News Article

Interview with Heena Sobhani: student and disability rights activist

Meet Heena Sobhani, an extraordinary student and disability rights activist dedicated to advancing the inclusion of disabled students in academia through the podcast 'Enabled in Academia'.?

'Enabled in Academia' was founded by Lienkie Diedericks in 2020, with the aim of addressing the gap in discussions about disability in research environments. 

The podcast continues to empower disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent students in academia through candid conversations on a variety of topics.  

Heena, currently pursuing a degree in European Politics, has diligently brought attention to personal and institutional challenges while providing valuable insights into academia from the perspective of a disabled individual. We had the privilege of interviewing Heena about her experiences. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to start working on Enabled in Academia?  

I’m a visually impaired person at King’s and I’m also albino. I was a listener of the podcast and I asked Lienkie to help with continuing it, as I thought it was an abandoned gem of a project. I had times at university where I felt slightly unmotivated, and I didn’t want any other students to experience that.  

I wanted them to feel reassured and to know there are options available to help them. My aim for the podcast is, yes, to be a venting space, a sort of complaint space and a safe space for me to talk to academic researchers. But at the end of it, I want listeners to feel reassured and confident knowing there are solutions out there to help disabled students progress at university.  

What would you say the aim of the podcast is?  

It is a disability inclusion initiative in higher education sectors.  

And how many speakers have you had on now? It must be quite a lot!  

Yes, just let me check. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 speakers.  

How do you go about securing speakers for your podcast?  

I reach out to them through X and also utilize email communication channels. Typically, I start by searching on Twitter to identify potential academics who might be interested. 

What do you enjoy most about running your podcast?  

Two things. 

The first thing is my ability to draw attention to the work of specific academics. In the academic industry, a journal article may receive limited citations, views, or recognition. Through this podcast, I can spotlight particular statistics or findings that may have been overlooked by other institutions, providing a platform for valuable contributions that might otherwise go unnoticed.

The second thing that I enjoy the most is my aim to create a space within my podcast where we openly discuss the weaknesses and shortcomings of academic institutions in supporting disabled individuals. It's essential to address the challenges. However, I also strive to provide reassurance to listeners by presenting a positive role model and suggesting strengths or possible solutions by the end of each discussion. The goal is to inspire a proactive approach, ensuring that the conversation doesn't leave a negative impression but rather encourages positive engagement.

So, tell me about some of the shows that you’ve had and what was the most exciting one for you?  

One of my most exciting experiences was the recent podcast episode featuring Ameera Ali, who is based at York University in Toronto, Canada. It's particularly thrilling to note that we already have international listeners, as indicated by the download statistics. This revelation adds an extra layer of excitement to the growing reach of the podcast.  

Ameera Ali, a research academic specializing in higher education, disability, and childhood trauma studies, was featured in a recent episode. Exploring her PhD journey provided a fascinating insight into how disability inclusion operates on an international scale. One particularly compelling aspect she shared was her research finding that, over several decades, only 14 children's picture books have depicted a disabled parent—a rather underwhelming statistic. When I shared this on X, it generated significant responses, with many expressing shock at the scarcity of representation.

Do you encounter any particular challenges whilst recording your podcast? And how do you overcome them?  

Engaging in content creation in this unique line of work poses its own set of challenges. Coordinating with guests involves numerous responses and negotiations, such as determining suitable timings for their availability. This sometimes leads to a waiting period, particularly considering that some guests have personal assistants. During these intervals, I find it essential to leverage my time management skills effectively. Whether it's searching for alternative guests, conducting research, or handling editing tasks, I make the most of the time. 

It's worth noting that this work doesn't strictly adhere to the conventional 9-to-5 schedule. I understand and appreciate the perspective of the guests, and I remain grateful for the contributions of each and every one of them.

It's Disability History Month, and we're thrilled to feature your interview on our website. Can you share any personal experiences or thoughts on Disability History Month? What aspects are particularly important to you during this month? 

So, I’m very excited as this is my first time being actively involved in it. My hope for the month is to see disabled individuals receive more appreciation. While reasonable adjustments have certainly contributed to progress in various spaces, such as workplaces and higher education, the broader public may not always grasp the physical challenges that disabled individuals endure. It's crucial for us to be recognized and praised for our efforts, courage, and triumphs during this month—a period dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating our contributions. 

Are there any events or initiatives you are planning to do to celebrate Disability History Month?  

While I haven't personally organized any events, Florian Hanson, founder of Adjust KCL! and a previous podcast guest, has invited me to join a panel discussion on 4 December. Alongside the head of the Disabled Students Society and other intriguing guests, we'll delve into various ideas surrounding disability inclusion. It promises to be an engaging and enlightening event that I'm looking forward to.

Do you have any advice for those with disabilities who are starting out as students?  

If you’re a disabled student, it's crucial to acquaint yourself with the available accessibility measures, for instance assignment extensions, Personalised Assessment Arrangements (PAA), and extra time in your exam. Familiarise yourself with the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). Take the initiative to connect with the disability team—send them an email and schedule a personal appointment. Establish a relationship with your disability advisor. Utilizing these resources is a significant aspect of a disabled student's academic journey. 

One more question: what are your future plans for the podcast?  

I have an unreleased episode that I recorded on Wednesday with an amazing woman, Becca Jenkins. She owns a legal advice company called The Work Inclusion Project or TWIP, and she works on the Access to Work scheme, ensuring that individuals have the necessary support, including transportation, to thrive in their workplaces. She is a legal expert, managing 40 employees in her company, and concurrently pursuing a PhD. She’s very open about her journey navigating both academia and her professional endeavours. Keep an eye out for the upcoming release of this insightful episode! 

To keep up to date with the latest ‘Enabled in Academia’ news, follow @EnabledInAca on X


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