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Students with physical disabilities

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Academic study

This section explores some of the facilities and services which may make study easier for you.

In some countries it may be the law to provide these, however, even if it is not the law where you live, you can still suggest them to your university.

Admissions and induction

Will the institution provide you with particular support and information on provision for people with disabilities during the application process, such as a Braille or large-print prospectus? Will it allow you to arrive earlier than other students for the induction?

You may be hesitant about disclosing your disability, but doing so will make it easier for the institution to provide what you need, such as reading matter in the appropriate format and adaptations to buildings.

Built environment

These days it is good practice when designing new buildings to consider the needs of people with disabilities. In earlier times sensibilities were not so advanced. However, older buildings can be adapted to meet the needs of students with disabilities through:

  • enabling wheelchair users to move between floors, down outdoor pathways, into lecture halls and auditoriums (do these have space for wheelchairs?), cafes, gyms, toilets, etc.;
  • provision of way-finding aids which do not depend on sight, for example Braille notices and tactile paving, and good colour contrasts on signs and buildings;
  • lighting and acoustic conditions which are suitable for the needs of those with sight or hearing impairments;
  • considering the transport needs of those with walking difficulties if there are distances between buildings;
  • ensuring that hearing loops are functioning, and providing optical equivalents (e.g. flashing lights) of sound-based signals, e.g. sirens or fire alarms;
  • ensuring that classes do not take place in rooms which have unsuitable air quality for asthma or allergy sufferers;
  • ensuring that parking is accessible;
  • providing exercise areas for guide dogs.

Examinations and assessments

Everyone finds these stressful, but you need to make sure that your disability or problem does not add too much to the stress. For example, can alternative examination and assessment arrangements be made, and can you have longer to complete the assessments if you need to use assistive technology? Can you be given extra help with planning assessments and with revision? In actual examinations, are the officers and invigilators aware of possible problems, so that plans can be made? For example, if you are deaf you won't be able to hear the time warnings, if you have a spinal problem you may need to lie flat on your back for 10 minutes, if you are blind you will need the paper in an alternative format.

Faculty

Should treat you with respect and lead other students in so doing. It is important that you explain your problem to the lecturer concerned so that you can get their cooperation.

IT support

In many ways, the revolution in information and communications technology has made life easier for those with a disability – for example, printed material in electronic form can be read with a screen reader, and there is a wide range of specialist equipment which can help.

The Web is a good enabler for people with disabilities, providing the website is accessible according to guidelines specified by the World Wide Web consortium – the . Your university website and intranet should comply to these guidelines as a matter of good practice at least – or even of law in some countries.

Computers should be adapted so that they can be operated by switch or voice input. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, adjustments may need to be made to the monitor to avoid flickering. Scanners should be provided so that you can scan material into electronic format.

Lectures

Classes need to be held in places which are accessible.

If you are deaf or hearing disabled, can you have a sign language interpreter? Or can you get someone to record the lecturer and then get a copy typist to type it? (This may also help those who get tired easily or find sitting for long periods painful.) Can the lecturer make his or her lecture notes available? Can you arrange to sit in the front row and lip-read? (If so, make sure that the lecturer is aware of your problem and does not talk with back to class when he/she turns to the whiteboard!)

If you are blind or visually disabled, the lecturer should explain visual aids.

Reading material

Most universities produce a wide range of reading material around courses: book lists, handouts, etc. If you have a visual disability these should be supplied in a different format: Braille, large print, tape, or in electronic form on a disc or on the intranet.

Is it possible to get handouts and booklists in advance, to give you more time to prepare?

Seminars

On postgraduate courses such as MBAs, much work will be done in seminars so the "teacher" will not just be one individual but several – i.e. the other students! Relying on a tape recording after the event means that you miss the chance to participate. Sign language interpreters are an obvious bonus here, but if you have to rely on lip-reading, make sure that everybody understands this and that they face you when they talk. For both signing and lip-reading, turn taking, and avoidance of people talking on top of one another, is vital.

Study skills

Can you get special help with areas of need, for example, research technique, reading, writing, time management, revision for exams?

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, can you have a qualified support teacher or tutor, e.g. for language tuition and concept support?

The whole area of study skills can prove particularly problematic for disabled PhD students, who might be thought to have "mastered" these by the time they pursue advanced study, but who may experience particular problems because of the uniqueness of the issues and because of having to use research techniques at a much more advanced level. They may need to use alternative approaches to research, for example semi-structured interviews by telephone is not a method that can easily be used (at least without assistive technology) if you are deaf or have a speech disability. Students' supervisors should be sensitive enough to discuss adaptation of common research techniques to particular situations.

Timetables and the curriculum

This refers both to the content of the curriculum of a particular course, and the way that it is put together in a sequence of activities.

Can the curriculum be adapted to meet particular requirements, for example if it requires discussion and you have a communication problem with speech or hearing?

Can the duration of seminars and tutorials be suited to the needs of your assistive technology, for example if you are using a speech synthesizer?

Are all areas where classes are timetabled accessible? Do students have to travel long distances between classes, which may be difficult for those with mobility problems?

Many courses depend explicitly or implicitly on informal learning opportunities, for example, groups of students on MBA courses may get together in the cafeteria to discuss a group assignment: such areas should be accessible.


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