Home » E-Learning » Accessibility » Accessibility in Tertiary Education – notes from John Seale

Accessibility in Tertiary Education – notes from John Seale

‘I had to rely on goodwill and be grateful for being able to learn whereas everybody else was entitled to learn straight away, and it was a disadvantage, and I wasn’t encouraged to make noise about it or ask for any help’.

(ALERT 2005: 10)

Everyone has an incentive or disincentive to learn.

Know the figures: Reference

Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) (2010) Students and Qualifiers Data Tables [online],

One of the key consequences of the growing numbers of disabled students that are entering higher education is that it has influenced those working within these sectors to address the extent to which they understand the needs of students with disabilities and can provide support that adequately addresses those needs.

It benefits everyone to give more thought and take greater care over how we communicate. How did or have libraries, for example, been designed to accommodate disabled people … or affordable accommodation, swimming pools, theatres, sports stadia and supermarkets?

vs inclusivity gone potty: four children and four carers + the teacher in an already packed classroom made it ripe for disruption.

Models of disability and the provision of services based on these:

  • Medical
  • Tragedy
  • Administrative in education
  • Administrative in employment
  • Social model

‘A disability is not so much an attribute of a person as it is a mismatch between a particular person and a particular environment’.
Coombs (2000)

‘Social models of disability distinguish between disability and impairment differently’. (Oliver 1990).

According to social models, impairment is an individual limitation, while a disability is a socially imposed restriction. Not being able to walk is an impairment but lack of mobility is a disability (a socially created situation).

There are problems with the legal definitions of disability however, in that they have been argued to be overly medically oriented and not entirely inclusive.

The UK definition of disability was reworded slightly to refer to a person rather than to a disability. Under the Equality Act a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’ (DirectGov, 2012).

Roulstone (2003: 123) perceives this as a further injustice and argues that it is ‘not natural or uplifting for a person to have to dwell publicly upon the minutiae of what they cannot do.’

Better to understand what they can do, what they sre motivated to do, when and how often they want to do this and whether, when and if circumstances including their wishes, should change.

Definitions which specify that the disability has to have a long term effect can exclude some severe conditions that are not long term (twelve months or more), as can sometimes be the case with some heart attacks or strokes.

Issues with invisible disabilities.


The way we define and understand disability has the potential to have a significant impact on the learning experiences of students with disabilities.

The term disability has been re-defined as a mismatch between the needs of the learner and the education offered. It is therefore not a personal trait but an artefact of the relationship between the learner and the learning environment or education delivery. IMS Global Learning Consortium 2004a


Coombs, N. (2000) Assistive technology in third level and distance education. Online. Available HTTP: . (Now available at http://people.rit.edu/ nrcgsh/ arts/ dublin.htm, last accessed 23 May 2012.)

DirectGov (2012) Disability and the Equality Act 2010 [online], http://www.direct.gov.uk/ en/ DisabledPeople/ RightsAndObligations/ DisabilityRights/ DG_4001068
(last accessed 23 May 2012).

IMS Global Learning Consortium (2004a) IMS AccessForAll Meta-data Overview. Online. Available HTTP: (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Roulstone, A. (2003) The legal road to rights? Disabling premises, Obiter Dicta and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Disability and Society, 18, 2, 117–131.

Seale, J. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routledge; also available online at http://learn2.open.ac.uk/ mod/ subpage/ view.php?id=153062 (last accessed 22 May 2012).


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