Providing Learning Support for Blind or Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

How to Prepare Yourself and Your Colleagues

Educational entitlements and requirements

Any fieldwork policy based on individual tutors making arbitrary decisions as to how to accommodate the needs of blind and visually impaired students is no longer acceptable. The needs and rights of such students are now enshrined in a range of legislative and regulatory frameworks, and these need to be understood and taken on board by fieldwork tutors.

Relevant legislation

The 1990s saw considerable advances in legal support for visually impaired people in terms of their educational expectations. As a result of recent legislation, visually impaired students are now entitled to the same learning experiences as sighted students. The main legislation is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/pubs/ada.txt). In Australia, the relevant legislation is the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1992 (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/dda1992264/). The Human Rights Act (HMSO, 1998) means that visually impaired students throughout the European Union may have recourse to the law if they receive less than equal rights to various forms of education.

As far as UK legislation is concerned, the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was a major landmark, especially in terms of the employment rights of the disabled. Although higher education was exempt from the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, it was required to produce a publicly accessible Disability Statement. (An example can be found at the University of Southampton Web site: http://www.soton.ac.uk/~acreg/dis/dsintro.html.) From 2000, the HE Funding Councils have required that this statement be updated and made available to all students and staff. The passing of the Special Education Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) in 2001 was a further landmark as it extended the provisions of the DDA to higher education. For details see the Overview guide in this series.

Policy within higher education

As far as institutions and departments are concerned, the relevant policy guidelines are those provided by the funding councils and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). In its Code of Practice on Assessment (QAA, 2000), it states very clearly that programme specifications should include no unnecessary barriers to access by disabled people. Its guidance includes the proposal that:

"Institutions should consider establishing procedures which ensure that:

The QAA's Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards for Students with Disabilities (QAA, 1999), which came into force in September 2000, is designed to assist institutions in ensuring that disabled students have access to a learning experience which is comparable with that of their non-disabled peers. It contains 24 precepts against which institutions will be assessed and covers the student experience from pre-entry to exit. The Code makes clear its expectations in relation to fieldwork and study overseas in Precept 11:

"Institutions should ensure that, wherever possible, disabled students have access to academic and vocational placements including fieldtrips and study abroad."

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Code of Practice: Students with Disabilities (QAA, 1999) asks institutions to:

"Consider making arrangements which ensure that all academic and technical staff:

Issues for the future

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) is likely to have a much greater impact on higher education than the DDA. The Bill, published in 2000, identifies two significant policy imperatives for higher education institutions:

The advocacy of making ‘reasonable adjustments’, which would prevent disabled students from being placed at substantial disadvantage in comparison to students who are not disabled, will need to be considered very carefully by departments planning fieldcourses. These ‘reasonable adjustments’, which may be made to admissions procedures, course content, placements, teaching arrangements, provision of information and examinations, bring to the fore significant questions relating to the maintenance of educational standards and the assurance of equal opportunities in and out of the classroom. (See the Field Study Strategies, Curriculum Design, and Mutual Adjustment Model documents for related discussion.) Several of these issues need to be discussed by the staff who are likely to be involved in field teaching. (See the accompanying section on Raising Staff Awareness.) For further discussion of the legislation and quality assurance framework see the Overview guide in this series.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock