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

The Impact of Mobility Impairment on Fieldwork

At one level, the impact of mobility impairment on the inclusion of students with mobility impairment in fieldwork activities might seem obvious. "Students in wheelchairs or with cerebral palsy cannot climb mountains, ford rivers or cross rough terrain". Yet this is a naïve view, for at least two reasons. First, and philosophically, it is an essentially medical approach based on exclusion rather than one which views disability from a social perspective, and hence takes working towards inclusion as the starting point. And secondly, people in wheelchairs or with cerebral palsy can do, and have done, all of these activities. As we will show, a mental attitude which emphasises what all people can do, and social inclusion, rather than what some can not do, and hence exclusion, helps overcome perceived physical barriers, and opens up mental horizons (see Case Study - Portsmouth 3. Note that throughout this guide, examples are real, but use fictitious names to preserve anonymity).

At another level, the impact of students' mobility impairments on fieldwork is not so obvious. Academic staff might readily anticipate difficulties of access and terrain. What is not so obvious is the need for careful consideration of other aspects of activities, such as toilet facilities, timing changes necessitated by the need to load and unload wheelchairs from vehicles, and meal arrangements, such as ensuring that wheelchair users can cope with self-service cafeteria.

In addition, inclusion really does mean inclusion. There is little point in devising arrangements whereby a student with mobility impairment can take part in a day's activities if he or she is excluded from other academic activities associated with fieldwork, including preparatory and follow-up work, let alone the domestic and social life associated with it. Thus for residential fieldcourses, there is a whole raft of issues associated with domestic arrangements, including sleeping, eating and washing, as well as access to social facilities. Finally, consideration has to be given to other academic facilities which might be used during the fieldwork, such as lecture rooms, libraries or laboratories, or public buildings. An all-inclusive approach to fieldwork is exemplified by The Kepplewray Centre Case Study.

Page updated 14 December 2001

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