Providing Learning Support for Students with Mobility Impairments Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

Case Studies


Mary is a mature student with chronic back injury caused through lifting patients when nursing, before becoming a student. She is allowed to make her own way to field sites in her own vehicle. When on residential courses she provides her own bed support. She carries out fieldwork within her physical capabilities, and alternative activities may be provided where necessary.

Provided by Dr Richard Howell, Bolton Institute


A first year geomorphology field course requires walking up and down steep terrain for part of an exercise. Each student is asked to fill in a form where they have the opportunity to identify dietary requirements or health and disability issues of which they think that staff should be aware. Where asthma is declared as a problem, the likely effect on their ability to cope with steep terrain and long walking distances is discussed with each student. If they feel that they cannot cope, they are allowed to remain with the bus and read relevant literature on the site, supplied by staff. At both locations to which this applies, only part of the day requires strenuous activity, and so all students can participate in some of the day. Students who do not visit all field locations are assessed on the sites they have visited, and any additional notes made from the literature provided. The procedure generally works well, although it is reliant upon the students assessing their own abilities accurately. On occasions when they have underestimated the strength and stamina required, they have been escorted safely back to the bus in the company of another person.

Provided by Dr Tim Brewer, Cranfield University

Higher Education Institution x

This institution has had several students with ME, and has had to structure field trips so that they do not get over-tired. This has been done, either by shortening the trips, or by ensuring that the students get a rest in the afternoons, and that their companions do not keep them awake at night. In each case the student has told the institution what they can do, and the programme has been designed accordingly.

Source: Hall et al. (2001)

Higher Education Institution y

All students (disabled or not) are invited to inform staff of any mobility/fitness problems they may have. Several members of staff suggested that alternative, low level/easy terrain routes were arranged. This did lead to some students to miss some sites, in which case assessment was amended to miss out questions on these.

Source: Hall et al. (2001)

Open University

The Open University attempts to provide field experience in geology during its residential summer schools for any student who wishes to benefit from it, subject to safety considerations. Students may be requested to attend during a particular week when additional support resources, such as additional tutors, demonstrators and helpers, can be concentrated. Most students travel by coach, but some may use their own, adapted, transport. Some localities are wheelchair-accessible, others require additional helpers or the use of, for example, crutches. Access is to some extent governed not just by absolute accessibility, but also by safety considerations, especially when sites are working quarries, where some operators are reluctant to allow disabled access. In cases where locations cannot be accessed, alternative learning experiences are provided, for example by using videos, slides and overhead projector transparencies of localities, along with samples of rocks and fossils, as appropriate. These can also be used for all students on days when weather conditions make sites inaccessible for all. A virtual fieldcourse is also being developed on CD-ROM.

Based on telephone interview with G. Easterbrook of the Open University

Portsmouth 1

I have been aware for some time that there was a sector within the geoscience undergraduate cohort that was being disadvantaged by their inability to participate in fieldwork. I was also aware that the pattern of employment in the geoscience sector was changing and that many of our graduates were finding vocational employment that actually involved no fieldwork and was often computer-based. Therefore why exclude people with disabilities?

In rewriting our definitive course documents, I decided that our 'flexible pathway' - Earth Sciences (which involves a lot of student choice) could be restructured to include those students who could not participate fully or even at all in fieldwork. I included the phrase 'Students will normally be expected to study XXX (the unit with fieldwork) unless there are extenuating circumstances such as a medical condition or other compelling reason'. This prevents students opting out of fieldwork because they say that they cannot afford it.

In practise, it is always evaluated on an individual basis. The student comes to us with a known condition. We have a very good disability unit here and they are very supportive. If we have a student who can do no fieldwork at all then this is no problem. They just go onto the Earth Science pathway and select options that do not include fieldwork. The problems arise when the disability is such that they can (and want to) do some fieldwork but are not capable of undertaking all of it. All fieldwork is subject to a Health and Safety Appraisal and this consideration overrides any other. I then sit down with the student concerned and the Undergraduate Tutor and we go through the fieldcourse and decide what components the student can or can't do. We then assess whether it is feasible for the student to attend, if it is financially viable and if the student will be doing enough for us to make a meaningful assessment at the end. We certainly do not have sufficient funds or staff to allow the luxury of additional helpers on a fieldcourse just to aid one individual. Where alternate transport can be sensibly arranged we will do so. Certain medical conditions need to be monitored and all fieldcourse leaders have a manifest that details medical conditions and if necessary appraises staff of what to do if emergencies arise.

All students must do an independent 4 week field based project in the long vacation between their 2nd & 3rd years. Clearly we monitor that very carefully.

From Dr M. Barker, Portsmouth University

Portsmouth 2

Moira is a mature (35-ish) female student with mild disability - an extra sacral vertebra and limited mobility in her left arm. She cannot walk very far and so she has done no fieldwork and is on the Earth Sciences pathway. However, she is very interested in palaeontology and so a field study for her project was devised that allowed her to obtain vehicular access to Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight. She collected her samples for micropalaeontological analysis and a member of staff who lives on the island transported them back to the laboratory.

From Dr M. Barker, Portsmouth University

Portsmouth 3

Michael is a first year student on the Palaeobiology and Evolution pathway who has serious medical problems. He has a rare genetic defect which means that he develops malignant cancers. He has had total body irradiation in addition to powerful medication, and has to administer intravenous gamma globulin injections to himself every three weeks. He is as keen as mustard and the University is determined that we give him the education he wants. We have a local GP who monitors him and we have two trained first-aiders in the school who are appraised of the situation. It may well be that they will have to be given some specialist training in support of this student (and John Radcliffe Hospital have offered). This is an ongoing situation and we have not taken him on a residential fieldcourse yet; he is physically mobile but gets a bit tired!

From Dr M. Barker, Portsmouth University

Page updated 14 December 2001

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