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

Setting the Scene


The increased interest in disability issues is part of a larger agenda concerned with widening access and participation in higher education. Some of the current interest in higher education in the UK was inspired by the Dearing Report's call for reducing the disparities in the participation of disabled students. It noted that "disability awareness is poorly developed in most HEIs" (NCIHE, 1997, p.3).

The project, which this introductory guide forms a part, is designed to identify, promote and transfer the principles and good practices of how to provide learning support for disabled students undertaking fieldwork and related activities. Many of the issues faced by disabled students are magnified in this form of teaching and learning will, of course, have been identified in the context of on-campus teaching and learning activities before students participate in their first fieldtrip. However, when on fieldwork existing issues may become enhanced and other issues may become apparent for the first time.

This guide is intended as an introduction and overview to five other guides that examine specific issues in providing learning support for students with particular disabilities undertaking fieldwork:

More than 4% of undergraduate students in the UK (22,500) self-assessed themselves as having a disability in 1998/9. Given that there is no obligation for students to report a disability, the actual number may be closer to 10%. Despite common perceptions of the students who registered themselves as having a disability, less than 5% were wheelchair users or had mobility difficulties. The most common category was unseen disabilities, such as epilepsy, diabetes or asthma (39%); dyslexia was the next most common category with 26% of students declaring a disability; a further 12% assessed themselves as having 'other disabilities'; 6% had multiple disabilities, and 6% were deaf or had a hearing impairment. None of the other categories (blind/partially sighted, personal care support, and mental health difficulties) accounted for more than 5% of the disabled students (Table 1). Many conditions are temporary, such as a broken limb, and do not appear in these figures. The guide on mental health refers to a recent survey which suggests that approximately 10-15 per cent of students are experiencing difficulties that may benefit from, or require, some form of professional intervention, ranging from counselling to medication or, more rarely, hospitalisation.

Table 1: Self-assessed disabilities by UK undergraduates 1998/99
Self-assessed disability %
Unseen disabilities (e.g. epilepsy, diabetes, asthma) 39.0
Dyslexia 25.5
'Other disabilities' 12.1
Multiple disabilities 6.6
Deaf/hearing impairment 5.8
Wheelchair user/mobility difficulties 4.7
Blind/visual impairment 3.3
Mental health difficulties 2.8
Personal care support 0.2

Source: HESA (2000)

Our aim, in this guide, is to identify and discuss some of the general issues that apply to providing learning support for disabled students going on fieldcourses and undertaking fieldwork whether for a day or a week, and whether as part of a class activity or an independent project.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock