Disability and mental health
The Department of Chemistry is committed to providing support to all staff and students to ensure they can maximise their potential and progress regardless of any disability. We encourage staff and students to request reasonable adjustments to their work/study environment.
Dr Charlotte Sutherell is our Department Disability Officer and acts as an initial contact for students wishing to discuss adjustments.
Our Department EDI Training policy includes the College's Disability In the Workplace course as part of our recommended training.
Accessibility was also central to the thinking around the design of our new White City campus. We have ensured step-free access to the building including to our new lecture theatre and all key departmental facilities. Each laboratory is also equipped with an adjustable height fume cupboard.
We have been working to create a more flexible physical environment including the development of a quiet, inclusive space for respite, particularly students who may experience sensory overload, anxiety or need physical respite, installation of induction loops or equivalent hearing assistance technology in all new spaces (with over 12 people) and a student pathways project to remove or power assist doors through the corridor space at our South Kensington campus to improve accessibility.
We have also been working to increase support and visibility of the Disability Advisory Service. We are increasing resources for students with disability e.g. ergonomic lab equipment, access to storage space and working with module leads to implement/ensure availability of appropriate adjustments or alternative formats for assessments where needed.
Able@Imperial is a network for staff with both visible and invisible disabilities and their managers as well as all those supportive of disability equality in the workplace. Able@Imperial provide support for disabled staff and their managers and run a supportive grouping for networking, events and informal coffee morning sessions.
Looking after our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health. As a Department, we recognise that people’s mental health may change over time and we are mindful of creating an environment for work and study which promotes good mental health.
Our induction processes highlight where our staff and students can access free, confidential support for their mental health in College. In order to gain Gold EDI Training status in the Department, staff must have completed the 2 day Mental Health First-Aider course.
Neurodiversity covers a range of commonly co-occurring conditions related to processing or cognitive differences. Imperial has a range of resources for both neurodiverse individuals to help them access any support they may need and for managers of neurodivergent staff.
In 2020, the Neurodiversity in Albertopolis network was launched headed by Professor Sara Rankin from Imperial. This network consists of neurodiverse staff and students from across institutions located around Exhibition Road. The network hold events for both neurodiverse individuals and their allies.
Celebrating our Disabled Chemistry Students
A word from our Disability Officer, Charlotte Sutherell
In August 2021 I had the opportunity to take on the additional role of Departmental Disabilities Officer (DDO) for Chemistry. As DDO, I work in collaboration with students, staff and College teams to help organise and facilitate support for students with disabilities. Chemistry is an exciting and innovative subject, but it is also true that chemistry as a discipline can be poorly accessible in many ways for students and researchers. As a chemistry community we have a lot to do to ensure we address barriers that can limit the participation of disabled chemists. Here I’ll share a couple of recent developments in the Department, particularly focusing on those within the last year and impacting the undergraduate experience.
We’ve been increasing opportunities for dialogue around disabilities and their impact, for example through awareness campaigns about the support available, the Disability Advisory Service, and participating in the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme. Physical improvements have included installing additional assisted hearing systems in our larger teaching rooms and providing ergonomic laboratory furniture where needed. New teaching spaces, such as the Chemical Kitchen, have been designed with in-built height adjustable stations whilst in MSRH every floor has a height adjustable fumehoods. Increased communication between disability, pastoral and teaching teams has helped increase the flexibility we can bring to teaching and assessment, allowing us to anticipate adjustments and provide the most appropriate support or alternatives when required.
One major infrastructure project, now nearing completion, has been development of quieter spaces in the Department. Many of our spaces and learning activities are designed towards group collaboration, activity and discussion, which can be fantastic for teaching, but it can be overwhelming and difficult to get away from the hubbub. This can present a particular challenge for some, including people who experience sensory overwhelm, chronic pain or manage mental health conditions including anxiety. We have redeveloped a room to act as a quiet, private space for students to be able to find guaranteed calm and seating in the Department, working with the Disability Advisory Service on its design to ensure inclusivity of lighting, decoration, and furnishing. It’s nearly ready and we look forward to sharing more details about the space soon!
Finally, it’s been essential to listen to the experiences of students and staff and consult with them as I hold this role without the lived experience of a disability. The barriers in chemistry for those involved in teaching, learning and research are complex, often intertwined with our working culture as a discipline. Meeting with students regularly and hearing their experiences, such as the testimonials Gabby and Jasmine have shared, is crucial to deepen my understanding of these barriers. Discussions and collaboration are also helping inform our future projects and priorities and I am always keen to hear from people about their experiences and ideas. Please be in touch!
I’m Jasmine, a second-year Chemistry undergraduate at Imperial College London. Growing up in Hong Kong, starting university in a new city was difficult, but Imperial has always been there to help me navigate this new and dynamic environment. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Imperial as it has given me a plethora of opportunities to immerse into this community – some of which include working with the student union as their Disabilities Officer and joining various societies ranging from Investment to Public Affairs & Social Services. I have been very grateful to have met so many bright and outstanding individuals, including friends, classmates, professors and staff members in this community, who have inspired and shaped me into who I am today.
My main interest is Chemistry, and it was sparked by something seemingly simple; a flame test. I was fascinated by the array of bright colours. After further studies, I became captivated by the theory behind all sorts of phenomena happening around us in our daily life. Chemistry can provide the answer to my questions. This capacity for changing and affecting lives on a global and personal level has led me to pursue this subject at university.
One of my dream paths is to become a cosmetics chemist, as it bridges my passion for makeup and science. My interest lies mainly in science; however, I am heavily involved in art, performing arts and music outside academia. This Chemistry course at Imperial continues to stretch and challenge my creativity through laboratory work, workshops and tutorials, which can equip me with the skills to potentially become a cosmetics formulator after my degree.
I am diagnosed with fibromyalgia – a hidden chronic pain disability. Having an invisible illness and balancing work is a tough battle and mentally draining. Currently, there is no cure, but there are medications to alleviate some of my symptoms. Despite feeling isolated and different from time to time, I am incredibly appreciative to have Imperial’s Disability Advisory Service and especially my Departmental Disability Officer, Charlotte Sutherell, and my Personal Tutor, Mark Crimmin. They have all played a huge role in making my time at Imperial smoother and more pleasant.
Ableism is so engrained in our current society, which causes people with disabilities constantly be looked down upon. As Imperial College Union’s Disabilities Officer, I will continue trying my hardest to achieve equity and fight for disabled people’s rights within this institution. I hope opening up about my own issues could inspire someone else not to be ashamed of their diagnosis or even feel less alone. I look forward to continuing to form a tight-knit community of disabled students at Imperial and hopefully making a positive difference in this university!
Gabriella More O’Ferrall
Growing up with a physical disability I knew my career options were somewhat limited. Not being allowed to do sports, and with the option of adaptive sports never being an opportunity I was presented with, I turned my interests to academics. I found all STEM subjects interesting, but it was only Chemistry that gave me the real challenge I needed and because of this it intrigued me the most. While it might not seem like the sensible option to pick a degree in the subject you find the most difficult, for me it was almost like for once I was being presented with a challenge that I had the opportunity to overcome - a reward that I wasn’t able to get from my physical challenges.
My journey at Imperial has been a constant evolution. I started my undergraduate on crutches and unable to walk due to some complications with a leg surgery I had during my gap year to help with my bone disease. During first year I made the decision to have my leg amputated and although to some this might sound a bit scary, I was determined to not let it stop me. I had my surgery during the summer and came back to start my second year after just 3 short months. I was apprehensive about how I was going to be able to cope but even though it was tough at times, it was the empathy of everyone I was surrounded by at Imperial that got me through. From professors and lecturers to my classmates and even random strangers, it was the kindness of everyone I encountered day-to-day that allowed me to live life more fully than I had in a very long time.
Entering the world of academia with a physical disability poses some very unique challenges. So far the most difficult one to adapt to has been the uncertainty of my physical abilities and how they differ so much day to day. One day I may be just as capable as any able-bodied person and be able to walk around without any issue, whereas the next I might not be able to stand up at all. I have never experienced such an understanding and empathetic disability service as I have at Imperial. The Chemistry department is truly unique in that they are able to admit that, while they are not the most accessible, they are willing to work around whatever changes are needed for me to not only just access the resources I need, but to be comfortable and thrive while doing so.
Being disabled and having a physical disability will never not be a part of who I am, but at Imperial it doesn’t define me. I know now that I am not limited by anything except who I choose to surround myself with. I don’t know what I am going to pursue in my future but I do know that if Imperial has taught me anything, its that my success will not be dependent on how I am perceived as disabled person.