Around 11% of students are registered disabled, meaning that eleven in every one hundred can expect to be allocated a disability advisor by their university plus funding to support their studies, and extra provision. There might also be support available for those with learning needs who aren’t registered disabled, ie because of an accident, temporary condition or anxiety for example.
So, how can disabled students know if their university is trying to create an inclusive learning environment? And what should they expect from a good university? Ian Carter (pictured), manager of student services at Brighton University, home to 24,000 students, has helped us put together some advice. In his role Ian is responsible for inclusive practice at the university and supporting provision for disabled students. He is also vice chair of the NADP - the professional association for disability and inclusivity practitioners.
What can a disabled student expect from their university?
1 Disabled Student Allowance
If you are registered as disabled in the UK then you can expect to be allocated a disability support advisor and an assessment around your learning needs. This is called a DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessment. These are often carried out by outside organisations such as AbilityNet (a charity). You can fill in the DSA HE Support Checker here. If you are not registered as having a disability, but are experiencing issues that mean you need extra time or support with learning, including a temporary condition or an accident or anxiety, there might still be support available - ask at student services.
2 Understanding of the way you learn
What do you need to learn in the best way possible? A good university will pay attention to this. You are right to expect support from your university for your needs and for adaptions to be made which help with your learning. For example, if you have anxiety, perhaps you can provide video recorded presentations rather than speaking in front of a group. If you’re dyslexic, you can ask not to be assessed on grammar and spelling. What else would help you? Discuss this with student services.
3 Consideration of the best way to do assessments
It doesn’t work for everyone to do just one three hour exam for a whole course. As much as possible, a forward-thinking university will try to offer alternatives. On a practical level, some students will need support from an assistant, or to use speech-to-text methods, which might not work in a room full of people and so will need separate space. Ideally there should be a variety of types of assessment to cover different learning styles and different exam rooms if needed, or perhaps an online exam option if it is appropriate and workable.
4 Adjustment and updating of courses to fit your abilities
For many years, newspaper journalism students were expected to pass a shorthand exam. It’s now recognised that this isn’t doable or suitable for some students because of a disability and other note taking methods are available. Thanks to universities' conversations with the National Council for Training of Journalists, it is no longer essential for journalism students to pass this exam if they have a disability which makes it difficult or impossible. Courses are often set by professional bodies but can change over time and with feedback, so don’t think there is no room for adjustment.
5 Availability of resources online
Do the rooms you use have lecture capture options so that more students can have easy access to lectures and lecture notes? This is useful for a whole range of students, not just those who are dyslexic or who have a cognitive disability or difficulties. Can you use mobiles to record and to take photos, assuming the subject matter is not confidential? Are presentations put up on the student intranet before lectures? What do your friends get at other universities that is helpful and could you ask for the same? The university website should be fully inclusive and accessible too otherwise this it breaches the UK Equality Act 2010.
6 Extra circular support for disabled students or those with additional needs
What else is on offer outside of lectures to support you and make you feel comfortable and as happy as possible? Five years ago Brighton University started offering students on the autism spectrum the opportunity to come and stay at the university with friends or family for a residential, ahead of beginning university. Students can take part in a gaming night and normally start to make good friends and swap numbers by the end of the evening. The uni also supports a self-managed social group for students on the autism spectrum called the ‘A’ Team, which helps fund different social events chosen by members.
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For more about AbilityNet's services, click here or call 0800 269 545 in office hours.