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

Before Fieldwork

Fieldwork planning

Before embarking on fieldwork it is necessary to carry out a great deal of detailed planning work. This might involve establishing the precise details of any mobility impairments of students, consideration of the fieldwork programme as a whole, consideration of specific activities, discussion with students, and, if possible, reconnaissance of the provisional locations and itineraries. It cannot be over-stressed that discussion with students is vital at this stage. Only they can judge what is possible and what is not, although they will have to make some of the judgements on the basis of your knowledge of the area and of any physical limitations likely to be encountered. It is important to remember that students with mobility impairments might be able to cope with accessing field locations, but will often take longer to do so. Precept 2 of the QAA (2000) Code of Practice could reasonably be interpreted as applying to field locations here:

"informed timetabling arrangements which ensure that there is enough time between classes to enable students with mobility impairments to travel between them."

In addition, students with mobility impairments might tire more easily than other students, and this will need to be taken into account in planning (see Case Study - Higher Education Institution x). Ideally, someone familiar with the problems should carry out a reconnaissance, preferably under the same conditions as students will be working. Part of the planning process might involve consultation with others, including operators of transport facilities and sites to be visited. Some might have specific policies with respect to access for students with mobility impairment, and some might even be able to offer help and assistance.

It is important to remember at the planning stage that, as emphasised above, inclusive means inclusive. This cannot be stressed too often. Whilst there is a clear temptation to concentrate on mobility impairment in terms of access to field sites, for the students other aspects of the field course might be just as important, or even more so. Thus social and domestic considerations need to be planned, to ensure that students with mobility impairments have access to the whole of the fieldwork experience. Questions concerning washing and toilet facilities are perhaps fairly obvious, but others concerning dining arrangements and access to social facilities are less so. In some cases it might be necessary to ensure that someone meets the student on arrival at the fieldcourse venue, and to secure a disabled car-parking space (see Case Study - Bolton).

Confidentiality and disclosure of personal information

An important source of information for planning purposes is students' self-declared expressions of any medical conditions or impairment. These should be sought in such a way as to ensure that students feel confident in revealing all that is necessary, including not only the more obvious physical impairments, but less obvious conditions such as vertigo, which can limit mobility. In planning, the allocation of staff numbers and devising of alternative activities should always take into account the worst-case scenario which is likely to develop (see Case Study - Faction for a nightmare!), whilst balancing likelihood and impact as is done in risk assessment procedures. This can only be done on the basis of accurate knowledge. Students have to be confident that information will be kept in strictest confidence, and confined to specific staff only. Any discussions with students have to be held in a spirit of trust, and with a view to inclusion rather than exclusion.

Travel arrangements will usually need very careful consideration. Fortunately, there is much detailed guidance available from various organisations, as detailed further in Practical Matters.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock