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

Editors' Preface

Awareness of the need to develop inclusive practices, which provide equal opportunities for disabled students in various parts of their courses, is beginning to spread through Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK. This has been stimulated by the publication of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) (2000) Code of Practice — Students with Disabilities and the extension of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) to education through the Special Education Needs and Disability Act (2001).

This series of guides to providing support to disabled students undertaking fieldwork and related activities is the main output from a project funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England's (HEFCE) Improving Provision for Disabled Students Funding Programme.

The advantage of focusing on fieldwork is that many of the issues faced by disabled students in higher education are magnified in this form of teaching and learning. If the barriers to full participation by everyone can be reduced or overcome it is likely that our awareness of the obstacles to their full participation in other learning activities will be heightened and the difficulties of overcoming the barriers will be lessened.

The project has been undertaken by the Geography Discipline Network, a consortium of old and new universities based at the University of Gloucestershire, whose aim is to research, develop and disseminate good learning and teaching practices in geography and related disciplines. This project was undertaken by a group of geographers, earth and environmental scientists working alongside disability advisers and educational developers.

There are six guides in the set. The first provides an overview of the issues involved including the role of fieldwork models of disability, barriers and strategies and the legislative and quality assurance frameworks. It also discusses ways of developing an inclusive fieldwork curriculum and the role on institutional disability advisers. The text is peppered with case studies and boxed examples of good practices. Each of the remaining guides addresses the application of these general issues along with the particular circumstances involved in providing support to particular groups of disabled students:

These categories are ones commonly used in providing information, support and analysis of disabilities. Furthermore, many of the obstacles that disabled students face in undertaking fieldwork, and the appropriate methods of overcoming or minimising them, are specific to the kind of disability. Despite using medical categories for describing disabilities we are committed to emphasising a social model to exploring disability, which emphasises the barriers to disabled students which society creates. The distinction between the medical and social model is important because it shifts the responsibility for improving the provision for disabled students from individuals (blaming the victim), to society and the strategies and policies that higher education institutions and their constituent departments develop and enact. The emphasis of this series of guides is on identifying the barriers that disabled students face to participating fully in fieldwork and the ways in which institutions, departments and tutors taking field classes can help to reduce or overcome them.

The net outcome of the quality assurance and legislative changes is that HEIs will need to treat disability issues in a more structured and transparent way. In particular we may expect to see a relative shift of emphasis from issues of recruitment and physical access to issues of parity of the learning experience that disabled students receive. The implication of this shift is that disability issues 'cannot remain closed within a student services arena but must become part of the mainstream learning and teaching debate' (Adams & Brown, 2000, p.8). But there is an opportunity here as well as a challenge. As we become more sensitive to the diversity of student needs we can adjust how we teach and facilitate learning in ways which will benefit all our students.

Phil Gravestock and Mick Healey

University of Gloucestershire

November 2001


Adams, M. & Brown, P. (2000) 'The times they are a changing': Developing disability provision in UK Higher Education, paper presented to Pathways 4 Conference, Canberra, Australia, December 6-8

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock