will otherwise not understand how to read the text, reading it as a jumble of noise.

Offer a downloadable, editable document when sending out materials (e.g. posters, term cards) such as a Word Document. This offers people the opportunity to make adjustments for their needs (e.g. larger fonts, different fonts, background colours).


Mobility requirements to consider

Step free access (Are there any stairs? Is there a working lift? Is there a ramp for a small step? Do stairs have handrails?) Don’t suggest carrying people up/down stairs - it lacks dignity and can cause injury.

Consider if door widths can cater for motorised wheelchairs.

Are there automatic doors, or ones that can be propped open?

Are there accessible toilets nearby?

Can you adjust seating plans to include wheelchairs and assistance dogs?

If there is a lot of standing, are chairs with back support available?

Seating requirements: some people may need a desk for events with note-taking or need ergonomic items for support. It is useful to have alternative or ergonomic chairs available.


Hearing requirements to consider

Hearing loop, or other assistive technology (depends on the event/individual)

Deaf/HoH people may need to sit at the front (seating may need to be reserved).

Transcripts may be requested in advance; live note-taker if possible (also be prepared for potential need for alternative formats: e.g. large font)


Visual requirements to consider

Materials: use standard fonts or fonts designed for dyslexia. Colour contrast - don’t use pale writing on a pale background. Good fonts for dyslexia include: Arial, Comic Sans, Calibri, Tahoma (more info)

Some people require certain lighting or lack of lighting.

Use alt text on images or provide image descriptions! If you post event details on an image, provide an accessible, text-based alternative.


Food requirements to consider

Ensure water is available. Non-alcoholic alternatives at events with alcohol. If serving tea or coffee, provide decaf alternatives.

Don’t only hold events centred around food/drinking.

Make allergy info available (give people options to contact about dietary requirements and provide/restrict food accordingly.)

Not everyone will be able or want to eat - if someone turns down food do not press them on this.


Sensory and mental health requirements to consider

Lighting (dependent on the disability)

Think about location – ensuring little background noise may be useful for certain disabilities e.g. autism, anxiety, hearing loss.

If it’s a busy social event, or if content of the event could be overwhelming, a quiet room or “breakout space” may be useful.



Finally, get people to consider their answers to these scenarios (potentially writing answers down or group discussion). You do not need to cover every scenario.

  1. An elderly person walks on the bus with a cane. Someone who doesn’t appear to be disabled is in an accessible seat and doesn’t move. What is your reaction?
    You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have a disability. Don’t make assumptions. Remember that young people are often treated very differently by society compared to elderly people with disabilities.
  2. You’re helping to organise a welfare event in college. After you’ve advertised it on your JCR (having offered the chance for people to contact you with accessibility needs), a student messages you to ask if this room has step free access. The room you booked is up a staircase with no lift, but you know this student does not have a wheelchair. How should you proceed?
    Just because somebody does not have a wheelchair (or does not use it full time), it does not mean they do not need step free access. Many people with mobility requirements do not use mobility aids regularly, or at all. You should let the student know where it is being held and the accessibility of the room. Ideally, you should try to rebook a room that has step free access so the student can attend. If there is no way to change the event, and it is inaccessible, also include this in the event description, apologise, and try to use another place in future.
  3. You are the publicity officer of a society and are sending out a term card image with the times and days of the events for the term. How can you make sure it is more accessible?
    Include an editable plain text version (e.g. a word document) with the same information. Include accessibility information ahead of time if possible.
  4. Someone reveals to you that they have a condition that causes chronic pain. You’ve personally used yoga/meditation/exercise in the past to help with aches and pains. Should you suggest this as a solution?
    Dealing with short term aches and pains are not the same as dealing with chronic pain. People dealing with chronic conditions have often tried many ways of controlling their condition and may deal with people frequently making suggestions that are well meaning, but often misguided and frustrating.
  5. You see someone sitting on a bench with a dog wearing a jacket at their feet. The dog is lying down and looking around. Dogs are your favourite animal. What do you do?
    Don’t pet the dog without permission from the owner - this can disrupt the dog at work.



Thank you for participating in this workshop respectfully. We hope you can take away a greater understanding of disability. If you have any questions, please contact the OSDC Committee or any other resources mentioned below.



Further Information and Resources

Further information that can be used for both participants, students with disabilities and facilitators. As a facilitator, you can direct students on to these sources, although they will have them in their handout:

OSDC (Oxford Students’ Disability Community):





Oxford University Disability Advisory Service:



List of Departmental and College Disability coordinators:


Applying for disabled students’ allowance:


Disability Coordinators & Welfare teams in Colleges

JCR & MCR disability reps!

Understanding Disability online documents and resources.