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

Practical Matters

Staff development and training

For the reasons mentioned above, most academic staff have little experience of familiarity with catering for the needs of students with mobility (or other) impairments. It is important that all members of the fieldwork team appreciate some of the difficulties and the likely demands for change. Some staff training could be organised in advance of the fieldwork to bring about a base-level of knowledge and understanding. Stefani (2000) discusses the implications of the QAA (2000) Code of Practice for educational developers.

A word of caution is necessary here. In the past some training events have attempted to familiarise people without impairments what it is like to experience life with an impairment by means of various kinds of simulation, such as spending time in a wheelchair, or using vision-restricting goggles. Although there is still a diversity of views, this approach is now regarded as being unacceptable by many people with impairments, on both conceptual and practical grounds. They argue that we do not teach what it is like to be a person of a different ethnic background by using make-up or boot polish, or what it is like to be a member of the opposite sex by cross-dressing. Physical impairment should therefore not be treated differently. In practical terms, the objection is that a short-term experience of a particular impairment is not particularly meaningful when the "trainee" cannot experience the full range of social and physical barriers, and knows that in a short time the experience is over.

Some people with mobility impairments have written very effectively on their experience. For example, in Life On Wheels Karp (1999) gives a general overview of the experience of using a wheelchair as an active, independent adult. He demystifies the lives of people with mobility disabilities, explains how they adapt, and how present-day society is at odds with the truth of the disability experience, and shows how wheelchair users are increasingly full participants in their communities, the workplace, and their families. The book has many quotations from vibrant, involved and active people.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock