These fictitious scenarios demonstrate some of the challenges faced by students with disabilities during their time at university and offer suggestions on how university staff can assist students to achieve their academic potential.
Case 1. Learning Disability
Allan is in his second year of a Bachelor of Education. Allan is registered with Disability Services as he has dyslexia. Allan's lecturer is aware of Allan's disability and approaches the disability adviser regarding how best to support Allan in his studies.
- The lecturer advises that she usually arranges pop quizzes for the class with little notice. The main impact of Alan's dyslexia is that he often reads and rereads material with little comprehension. As such, Allan requires extra time to read, preferring to use natural reader software where possible. Allowing Allan extra time to complete the in class pop quiz, may be helpful, but may also make Allan feel singled out, as will putting him in another room to use Natural Reader. The disability advisor suggests the lecturer consider allowing the tests to be completed as open book tests outside of class time for all students. The lecturer can provide an electronic copy of the tests to Allan so he can utilise his Natural Reader software at home. The disability advisor also explains to the lecturer that this adjustment to her teaching style will make the class more inclusive as a whole and can assist students, such as those with anxiety and vision impairments.
- The lecturer states she uses a lot of overhead slides when delivering her lecturers and then embellishes with anecdotes and examples during the lecture. Allan finds it difficult to read the slides and cannot then relate what is on the slides to the examples the lecturer is giving. The disability advisor encourages the lecturer to email a copy of the slides to Allan prior to the lecture to allow Allan to read these so he can better grasp what is being taught during the lecture.
Case 2. Hearing Impairment
Charmaine is in her first year of a Bachelor of Exercise and sports science. Charmaine has a hearing impairment and uses hearing aids in both ears. She spends a great deal of energy concentrating on hearing during her lectures. The lecturer liaises with the disability adviser for some suggestions on how to better accommodate Charmaine's disability.
- The Disability Advisor suggests the Lecturer face Charmaine where possible when speaking as Charmaine also uses lip-reading to understand.
- The Lecturer is also asked to avoid writing on the whiteboard and talking at the same time as it is challenging for Charmaine to hear and makes it impossible for her to lip read.
- During tutorials the Lecturer is advised to be aware that if more than one person is speaking at a time Charmaine will have trouble hearing.
- The Disability Advisor also suggested the Lecturer record his lectures where possible and make the lecture notes available to Charmaine prior to the lecturers so she can be up to speed with the content. Allowing her better engagement with the lecture.
Case 3. Mental Health Conditions
Jemima is undertaking a Masters of Social Work. She suffers with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression. Jemima has been hospitalised due this in the past and is known to her community mental health team. Jemima is due to undertake her social work practicum and the placement co-ordinator has approached the Disability Adviser to discuss the challenges and potential supports that can be offered to Jemima in her practicum.
- Both parties agree it is important Jemima not be placed with an agency where she may come into contact with treating health professionals from her local mental health team. This is a conflict of interest and could be very distressing for Jemima. The Disability Advisor and Placement co-ordinator also liaise with Jemima to ensure there are no particular environments or client groups that may trigger her anxiety or depressive illness.
- Jemima's medications can affect her sleep patterns and this in turn causes lethargy and fatigue. In addition to this, Jemima must attend medical appointments regularly. It is agreed that, with Jemima's consent, she can undertake her practicum on a part-time basis. The Placement Co-ordinator will also attempt to locate a placement close to Jemima's home, to minimise travel time, with some flexibility around attendance should Jemima feel unwell or need to attend a medical appointment.
Case 4. Vision Impairment
Nathan is vision impaired and relies on a guide dog for mobility. He receives some of his course material in Braille and some in electronic formats to be used with natural reader software. Nathan's lecturer is unsure how to best accommodate his disability during lectures and tutorials. The lecturer also wants advice on the appropriate way to interact with Nathan's guide dog and the best way to impart this to students who seem unaware of the etiquette. The disability advisor suggests the following:
- Due to the tight timeframes for obtaining alternate formats and material in Braille, the lecturer is encouraged to adhere to the policy guidelines regarding when course outlines should be available on LEO and to make essential text lists available as soon as possible.
- The lecturer is discouraged from relying on visual aids during lectures and tutorials and to ensure Nathan has access to electronic copies of handouts, overheads and Power point slides if they are not already available online. Power point text needs to be converted to word, txt, or rtf to be used with Natural Reader Software. This is best done a week prior to class so Nathan can prepare.
- The lecturer is encouraged to read aloud any writing from the board and will need to verbally explain maps, diagrams or charts used in the lecture.
- Any subtitled/captioned videos (for spoken language other than English) are best avoided. If they are used, Nathan will need a private viewing with someone who can read the captions to him.
- The lecturer is directed to the Guide Dogs website for information about Guide Dog etiquette. Having ensured Nathan is comfortable with this approach, it is suggested that the lecturer provide a print out of this information to Nathan's class mates at the beginning of each semester.
Case 5. Medical Condition
Hannah has an arthritic condition and has had a bilateral hip replacement. She has arthritis throughout her lower spine and is in chronic pain. She is studying primary teaching and is coping with the academic work but is worried about doing her practical work. She has previously attempted practicum but had to withdraw as she could not manage the full time block schedule. The Placement co-ordinator meets with the disability advisor to discuss the challenges around arranging Hannah's practicum and some strategies to assist Hannah to complete her placement.
- Pain management is a big concern for Hannah. She struggled in her last placement as the full-time schedule was very taxing on her back and hip, resulting in severe pain and discomfort. The disability adviser and placement co-ordinator agree that a part-time practicum will be more manageable for Hannah and will offer this as an option to her.
- During lectures at University Hannah requires an ergonomic chair with an adjustable back, so she can use her back support cushion. On her practicum, Hannah will also require an ergonomic chair when she is at the desk in the classroom and in the staffroom whilst doing paperwork. The placement co-ordinator will make arrangements with the school to ensure suitable chairs are available to Hannah for the duration of the placement. The placement co-ordinator also talks with Hannah about how Hannah can adapt her teaching style to allow her to move around as needed. The placement coordinator encourages Hannah to alternate between sitting, standing and moving around the classroom to begin developing a style of teaching that will also assist her to manage her disability in the workplace.
- As the placement coordinator has the relationship with the school it is best that they discuss the adjustments required, following consultation with the disability adviser. The placement coordinator needs to discuss with Hannah what level of disclosure she is comfortable with around her disability before the coordinator discusses Hannah's needs with the school. During this discussion it is important Hannah is aware that she does not need to disclose information regarding her disability, however without some level of disclosure it will not be possible for the above adjustments to be put in place.
- As Hannah will be moving on to a career in teaching, the practicum is a great way for Hannah to start considering how she will manage her disability in the workplace and to develop self-advocacy skills to assist her in her career. This can be facilitated by the placement coordinator and will provide Hannah with some valuable lifelong learning.