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National Subject Centre for Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

Workshop Report: Providing Learning Support for d/Deaf or Hearing-impaired Students

The workshop started by discussing why so few had chosen to attend, and why none of the four who did were 'front-line academics'. The perception of deafness and hearing impairment was felt to be an issue. Deafness is less visible than many other disabilities; it may generate as much irritation as sympathy; it may be associated with age rather than the stereotypically youthful student; and it may be thought to be capable of simple technical solutions - "they get a hearing aid, don't they"? We concluded that deafness awareness among academics needs improvement.

Also problematic for staff is the wide range of deafness conditions (pre-lingual or post-lingual deafness; its severity; BSL or lip-reading). The group placed emphasis on proper consideration by students and staff of the demands of a degree scheme and the adaptations which might be needed, at an early stage in the UCAS process. However, this highlighted the additional difficulties which necessarily arise when the applicant comes from overseas or arrives at the last minute through Clearing; consultation may be severely truncated.

Since many staff will encounter d/Deaf students only occasionally in their careers, the need was stressed for a true partnership between students, departmental staff, admissions officers (especially if these are not departmentally based) and disability support staff. The workshop's case studies showed that all parties have much to learn from each other. Elements of this partnership (e.g. the attitudes and prior educational experiences of the student and the responsiveness of the members of staff) may be unhelpfully variable and not wholly controllable. These elements can affect markedly the success of such a partnership approach. The workshop stressed the paramount need for sensitivity on all sides when dealing with individual cases. Finally the workshop noted how few of the severely d/Deaf succeeded in getting into higher education and how far we still are from true equality of opportunity.

Gordon Clark
Lancaster University

The workshop was based on the Web-based guide: 'Providing Learning Support for d/Deaf or Hearing-impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities'

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