Home » E-Learning » Accessibility » Notes on the main accessibility challenges for disabled learners that I support

Notes on the main accessibility challenges for disabled learners that I support


I’m planning to use the context of swimming from the perspective of undergraduate age elite swimmers and coaches, therefore looking at components that are taught to athletes and higher level coaches away from the pool in workshops and online as blended learning: workbook, online, day or half-day workshop/seminar with a written assignment.

Student, teacher, member, administrator, pool, desk, workshop … learning in extremis.

Context – nature of campus, policy, history if and funding of accessibility, maturity and life-experience of the student (born with the impairment or not, residential experience or not). Gender, age, socio-economic group and sexual orientation. Before or after the London 2012 Paralympics and the call by Sebastian Coe to ‘lift the cloud on limitations’.

  • Literacies (Belshaw, 2012)
  • Visual, audio, physical (See BBC Web Access), reading, note taking,
  • Visual – sight, images with a learning purpose require description, careful with demonstrations.
  • Audio – hearing, captions, signing
  • Communication – find spoken or written words difficult, speaking in groups. Communications is the big issue.
  • Physical – find a keyboard or mouse hard to use, mobility, fine motor controls … attendance, fatigue
  • Learning difficulties – attention, retention, concentration, memory …
  • Emotional. Ability to empathise with others. Anxiety/stress. Motivation.

Degree of disability shifts

Marjorie Ritchie, the institute’s surgeon, who was highly active and engaged with the animals as part of her research at the Roslin Institute in 1995 until she developed Multiple Sclerosis in 2000.

Stephen Hawking has a motor neurone disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that has progressed over the years since diagnosis in his early 20s. He is now almost entirely paralysed and communicates through a speech generating device.

GeoffreyMaths PhD Student with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a condition that impairs the functioning of nerve cells gradually over time. It eventually leads to a loss of ability to move, though the brain is unaffected –


· Hopes raised and dashed

· New technology helps or hinders

· Curriculum

· Teaching methods

· Learning environment

· VLE – intuitive, clear, simple/choices

· ‘Coming Out’ as disabled

· Hidden disability: asthmatic, dyslexia

Stereotypes (Kaplan, 2000) – whose problem is it anyway?

· Doesn’t like the fuss

· Fabric and layout of old buildings

· Upgrades to software making it worse, such as Delicious.

· Delays in funding.

· Training of staff.

· Socializing

· Time to get things sorted out ‘A week can seem like a really long time sometimes, especially if in that particular week existence as you have known it for the past 19 years changes as completely as is humanly possible’.

· Tiresome visits to the GP.

· Low self-esteem and disillusionment.

· Lee’s diary – I don’t wanna be an inpsiration.

The irony is that potentially the most support and understanding of the issues will come from a parent – but like all young people growing up, they want Independence and are prepared to make sacrifices. However, their ability to manage their needs, costs, people, access, work load, mobility, socialising, kit and so on, is, as for anyone, in part down to that person’s personality and resilience – can they manage people, are they thick skinned, do they have a sense of humour …


Equality Act 2010

  • Unlawful to discriminate
  • Reasonable adjustments +++
  • Medical evidence
  • Diagnostic evidence

Access to Learning Fund (for tests)

  • £
  • Equipment, repairs, technical support, insurance, extended warranty.
  • Non- medical helper allowance Reads, sign-language, interpreters, note-takers
  • General allowance Taxi

Can take 14 weeks.

Independence (responsibility)

(I liken it to a game of snakes and ladders in which the disabled student needs to avoid both, which sounds inequitable: ladders they cannot climb for lack of access and snakes that pose a problem to them that are avoidable or inconsequential to others).

Francesca Martinez: ‘Francesca is Francesa – this is who she is. No fix is required, neither to her or to society’.

Just because access is created to ‘bridge’ a barrier does not mean, for a myriad of reasons, that it will be taken up – at least not in a visible or public way. (From James in tutor group 10SEPT12)

Changing teacher attitudes : Not what I want to teach, but what, after assessment, they need to learn. No longer had a flexible peg jumping through an institutional, departmental, and academic or LD designed module, but a flexible peg and an accommodating hole.


“All education is about empowerment, whomsoever the learner might be”. Tennant (2009:154)

· Personalise kit

· Piaget making learning personally

· Preference for ‘lively discourse’ rather than essays and exams – more discourse in North America.

· Using extra time given

· – ve Time As Léonie says in the Skills for Access case study: I’m studying at the moment, a computing degree, and quite a lot of the material I’m given is multimedia. So where your average student is being asked to do maybe 15 hours of work a week, by the time I’ve found some sighted assistant to come and explain to me what I’m supposed to be looking at on a screen or to operate multimedia content that I can’t do for myself, I’ve added another 5 or 10 hours onto my working week. http://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=142893§ion=3 (accessed 1 oct 2012) +ve Tools Time saving Teach as well as learn at a distance

· Software and hardware

· Finding out you’re not the only student with a disability

· No longer regarded as ‘pityful and weak’ (Korea)

· Seb Coe ‘We’re in it together’ and ‘Lifting the cloud of limitation’ (2012, Paralympics closing ceremony)

No two people can possibly be learning the same thing, no matter what common assessment students undertake – the student with a disability, or disabilities, whatever these are and how they affect or impact on this individual – will be acquiring knowledge or a skill that has or is in some way transformed or  translated, the focus diluted or pinpointed through a note–taker, reduced range,  voice of an audio–reader, missing a lecture or seeing it from only one perspective, access denied or field or lab work excluded through their choices,  risk assessment, health and safety, time, money, people and other such barriers – though sometimes enhanced if a live debate becomes an asynchronous forum or verbatim transcripts of audio and provided to all. Having a much different take on the lesson can be advantageous as a differentiator. Not just knowing more, but knowing differently.(Ronald Heifetz, 1995) Each learner’s experience of learning and their relationship with the subject.  Kegan (2006:45)

What is of paramount importance to Michael is to be treated as an individual. In his own words:

“I think disability is a personal thing. Each person has their own problems, their own hang ups and their own way of dealing with it…. You can make general adjustments for them but you’ve got to act on one premise.  Whatever disability – whether they’re a wheelchair user, hard of hearing, autistic etc. – each person has their own problems and you must treat them in that respect”.

DART The DART (Disabilities Academic Resource Tool) project

Metaphors of ‘bridging’ or ‘barriers’ can be counterproductive.

Learning must be personally meaningful. Piaget. In Rethinking Pedagogy notes.

· Death by PPT.

· Poor presentations.

· Sloppy administration.

· Making friends

· Becoming independent.

· Boring lectures must be better.

· Charlotte’s diary – I feel I’ve been an outsider for quite long enough and it’s time for a change.

· Falling in love.

· Very helpful with introductions, 3rd Year Student Support and lecturer support. Given advice about the dog too.

· Consult with the student (From the history of Worcester College for Blind)

o Forster wisely consulted some of his older pupils, and they advised adapting braille for the purpose.

o Flexible, adaptable, accommodating and building on past experience and successes – so motivational and supportive rather than prescriptive.

FUTURE – if ‘Teaching to write with a pen and pencil is now generally abandoned as a waste of time’: but those boys who could write before they went blind were encouraged to keep it up. Forster admitted that much teaching was still oral, but not to the extent it was ten years before’ will using a keyboard go the same way?

Responsive websites, granularity, varieties of ways in, through and out of a course.

Legislation and policies regarding:

· Advertising

· Recruitment

· Access and participation

· Assessment

· Qualification

· Employment

· Alumni

‘The long tail’

Emmanuel –Dyslexia

Sense of independence at Sixth Form College

Based on models:

· Medical

· Rehabilitation

· Social

· Charity

· Disability

· Legal

Educational Model (assimilative, adaptive, communicative, productive, experiential) Laurillard (2001)

Caveat: if you cannot be clear and open about defining what the problems are how can they be overcome, ignored or fixed?

Also social and ethical policies (Jellinek and Abrahams, 2012)





Software: Screen Reader, Google Docs, Delicious, Slideshare, Skype …

Kit: laptop, iPad, Smartphone, desktop, scanner …

Note taker, personal assistant

Stuart –Wheelchair user after neurological illness

Adaptable with regard to my disability – working with what he could do, rather than trying to overcome a barrier unnecessarily. Disabilities and life experience a lesson to young students.

· Don’t assume she requires lecture notes on PPT enlarged, actually reduced as she has tunnel vision. In 12pt can only see two or three words at a time. Visually Impaired – Andrea.


The deaf as a linguistic minority rather than a disability group

Misia (accessed 1st October 2012)


Preparation as a professional education covers three main areas.

1. Developing an appropriate and inclusive teaching strategy

2. Making appropriate reasonable adjustments

3. Providing an accessible and safe teaching environment

With deaf students

  • Clarity of communication
  • Speed of delivery
  • Accents
  • Turning your back
  • Repitition
  • Questions from the floor
  • Quality of handouts
  • Eye contact
  • Hearing loops
  • Air con or building works

Students with specific learning difficulties often have to chunk their learning into bite-sized pieces with plenty of time for rehearsal.

  • Provide clear learning outcomes and describe your expectation of how these will be achieved – offer some flexibility to suit all learning styles. This allows a student who is unable to achieve your preferred layout, for example, a chance to negotiate an alternative method of presentation with you.
  • Plan the structure of your sessions to allow question and discussion time, as well as moments for reinforcing knowledge and building on what has already been learnt. Link new material to old by using a stepped approach.

QQ Think about whether the suggestions in these resources cover the cases of the wheelchair user and the deaf student described.

Access is often the main issue for those with mobility difficulties.

Note taking and coping with other aspects of practical work can be problematic for those who have dexterity difficulties, pain or fatigue.

  • Allow extra time for the student to arrive at your session.
  • If electronic media are used then computer accessibility issues should be checked. (Including keyboard and mouse, and software).
  • Plan ahead for practicals and fieldwork.
  • Have a named contact for the student in case of unexpected changes to the format, timing or rooms for a particular course.

http://www.open.ac.uk/inclusiveteaching/pages/inclusive-teaching/making-appropriate-reasonable-adjustments.php (Accessed 1 October 2012)


  • Wheelchair goes missing, storage.
  • Being placed in the ‘cripple’s corner’ (their words)
  • Parking
  • Doors
  • Lavatories
  • Blocking access
  • Fire evacuation

QQ Are there more complex situations that are not covered?

  • Subject
  • Speaker
  • Multiple speakers
  • Q&A

Multiple disabilities – may also have sight and or hearing impairments

Additional disabilities:


The point made repeatedly on the platform of the LibDem Conference on disability and access – people want to be treated like people, that’s all.

People are messy, none of us want to be a label. There can be a culture of doing things by the book, institutionally, by department or because of the jobsworth mentality of an individual. Hopefully social networks and the ease of reporting frankly on conditions will increasingly allow people to make choices about where they apply to study, and how – not mentioned as the case studies are not current (2004), e-learning and blended learning can increase flexibility and aid accommodation of people with a plethora of barriers before them.

Thoughts on access from the conference floor – Liberal Democrats 2012

The attitude to blindness pioneered by those who founded Worcester College is, I think, best exemplified by Samuel Forster when he asserted that ‘the blind boy of healthy body and sound brain is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a seeing boy, whose lot is cast in the dark…blind boys are boys first, then boys in the dark…’, an attitude which much later became embodied in the school’s motto, “Possunt quia posse videntur”, They can, because they think they can.

Dybwad (1960) encourages those with learning difficulties to be given more time, even years, in training and apprenticeships in order to succeed.  He also advocates young women with learning difficulties to be given the same opportunities as males in order to receive the full benefits.  Interestingly he feels here it is their families holding them back with worries about their safety/conduct.  Dybwad feels these fears are unfounded and disadvantage the women.


Dybwad, G. (1960).  Are We Retarding The Retarded?  Friends of the Samuel Gridley Howe Library and the Dybwad Family, Accessed online via the Disability History Museum: http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/lib/detail.html?id=1722&&page=1 (Last accessed online 06/10/2012)

Kaplan, D. (2000) ‘The definition of disability: perspective of the disability community’, Journal of Health Care Law & Policy, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 352–64; also available online at http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/ login?url=http://heinonline.org/ HOL/ Page?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/ hclwpo3&id=362  (last accessed 07 September 2012).

Making Your Teaching Inclusive (2006) Models of Disability [online], http://www.open.ac.uk/ inclusiveteaching/ pages/ understanding-and-awareness/ models-of-disability.php (last accessed 7 September 2012).

Ouch (2009) Disabled Student Diaries 2009 [online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ fact/ disabled_student_diaries_2009.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Ouch (2010a) Disabled Student Diaries update: Charlotte [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ charlotte_s_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Ouch (2010b) Disabled Student Diaries update: Lee [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ lee_s_student_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Ouch (2010c) Disabled Student Diaries update: Andrea [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ andrea_s_student_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

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 7 September 2012).

Tennant, M (2009) chapter 10 in Contemporary Theories of Learning – Lifelong learning as a technology of self.


Courtesy of Ian McGilloway

DSA in the UK

Disabled students do receive funding that may cover specialist equipment, non-medical helpers, travel and extra copying charges  although this will depend on the duration, intensity and level of study. The time allowed to complete a part-time course has very recently doubled from twice as long as the full time equivalent to four times. Medical proof is also require (Directgov, n.d.a)

Not all students will receive funding e.g. non-EU (detailed documentation on status is available in DirectGov, 2012a), those eligible for NHS Bursary DSA – which is equivalent to DSA (NHS, 2012)

Your institution needs to award degrees or receive funding that leads to one, offer designated HE course or take part in SCITT(a type of school based teacher training program). The course itself should lead to:

· first degree, such as a Bachelor of Arts, Science or Education (BA, BSc or BEd)

· Foundation Degree

· Certificate of Higher Education

· Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)

· Higher National Certificate (HNC)

· Higher National Diploma (HND)

If you have an equivalent qualification to the one you are studying you may not receive funding but if you are topping up e.g. HND to honours degree you may qualify. (DirectGov, n.d.b)

DSA applications are open for this academic year (not sure when they opened) and at the moment only full-time students can apply online (Directgov, 2012b), part-time etc need to post a form off. The application process can take 14 weeks! (Directgov, 2012c)


Directgov (n.d.a) Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) [Online], Available athttp://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/EducationAndTraining/HigherEducation/DG_10034898 (Accessed 20 September 2012)

DirectGov (2012a) DisabledStudents’Allowances2012/13 Notes to help you complete your DSA application form [Online], Available athttp://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/@educ/documents/digitalasset/dg_200347.pdf(Accessed 20 September 2012)

Directgov (n.d.b) Who qualifies for student finance? [Online], Available athttp://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/Gettingstarted/DG_171574(Accessed 20 September 2012)

Directgov (2012b) Student finance forms and guides 2012/13 [Online], Available at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/DG_200188

Directgov (2012c) Bridging the gap – a guide to the DisabledStudents’ Allowances (DSAs) in higher education 2012/13 [Online],Available athttp://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/@educ/documents/digitalasset/dg_200484.pdf(Accessed 20 September 2012)

NHS (2012) The NHS Bursary Disabled Students Allowance: Information and Application [Online], Available athttp://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/Students/Documents/Students/DSA1_v4.2_Application_and_Guidance_for_Disabled_Students_Allowance.pdf (Accessed 20 September 2012)


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