The Inclusive University

A Personal Experience - The Disabling Effects of Trauma

Posted by Valerie Russell Emmott | 1 comment




What happened to me

Earlier this year, I felt a sudden change within my physical and mental functioning. It started with night terrors and insomnia, but quickly turned into extreme depression, very high levels of anxiety in seemingly normal situations, regular panic attacks, unwelcome flashbacks, periods of disassociation, hearing and seeing things that did not exist, emotional numbness, demotivation, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, heightened fear, body tremors, body pains, feverish sweating, loss of appetite and nausea.

I felt I could control or contain it until it started affecting my ability to speak and write. I could no longer access language the same way and this caused me to forget simple words. Sometimes, it brought on a stammering problem, and there were times where I would open my mouth and I could not get one word out.

My academic and professional life felt strenuous and tiring. I could no longer remember routes that I had walked a hundred times before and I started to lose balance in my body easily therefore socialising became more and more difficult. My personal life was painfully affected and I lost a lot of confidence very quickly. I isolated myself from my family, lost a lot of friends and lost the relationship I was in. The loss in every area of my life and inability to function felt like being trapped within my own body.

Seeking help and getting diagnosed with PTSD

It took me some time to accept that I needed help but once I did, I approached my GP at the UWE Health Centre, UWE Wellbeing, the NHS and various charitable organisations. After several assessments, I was diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a condition that sets in after a traumatic event where the event could not be processed properly at the time of occurrence. The memories are not stored in the brain in the same way and then start to re-surface later as though being played back in flashbacks with heightened reactions, triggered by the smallest of sensory reminders. This causes the physical and mental capabilities to feel overthrown.

For months, I had not understood what was causing these troubling symptoms that I could not control or contain, which felt even more disorientating - therefore finally having the PTSD diagnosis felt comforting. It helped me to understand that there was nothing wrong with me, I simply had a condition that was affecting my abilities.

Following the diagnosis, I did many new things to help me adjust and cope better:

    • I read available information to understand more about PTSD;
    • I was given medication specifically for PTSD;
    • I approached therapy that was targeted at PTSD including counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR);
    • I joined a specialist group to meet others who struggled with similar issues;
    • I discussed my diagnosis and circumstances with my Head of Department at UWE, my line manager, supervisors and colleagues that I worked very closely with;
    • I lived a crisis house in Bristol for a month to dedicate time for my recovery;
    • I mapped out my triggers and reactions to pinpoint what I find difficult to cope with;
    • I changed my lifestyle to be more accommodating and manageable;
    • I was kinder and less critical of myself;
    • I made time to do small replenishing things I had denied myself earlier in the year because I felt undeserving – I went for leisurely walks, listened to music, joined a choir, wrote in a journal, read books, cooked, went out for meals, travelled,got a kitten (whom I named Detective Bubbles) and even dyed my hair in colours that I liked; and
    • I spoke openly to my friends and family instead of putting on a pretence.


Almost a year has passed now since my diagnosis. Even with all the positive steps I have taken, it is an ongoing battle with symptoms that still surface and re-surface. Yet I am very grateful I reached out for help and receive the support I need.

Language as a barrier to healing

In terms of language, there were many labels and negative phrases people said to me: "you're weak," "move on from this," "you always act like a victim," "it's like you're 98%," "overreacting," "the past is the past," "you only think about yourself," "abusive," and "behaving like an abuser."

PTSD is a difficult condition to describe. I would personally describe it as living in a different world; one filled with fragments of a past traumatic event that flood your system, seize your senses and cease you from existing in the current world. The emotional and physical pains that come with it are terrifying mainly because you cannot stop or control them. The powerlessness, guilt and shame are heavy burdens to bear. It is difficult enough having the condition and made more difficult by negative connotations people attach to it.

Language is a two-edged sword. It can be used effectively to communicate messages and it can be used to entrap people. Nobody should have their personal circumstances dismissed or minimised, ignored or shamed. I consider Post Traumatic Stress a disabling condition for myself yet I describe myself as strong, as a survivor, and as 100%.

I hope this will give encouragement to be kinder to those around you because regardless of their appearance or behaviour, they may be going through difficulties that are both visible and invisible to the eye. I also hope that this blog post can help others come forward and seek the help they might need.

by Dharshana Navendren, Graduate Tutor, Department of Architecture and Built Environment, FET

Research Focus: Bisexuality

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Various surveys indicate that the number of young people in the UK who identify themselves as bisexual is increasing (including students at UWE). However, bisexual people have often been overlooked within academia and in wider society.

Nikki Hayfield is working with two psychology undergraduate students at UWE to identify what is known and what gaps exist in our knowledge and understanding of bisexuality.

Currently the project focus is on bisexual people and their relationships, and ‘biphobia’ and bisexual marginalisation. The aim to develop ideas for future research that can increase our understandings of bisexual people’s lived experiences, and address misconceptions around bisexuality.

New online file conversion service available for students and staff

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The library now offers an online file conversion service, which enables students and staff to create their own accessible documents in just a few minutes. Simply upload a document, select your chosen format and enter your UWE email address. The converted file is emailed to you within a few minutes.

You can upload a variety of formats including .DOC and .DOCX (Word), .PPT and .PPTX (PowerPoint), JPEG (photos), EPUB (ebook) and PDF.

Documents can be converted into a range of formats including accessible PDF, Word, Braille translation, ebook, and MP3 (audio).

This service is perfect for converting short documents such as journal articles or reports.

If you have any questions or would like to know more, please contact the Library Disability Support Team (

Female scientists at Bristol Bright Night

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Contributed by Dee Smart, Co-ordinator Public and Community Engagement

As I am writing this we are at the height of preparations for Bristol Bright Night, a large showcase of research that is happening in the city. Bristol Bright Night is collaboration between Bristol Natural History Consortium, University of Bristol and University of West of England. It is part of European Researchers’ Night, an EU initiative giving the public the chance to meet researchers and find out about their latest discoveries in more than 300 cities. Bristol is only one of 6 UK cities selected to run an event in 2015, and has received funding from the European Commission under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions.  Such events are really great for raising the profile of our university and individual staff or research areas, but also for inspiring young people to consider careers in areas they may not consider otherwise. We see a lot of parents, as well as specialists, who are very interested in speaking to our academics in an informal setting and some of those conversations lead to new collaborations or open up other opportunities.

We are particularly pleased to promote women scientists through such events, and contribute to delivering the Athena SWAN principles in practice.  Here are a couple of examples of researcher spotlights featuring Liz Anderson, Jo Barnes and Corra Boushel.  Do come and visit other research stalls featuring Vyv Salisbury’s Bioluminescent Bacteria, find out from Jess Hoare about the design industry in the South West, or have a go at building a bridge with Adrienn Tomor.

The event on Friday promises to be very vibrant. There will be a great variety of research on show and the programme includes a Researchers’ Fair with over 20 stalls, short talks, interactive demos and debates, film and video installations, and multi-sensory shows in the Planetarium.  Science cocktails, stand-up comedy and a pop-up street theatre inspired by scientific research will also feature in the event.  We are delighted to work with fantastic partner venues, such as At-Bristol Science Centre, Watershed and Bristol Green Capital Lab Space, who will be hosting over 70 individual activities.  We will be welcoming school visits in the morning,  while the evening evens will be open to the general public and family audiences. At-Bristol is opening its doors free of charge after 6pm, so please bring your friends and family. 

If you would like to tweet about the event please use @BrisBrightNight #BristolBrightNight #ERN. Join and share the Facebook event.

The full programme is available here. Please note, although all activities are free, some must be booked in advance via the website. We hope you will be able to join this Friday coming, 6 – 10 pm, at At-Bristol Science Centre.

Ron Ritchie: his thoughts on leaving UWE

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Contributed by Ron Ritchie, Senior Diversity Champion

A retirement event for UWE's senior diversity champion, Prof Ron Ritchie, was held on 26 August in the Community Hub.
Ron was invited to reflect on his 40 year career in education in the greater Bristol area as a secondary school teacher, primary teacher and leader, local authority advisory teacher and HE teacher and leader.
He explained that he had very mixed feeling about leaving UWE having tried so hard to get here - first in the late 80s - before, several applications later,  he finally arrived here in 2001. He said that he had wanted to work here for a simple reason - it seemed like an institution that shared many of the values he held as important. It turned out to be a move that never disappointed him - he said he had always been immensely proud of the difference UWE makes to its students, its staff, local communities and the  local economy, culture and society. It had, he stated, been a genuine privilege to work here with many highly talented and committed individuals.
He emphasised the importance to him of values - what we hold as important as human beings - and noted that there's a big difference between espousing values and living them out. He said he had always tried to do the latter, not always successfully!
He explained his commitment to social justice and moral purpose was a result of experiencing the transforming power of education on his own life, being the first in his family to go to university. He had left school and started an apprenticeship in the aircraft industry which led to him studying aeronautics and astronautics at Southampton University. Whilst there he found life in student politics and the SU more stimulating and rewarding than his academic work. He spent a lot of time on campaigns such as those related to improving the opportunities for local youth and challenging negative attitudes towards mental health.
At this point, Ron reflected on choices we all have to become a 'prisoner, passenger or participant' in society - he had determined to become a participant and an activist!
He decided to complete his degree and train as a teacher. His experiences on a PGCE at Sussex University, especially in disadvantaged areas like the Moulscombe Estate, reinforced his commitment to fighting injustice and promoting equality. As a young teacher in a challenging Bristol comprehensive, his love of teaching developed and his activism led to him becoming the school's NUT rep.
He explained that his growing understanding and commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion was strengthened through living in Bristol and valuing the diversity of its population whilst feeling aggrieved about the inequality he saw. He also referred to his personal experience as a father and how this had informed his understanding of equality issues and increased his commitment to improve things, this included having a daughter who suffered from a serious mental health condition and another who is gay and now a university teacher.
Returning to other values that are important to him, Ron shared his belief in the importance of lifelong and life wide learning - saying he was always happy, even as a professor, to call himself first a foremost a learner. Indeed, he noted, his role as UWE's diversity champion had been a rich learning journey. He said how pleased he was to be supporting Bristol's ambition to be a Learning City as a consultant post his UWE retirement.
Ron stressed how much he had enjoyed teaching and believed that you should always strive for improvement given your responsibilities to learners, young or old. He reminded us that 'you don't have to be ill to get better'!
He talked about how he had always valued research and scholarship - his own PhD had been through action research; evidence-based and research-informed practice. He had written a number of education books, all including case studies of practice in real settings. Through his teaching and as a teacher educator, he had developed his understanding of the importance to professionals of reflection and reflexivity - being self critical and honest with yourself and recognising how who you are changes what happens around you and how others behave.
Later in his career, he had come to appreciate that successful leadership has to be authentic, distributed and person-centred. He stressed that to him 'leadership' was a more important concept than 'leaders' - he believes everyone in an organisation has the potential and should be given opportunities to contribute to leadership capacity.
Ron emphasised his belief in the benefits of collaboration and partnership based on various experiences in his career, for example in an advisory teacher team, in the Education Department (as part of the then S Block 'family' of academic and professional support staff) and more recently in the context of the Cabot Learning Federation.
He returned to leadership and organisations and said we should, perhaps, recognise more often the importance of people over processes. He said his aim had always been to empower others through reward and positive feedback. In that context, he thanked colleagues who had written in support of his National Diversity Champion nomination last year and said how moving and motivating he had found that public feedback.
Ron talked about the importance of significant others in our lives, both professional and personal and thanked those in the room and those unable to be here who had made unique and highly valued contributions to his time at UWE.
He concluded by reflecting on UWE's recent E&D successes and ongoing issues that remain work in progress …
The successes he celebrated included:
• Our ongoing commitments to activities related to widening participation and partnerships with schools in disadvantaged areas;
• The central and secure place of EDI in the UWE strategy, the successful Single Equality Scheme and senior staff commitment;
• The range and impact of staff and student networks;
• Stonewall Workplace index success;
• Athena SWAN success;
• The developing Disability Service for staff;
• Two Ticks accreditation;
• Time to Change commitment;
• Race Equality Charter Mark application;
• The outstanding contribution of HR and the E&D Unit.
Ongoing challenges for UWE that Ron recognised included:
• Further improving the diversity of staff;
• Maintaining inclusivity as a strategic goal, which includes promoting its benefits;
• Continue to probe the 'lived experience of staff' to ensure it is positive for all;
• Celebrate successes and promote role models;
• Find smart ways of measuring the impact of EDI work against the UWE Strategic Plan;
• Continue to build leadership capacity for the agenda;
• Foster more joint working (for example with unions and networks) and partnership with other organisations;
• Join things up to ensure efficacy, efficiency and maximising benefits;
• Develop efficient and constructive approaches to equality analysis;
• Ensure EDI doesn't suffer in the context of further inevitable change and uncertainty in the HE sector.
Ron finished by thanking colleagues for the support and friendship he had been given. He wished all well in continuing to make UWE the special place that it is and furthering the cause of equality, diversity and inclusivity.

Jackie Longworth to be awarded Honorary Degree

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UWE Bristol will award the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Business Administration to Jackie Longworth in recognition of her contribution to gender equality, both locally and nationally.

The Honorary Degree will be conferred at the Awards Ceremony of the Faculty of Business and Law on Thursday 16 July 2015 at Bristol Cathedral.

Jackie chairs the regional women's equality network, Fair Play South West, which identifies the issues, policies and practices needed to improve women's equality and campaigns for their adoption. She is also a member of the SWTUC Women's Committee, which she has chaired in the past, and is currently a Vice-President of the Women's Engineering Society, having served as President in the past. These voluntary activities largely fill her time since she retired from the electricity industry in 2001.

Jackie graduated from the University of Bristol with a BSc (Hons) degree in physics and joined what was then the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1967. She worked for 34 years in nuclear plant safety: as a Research Officer at the Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories; as a nuclear safety engineer Group Leader; as a Manager of the Health, Safety and Environment Branch; and as Manager of an organisational change project to ensure that nuclear safety was fully considered in staff reductions. She worked continuously for one company as it changed its name and structure through Nuclear Electric to British Energy; it is now EDF.

Throughout this period, Jackie was an active member and representative of her Trade Union, then the Engineers' and Managers' Association, becoming its President in 1994. She was the first women delegate to the Union's annual conference, the first woman on its national executive and its first woman president. She was active in negotiations as the industry was split up and privatised and went through massive redundancy programmes. She was awarded an MBE for services to engineering management in 1996.

When she became a manager she represented her Union (now merged to become Prospect) at the SWTUC, serving on the Regional Executive, a role which she continued after her retirement. She represented the TUC as a social partner at the SW Regional Assembly, becoming the first woman chair of any regional assembly.

Jackie witnessed culture changes towards women engineers both within the Union and at work, but was disappointed that after 34 years women were still not equal in numbers, nor were they fully accepted as equally competent by male colleagues. In each new job and promotion she felt she was having to prove herself over again. Her experiences, and those of her fellows in the Women's Engineering Society, developed her passion for women's equality and made her a feminist.

Equality and Diversity News from the Faculty of Arts, Cultural Industries and Education

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ACE Faculty has a high proportion of students with disabilities so it is essential that the design and delivery of curriculum is as inclusive as possible. In 2013, ACE rewrote the curriculum for all programmes in what was the Department of Creative Industries (now two Departments ‘School of Art and Design’ and ‘School of Film and Journalism’).  The University move to a 15/30 credit model presented the opportunity to anticipate and provide for a range of student learning needs; create curriculum designed to value the diversity of students and staff; and maintain high academic standards in a culture of understanding and respect.  We are now at the end of the second year of rolling out our creative arts, design and medial curricular and the programmes are performing well.

The Faculty works in partnership with a wide range of creative, cultural, education, civic and community partners - building opportunities for all our students to gain real-world experience of their chosen fields. These include work with publicly funded arts and cultural organisations in the city – through the Bristol Cultural Education Partnership – to develop a new model of education and training at Level 3 for students from diverse backgrounds which aims to address the ongoing and persistent issues of lack of diversity in the fields in which many of our students are going on to work, as well as in Higher Education in related subject areas nationally. This project is a partnership with Arts Council England, The West of England Local Enterprise Partnership’s ‘Creative Skills Hub’ and NextGen Skills Academy – the sector skills council for the video games and animation sector.

The Faculty works to develop routes into employment for graduates which acknowledge some of the barriers identified in the ‘Entry Level Employment in Bristol’s Creative Industries Sector’ research undertaken by researchers in the Faculty – in partnership with Bristol City Council and Knowle West Media Centre in 2013/14. We have developed strong partnerships with organisations which can enable our students to access creative and cultural employment networks in the city-region; one example of this is the placement scheme that media and journalism students are able undertake at Ujima Radio CIC; additionally we are developing a wide range of in curriculum opportunities for students to gain experience of real-world projects and employment. These include working with the BBC on the city-wide ‘Bristol Food Connections’, during which our students work alongside media professionals as part of the festival’s social media team.

In support of Bristol’s European Green Capital Year, UWE ACE are leading a large-scale public engagement project ‘Bristol Parkhive,’ which is working with volunteer groups in every area of the city to support improved outcomes for the city’s parks and green spaces. Graduates have co-created an app with volunteers from communities in all areas of Bristol which was launched at the Festival of Nature in early June, and Students have worked with community volunteer groups in Lockleaze, St. Werburghs, Lawrence Weston, Horfield, Bedminster and Fishponds (amongst others!) on a wide range of projects, which will continue throughout 2015. Activities connected to the project have been included as part of the Children’s University initiative at UWE, and workshop activities have been delivered through an extensive community outreach programme – our most recent workshop day was with 200 children from the Malago Learning Partnership in South Bristol, using Manor Woods in Bishopsworth – which appears in the app – as a venue. The ‘Bristol Parkhive’ project has created a large number of paid graduate and undergraduate opportunities for our students, as well as enabling opportunities for students from FET, HAS and BBS – and opportunities for us to work in a more joined-up way cross-faculty; it has also enabled us to develop a model of working with communities across the city which we will be able to replicate post Green Capital Year to work on a range of other agendas which support improved civic outcomes into the future.

UWE's Education department has a series of long standing and wide ranging partnerships with schools across the south west and into South Wales and raising achievement is very important to our sense of mission and added value in excellence in teacher education.

We have a series of interventions built into our programmes that extend trainees’ experience at undergraduate and postgraduate level and which also offer exciting, enriching an developmental opportunities for schools. These range from Science, Maths and geography days or conferences, to primary and Secondary 'Blitz' days with several hundred school children visiting our museum quality exhibition, and taking part in active learning with trainees in period costume.

Whether it is making 'toys for refugees and bombed out families' in 1941, or trying wartime cookery we aim to make young people aware that university is for anyone who wants to do well and work hard.... And that it is tremendously rewarding!
We run the nationally recognised Building Reading Partners for the university! And make a significant impact on progress with our primary partners and trainees/ staff.

Later in the year we have Maths days, offer high level work experience, offer opportunities to the Virtual School and schoolgirl mothers unit at the Meriton centre, and also run a stunning medieval fare at Chepstow Castle: 23 different hands on activities, 550 participants, 65 trainees and staff in (mostly dubious) medieval costume, with eight historical characters to interview, period food to taste, armour to try on, trebuchets to fire, and a dozen gazebos, five medieval tents- including a string of STEMM activities including a visit to medieval apothecaries as well as help from FET with Master Masons and a bridge building activity.

Support for disabled staff

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Contributed by Louise Davis, HR Advisor, HR.

The university has commenced a four-month pilot with an external organisation, Action on Disability and Work UK (ADWUK) to provide advice and support to staff, line managers and HR on disability-related matters.

ADWUK have experienced advisers who can provide advice on a range of issues including: reasonable adjustments, Access to Work and mental health.

Employees can be referred to the service via their line manager.

Please actively engage with the pilot:
Please contact HR on extension 85111 or if you have an employee that may benefit from this support.

A range of resources are in place to support staff and can be viewed on the support for disabled staff webpage.

Gender Equality in Local Government: Chasing the Dream

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Contributed by Margaret Page, Senior Lecturer in FBL and member of the UWE Women's Forum:

On March 4th, Margaret Page (UWE, FBL) and Hazel Conley (QMUL) launched their new book “Gender Equality in Local Government: Chasing the Dream’ at the Unison HQ in London.

The date and venue were significant - March 8th is International Women’s Day and marks the first demonstration of women trade unionists in New York in 1908 and has been celebrated by feminist activists ever since that date. The venue is on the site of the Elizabeth Garret Anderson Hospital, founded by the first women doctor who pioneered free medical care for women before the NHS was founded.

The launch was funded by Queen Mary University and attended by women who promote gender equality internationally and in UK local government and public services in a variety of activist and researcher roles - trade unionists, equality expert advisors, elected politicians and local government policy officers, journalists and of course academic researchers. The book pulls together activism and research on women’s equality that Margaret and Hazel have carried out over the last two decades - in local government, public services, HE, and trade unions.

By popular demand, Margaret and Hazel are organising a SW regional event in Bristol on September 18th sponsored by CESR and BLC research centres at UWE. Watch this space!

Equality and Diversity News from the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences

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Contributed by Jan Richardson, Faculty Business Manager:

Equality and Diversity is championed by Jan Richardson (Faculty Business Manager) and Mandy Bancroft (Faculty Director of Widening Participation and Disability) within the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences.

During 2014 the following action was taken:

The Equality and Diversity Training was incorporated into the Professional Development process as a key objective to increase completion rates and raise awareness.

Department for Biological, Biomedical and Analytical Sciences (BBAS) have achieved the Bronze Athena SWAN award and are now working towards the Silver.  Nursing and Midwifery and Allied Health Professions have achieved the Bronze Athena SWAN award.

A new international co-ordinator has been appointed to support the international student experience in Biological, Biomedical and Analytical Sciences and Health and Social Sciences Departments.

The professional body guidance for Nursing and Midwifery and Allied Health Professions reaffirm that programmes need to be seen to have visible patient and public involvement in selection of future workforce, programme design and delivery. This ensures that graduates are better advocates for, and more representative of the population they seek to serve when they qualify, namely people with physical health conditions, mental health conditions or learning disabilities.

Each Programme in the Allied Health Professions Department (AHP) has a Disability Access Champion (DAC).  All AHP programmes have substantial practice placement components which can be very challenging for disabled students. DAC’s work alongside other UWE support service and placement providers to identify potential challenges to students when going on placement and to address them with suitable support and accommodation. This remediates for a potentially high attrition rate for disabled students due to poor placement experience.

The Department of Health and Social Sciences has put a lot of resources to encourage staff to engage the public in important equalities and social justice debates. A flagship initiative, Social Science in the City works with and reaches out to a range of organisations and people to promote and represent important equalities issues. Colleagues have given talks in the city about sexuality and religion and have encouraged members of the public to critically reflect upon oppressive as well as inclusive and socially just practices.  Black history month has been promoted through social media, twitter and Facebook .

Staff in the Nursing and Midwifery Department have developed value based recruitment and Equality and Diversity from a patient public involvement perspective as part of the interview process. In the Nursing and Midwifery Department there is a high ratio of women appointed and in senior roles. 79% of staff are female with a good representation at senior levels and part of decision making committees.

A review of images used for Nursing and Midwifery was undertaken to ensure they represent diversity and this is now apparent in booklets and on line material.

In the same Department, a funded study is being led to interview BME students to explore their study support needs, both in clinical practice and theory. These results will directly inform future strategy to improve the success rate and referral rate to Professional Suitability Panels.