Issues in Providing Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

The Role of Institutional Disability Advisers

Abstract: This section examines the role played by the Disabled Students Adviser (DSA). It is argued that awareness and knowledge of disability issues should be spread throughout the institution, supported by the DSA, rather than being concentrated in a few hands. An example of one institution's strategy for achieving this is given.

Most HEIs employ at least one person with special responsibility for disabled students. Within this post there can be a tension between the roles of a) providing individual support and advice to disabled students and b) acting as an adviser to other sections of the institution. The danger is that the first of these roles becomes extremely time-consuming and leaves little space for the second. If academic staff automatically refer disabled students to this person, their caseload can become overwhelming. However, there is a move towards a broad range of academic and other staff becoming responsible for ensuring that courses and facilities are accessible to disabled students. This requires the Disability Officer/Adviser to be a resource to those staff who need information and ideas on how to make their courses as open as possible to students with a diverse range of needs (Box 28).

Box 28: Balancing specialist provision with more general responsibility for disabled students throughout the organisation: the case of Oxford Brookes

Responsibility for co-ordination of support for disabled students rests with the Disabled Students Adviser (DSA) and the Head of Student Services. A network of special tutors is being developed, one in each Academic School. These tutors provide liaison between the DSA and the School, and are expected to become a source of expertise on the learning needs of disabled students in a particular range of disciplines and to supplement the support provided by the student's own personal tutor.

The DSA is often the first point of contact for disabled applicants and the DSA provides advice, information and co-ordination of support for disabled students from this pre-application stage, through the application process and throughout the course:

Services such as those provided at Oxford Brookes University have to look beyond the academic departments in order to ensure that staff in libraries, computing support, catering and residential accommodation, make their facilities accessible to disabled students. An institution-wide approach to disability is likely to be much more effective than one-off "fixes" for individual students. For examples of disability policies and practices in UK higher education institutions visit the CANDO Web site at

Page updated 14 December 2001

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