Students Staff

31 December 2015

Disability equality champion honoured

Rowena Macaulay

Rowena Macaulay

A champion of disability equality at the University and in the Colchester community has been awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours.

Rowena Macaulay was a founder member of the Essex Access Forum at the University eight years ago, promoting access and inclusion, and has been its Chair ever since. She has initiated projects to design hard-copy and, subsequently, interactive online maps highlighting accessible step-free routes around the Colchester Campus and its many 1960s buildings.

In the community she has championed inclusion as co-founder of Walk Colchester, a community organiation established to help protect Colchester’s pathways network and green open spaces and to promote enjoyable, informed pedestrianism for walkers of all abilities. As a chair user and passionate 'walker', she has inspired others with her enthusiasm for getting out and about, and providing information and opportunities for others to do so.

In 2011 she launched a campaign to bring a Boma all-terrain wheelchair to Colchester, and secured Natwest Community Force award funding of £6,275. Match-funding from the Colchester Catalyst charity made the vision a reality, and the Boma has been available for community use since 2012, based at High Woods Country Park. Another is now available at Mersea, with one planned for Abberton Reservoir.

Rowena also brought the international walking initiative Jane’s Walk to Colchester in 2011, the first UK location. Jane’s Walk, which celebrates the legacy of the urbanist Jane Jacobs, now embraces free, locally-organised annual walking events in 189 towns and cities in 36 countries.

Rowena, who works as Student Support Services Officer in the Department of Sociology at the University, said: “What really interests me is the good design of public space - in urban areas and in the countryside - for all people. I try to get away from thinking about disability as a specific category to provide for.

"It's true that gaps still remain at times between what equality law advocates and what happens in practice and these gaps necessarily focus attention on rights. But universal design should be a fundamental principle in the creation and management of all public space, and this isn't about building add-ons to accommodate supposed minorities; it is about recognising and celebrating diversity as the norm.

"I'm motivated by spaces that are beautiful and that work well for everybody, across user groups and across individual lifespans. Where inclusive access is embraced fully and creatively as a design driver, it can be a catalyst for some of the most exciting ways of thinking about how we design the space around us."

Vice-Chancellor of the University Professor Anthony Forster said: “Rowena has worked tirelessly to improve access to facilities and services for disabled staff, students and visitors. We are delighted that her contribution has been recognised in the New Year’s Honours list.”

Together with members of a number of other local green organisations, Rowena is currently working on a 13.5 mile walking route around the town. The Colchester Orbital project, which has the support of Colchester Borough Council, links some of the town's loveliest green spaces and hopes to encourage walking across the full spectrum of ability. 

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