“All education is about empowerment, whomsoever the learner might be”. Tennant (2009:154)
I find myself looking for a single sentence, phrase or word to sum up what is required to improve access to higher education for disabled students – a good deal is applicable to all students (I was researching Stephen Hawking’s career out of interest).
It is the value of the personal touch, one human being, the knowledgeable educator reaching out to another who has a genuine desire to learn – tutors who are natural educators, in the vocational sense – not watching the time or doing it for the money while their heart is in research. i.e. one person can make a difference.
Who in other words is the inspiration to the student?
I too found I was building up a long list of ‘true to all students’ which I found refreshing and touching, especially the desire to belong, to make friends, even to find love – while dressing up and getting drunk.
And to be independent of parents – or in one delightfully intriguing case from their twin!
The division between able-bodied and disabled, between the Olympics and Paralympics, is a compromise. How far and in how many ways can a cohort of students be split?
Mature students form a different group.
By subject, by gender, by socio-economic background, by UK resident or foreign student? By exam grades, by type and degree of disability? By the football team they support, the college or residential hall they stay in? And when you get down to the person how are they and their many moods and responses categorised?
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.
Delays in funding are unforgiveable – more stories need to be brought to public notice so that politicians, departments and people are named and shamed. And not mentioned, but those families with the money can, as well as applying for funding, cover shortfalls, give additional allowances, fund a car or a flat.
How do you train staff in relation to disabled students?
Why do ‘teachers’ in Tertiary education think they don’t need a qualification to teach? This would cover some of the ground. In sport we are taught to coach what a person can do – taking the time to find out what a person is capable of takes … time, which is money, which anyone with an eye on payment by the hour the hours they have in a week is unlikely to give. It can ultimately only be done on a one to one basis. This comes down to the nature of the tutor, lecturer or ‘educator’ and their motivations – do they want to be thought of in their lifetime as the one who made a difference, who inspired a young person to achieve or do x or y, or think about things in a certain way?
Time is an interesting consideration – the goal and how it is achieved rather than the time required needs to be the consideration.
If more time helps get a person through or beyond a barrier, then time, more of it, or making more of it, is the answer. As above, time lost can now be recovered with e-learning or blended learning. Even a commute can, for some, be a chance to catch up on reading … even to take part in an asynchronous forum such as this.
To accommodate training and competition schedules young athletes such as Tom Daily take three years to study for their A’ Levels rather than two.
Might anyone, for a variety of reasons, take four or five years to complete an undergraduate degree – and benefit, as they mature, from having more time to get their heads around it. Life is disruptive in varying amounts for everyone.
It is a compromise, but there is a reason why the Paralympics are run separately, indeed, if this part of the Olympic Movement grows even more it may perhaps have to be split again simply to better accommodate to variety and range of disabilities. By bringing, for example, wheelchair users together you are better able to provide for them – the specially commissioned multiple wheelchair access train from Paris to Stratford International has to be an example. An entire university, built as if on an Olympic Village format, deigned above all else to give access to people overcoming a variety of disabilities would, like the Olympics themselves, probably have to draw on students from an international, even a global pool. How about, in collegiate universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, a college is financed to meet specific, or a set range of impairments? Are there not economies of scale, could services across the board not be better, or are we once again segregating people with disabilities rather than making efforts to bring down barriers of access to the mainstream?
Life is an obstacle course.
It isn’t even the case that the person over the line first wins. If access adjusts as many of the obstacles to a height or level of challenge that is equal to all would we not have everyone crossing the line at the same time. In educational terms, certainly at tertiary level, if only those with similar levels of attainment, and this includes people with a variety of disabilities, then the test has been an intellectual one. Playing devil’s advocate might it not be equally valid to put barriers in the way of the able bodied? Examination papers in a tiny font, a power-cut so all papers have to be read and written up in the dark, the dominant arm tied behind the back … alternatively, an assessment system that is designed to elucidate what the student knows, however they can express this, so more viva voces, more applied and modular assignments as part of the submission …
Thoughts on access from the conference floor – Liberal Democrats 2012
“I learned JAWS, the screen reading program that I use. I learned to communicate with my professors to advocate for my own self, talking about what I need when they use the three bad words, which are: “this, there and that”. For example, if they’re talking about a bell curve “it goes up like this in the middle and then it goes down like that”. That doesn’t help me”.
Sounds like a CPD on writing and presenting for Radio would go down well.
So for the lack of an available interpreter or several interpreters, instead I use Assistive Technology. There is a person off-site who uses a headset and the teacher has a lapel microphone and when the teacher speaks, the person off-site can hear the teacher’s voice through their headset and type into their off-site computer. And that information goes through an Internet connection to my laptop in the classroom. And I read the captions on the laptop while the teacher is lecturing in real time.
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.
The important influence of teachers and parents.
Stephen Hawking has named his secondary school mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta as an inspiration, and originally wanted to study the subject at university. However, Hawking’s father wanted him to apply to University College, Oxford, which his father had attended. As University College did not have a mathematics fellow at that time, they did not accept applications from students who wished to study that discipline. Therefore, Hawking applied to study natural sciences with an emphasis in physics. University College accepted Hawking, and he gained a scholarship.
Christine – Juvenile Chronic Arthritis –
Slow to take up DDA, delay in getting kit. Mature student. Kit only does so much, no transcription software for digital recordings of lectures.
Geoffrey – Maths 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 –
John – Cerebral Palsy
John identifies the support of his parents and professional assistants as having been vital in his success. He credits his parents for encouraging him to become as independent as possible, and instilling a pro-active attitude to life.
SKILL – student experiences
Laura – Brain Tumour age Five
The shift from living at home to semi-independence away from home in a hall of residence, or greater independence in a student digs, requires considerable adjustment. Far better if the transition from school and home to university is a gradual, or at least a stepwise progression – something those who attend sixth form college find marginally easier, but for those who have been at boarding school find easier still. Otherwise, some kind of compromise needs to be accommodated, or recommended, the simplest one to live at home at first – or, which some can do, home comes to the campus.
Simon – Cerebral Palsy
Courage, self-belief and compromise. Like all of us? Common to all students completing a degree and seeking employment.
Kirsten – Blind
Who are we to advise on the suitability of a course? Significant distances to placements with no compromises.
Acceptance for what I am rather than prejudiced with the label ‘blind’.
Inadequate testing – CRB forms not available in Braille, assessments couldn’t be read by the Screen Reader.
Emmanuel – Dyslexia
Sense of independence at Sixth Form College
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.
Laura – Profoundly Deaf
DSA for note taker Friends, travel opportunities, lip-reading different languages.
- Space requirements according to the disability or use of a wheelchair.
- Socialising, nightclubs, flashing lights, layout and signage.
- Feeling left out – the asthmatic and cigarette smoke.
- 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.
- Expectations about splints and stories of injury rather than genetic disorder – humans looking for things in common.
- Embarrassment and disappointment when trying to initiate a social get together.
- A learning process on both sides when it comes to lectures – is that good enough?
- Tiresome visits to the GP for simple things
- A Dictaphone serves many purposes – for lecture notes, but also recording other stuff and having a laugh. Yes, like all people, a disabled person has a sense of fun and mischief too.
- A wheelchair user having to climb onto a washing machine to read the instructions.
- Making friends. ‘It’s nice to know that people are ready to help when my usual attempts at total independence fail’. Texting to meet up if she gets lost. Sarah Butler.
- Just ask
- Three weeks in and adjustments still being made to bed, bathroom and bathroom door to create easier access.
- Don’t be patronising -lectures who need training or to gain some emotional intelligence in how they behave with other people.
- Week 4 and no note taker in place for a tutorial so a fellow student stepped in.
- This reminds me a bit of pushing my four year-old brother in his pram. Said one student to her.
- It would, both needed to have a laugh about it.
- Personal assistants aren’t around all the time so friends need to help. This in relation to moving into a student home.
- I was so nervous but it turns out I really had nothing to worry about. Academically it’s going fine and socially it’s just going even better. Visual Impaired Student, Sarah Butler.
- Bored with a lecture – like any student. Lumping herself in with the 70% who are likely to fail, hasn’t found a suitable way to revise as writing and typing are out – so understands the need to work with the content but hasn’t received help with ideas on what she might do instead.
- Makes too much socializing the excuse for possibly doing not so well in an exam rather than the disability.
- Required a friend to take the initiative to ask about the risks to an asthmatic of smoke machines at a choir concert.
- Some people just thought I’d come as Superman and then I had to go and explain the subtle difference between coming as Superman and coming as Christopher Reeve, to which some people again just laughed hysterically and some people just looked shocked and didn’t know what to say and went quiet. But I thought it was a great idea and very funny and I had a good laugh.
A quadriplegic with three full-time carers, one in her flat, the other two next door – them depending on her for further training after the initial inductions with her mother in the first two weeks.
- Straight out to a fancy dress party – then to the shops.
- Not used to having to remain alert for such long periods
- Being young and wanting to fit in as much as possible
- I feel I’ve been an outsider for quite long enough and it’s time for a change.
- Thinking about … men.
- Getting up at 6.45 to be ready for the first lecture of three at 9.30.
Introduced to scan and read technology – rather than during the second week of a course couldn’t this be done ahead of the new term?
Catering for every kind of student includes the selection of music played
I don’t know how much help tutors/lecturers are supposed ro give – this in relation to quantities of new terms in sociology.
Aware of the challenges, the risk to her health, even to her personality – but feels the degree will get her out of a more dull future otherwise.
- Falling in love
- Forthright advice applicable to anyone.
- Personal flaws quite distinct from the disability such as expecting too much from a situation.
- Wants idependence, but my need parental involvement.
- I want people who don’t have such problems to be less intimidated by people like me and learn to appreciate them as normal.
- Importance of catering for different needs and interests – not everyone is a drinker.
- Important I would have thought to have a very large and diverse incoming cohort, or good mixing between year groups, and a way for students with similar interests and outlooks to find each other.
- A frenetic desire to get stuck into sll kinds of things, not just course work, but sports, activities and church groups.
- Aspergers and Tourrettes – so he wants to learn BSL and Mandarin of course.
- I did my first load of washing today which was a success, but the dryers were rubbish so I have wet clothes hanging on shelves and doors in my room.
- Got laptop, scanner, dictaphone.
- Ranges within Aspergers, in terms of response to emotions, or not. ability to communicate, or not.
- Cross correlation insight between need for facial expressions in BSL and meanings of the four tones in Mandarin.
- We do not suffer, which implies pain – fed up of media talking about people who ‘suffer’ from Aspergers or Tourettes.
I don’t wanna be an inpsiration.
Interesting insight into ignorant, well meaning churchgoers who blamed Jesus for giving him a cold and would pray to make him hearing if he had been deaf. Shows who responses are so strongly influenced by context and experience.
Seeking independence from parents and finding ample respect from fellow students.
A 1.5 hour trip from Coventry to Warwick Uni, two buses and a guide dog. Youngest person ever to get a guide dog at 15.
DSA and assessments in August for a late September start. Netbook, scanner, JAWS, dictaphone. Also a helper as well as a request for a GPS device. NONE of the kit turned up in time, still none a week later. Nor her maintenance allowance, although everyone else has theirs. Still nothing by the end of October. End up being leant a zuni laptop that was too heavy to take into lectures or transport.
- Very helpful with introductions, 3rd Year Student Support and lecturer support. Given advice about the dog too.
- 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.
- Note takers and helpers funded by DSA. Three in all.
- Individual induction to the library.
- Wanting to be independent of each other!
What DSA does or does not cover. Does not cover the PA costs. Inadequacy of being handed a mobile phone and told to call a nurse across campus should he require to go to the toilet – but he can’t even use a mobile phone that easily.
- Several agencies to approach.
- Package must include becoming an active participant at university.
Attitudes, finance and poor or inadequate advice. Cara an excellent ice-breaker for someone living at home not on ca
DSA includes ink cartridges and a taxi if it is raining or to get home later.
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 …
The Paralympic Categories
California State University (CSU) (undated) ‘From Where I Sit’ Video Series [online], http://teachingcommons.cdl.edu/access/materials/fwis.shtml (last accessed 23 September 2012).
BBC Radio 4 (2004) Disabled Student Diaries [online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ radio4/ youandyours/ transcripts_studentdiaries.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Tennant, M (2009) chapter 10 in Contemporary Theories of Learning – Lifelong learning as a technology of self.
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).