There are growing calls for a permanent disability sabb Bentley Smith

CUSU Council will hold a referendum next term on the creation of a full-time Disabled Students’ Officer (DSO).

The referendum was triggered by a petition by the CUSU Disabled Students’ Campaign (DSC) which reached 350 signatures, the number required by the CUSU Constitution to trigger a referendum.

The petition accuses the university of discriminating against disabled students through “inadequate mental health support, a lack of staff training, and a university that is inaccessible in its physical layout as well as its teaching and examination structures”.

The petition states that the creation of a full-time DSO is needed to “challenge these deep institutional problems”.Under the current CUSU budget, a full-time officer for Disabled Students would be paid £20,000, in line with the other sabbatical officers.

The petition closes today, after which CUSU Council are constitutionally bound to hold a referendum within 21 full term days. The referendum would be open to all students, with a majority vote necessary to win. The number voting in favour must not be less than one tenth of the total student body.

In a statement to Varsity, a spokesperson for the DSC said that the petition “has been a landmark success that reflects the long-standing need to address the structural, attitudinal, and physical exclusion experienced by disabled students at Cambridge”.

They stressed the burden of work for members of the DSC, saying that “the current committee are stretched beyond reasonable limits in our efforts to push for much-needed change, resist oppression and complete our degrees whilst disabled”. The spokesperson added that there are “massive, systemic problems with the way the university treats disabled students”, and that “the Disabled Students’ Campaign cannot fight these issues successfully without a sabbatical officer”.

“Disabled students already have to juggle being disabled and being a student,” they said, adding that this means “it’s more difficult for us to campaign alongside studying”.

In a statement to Varsity, CUSU Coordinator Jemma Stewart said: “The sabbatical team wishes to withhold judgment out of respect for the work that has been done by and the autonomy of the Disabled Students’ Campaign, particularly whilst the petition is still being circulated.” She added that the Sabbatical Committee will be meeting with the DSC “later this week”.

Cornelius Roemer, Trinity College Students’ Union President and member of the CUSU Part-time Executive, raised questions about the value-for-money provided by a full-time DSO. Speaking in a personal capacity, he told Varsity that “opportunity costs need to be considered carefully”.

“Even before the DSC petition/campaign arose,” he went on to say, “One of my working hypotheses was that CUSU might benefit [from] more support staff (rather than more sabbatical officers) to deal with admin work. [...] It is clear that it is not feasible to create sabbatical positions for all autonomous campaigns. This has to be taken into account to ensure fairness among campaigns. There may be good reasons why the DSC should get a sabb but not the others, but this discussion needs to be had.”

Outgoing Fitzwilliam JCR Vice-President Damiano Sogaro welcomed the idea of the new role. “CUSU’s budget should be spent!” he said, adding: “The money is there not to accumulate; it is an investment in the student body – and the important thing is to make sure it goes to the most appropriate causes.”

At Monday’s CUSU Council meeting, CUSU Education Officer Robert Cashman was mandated in an Emergency Motion to work with the DSC to “actively seek consultation and advice from people with lived experience of disability” on “matters pertaining to the accessibility of education.”

DSC Officer Jessica Wing, who proposed the motion, said: “The Education Officer and Team should be working in the interests of disabled students to ensure that they are afforded the same level of support as non-disabled students”.

Cashman told Varsity that he welcomed “the motion and the structural mandate to work with the DSC”, and that he believed “all Officers should work with all Autonomous Campaigns”.

The Disabled Students’ Campaign is one of five autonomous campaigning bodies within CUSU. The other four are the BME, International, Women’s and LGBT+ campaigns. The DSC is the newest campaign of the five, and was created as the “voice of disabled students” at Cambridge. There is already a full-time sabbatical officer for the Women’s Campaign.

Last year, students who identified as disabled made up 7.2 per cent of the full-time student body, compared to 26.6 per cent who identified as BME.

The CUSU BME Campaign said they had not yet discussed the possibility of a full-time BME Officer.

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