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

Some Challenges

Abstract: After presenting some common stereotypes and myths about disability this section examines some scenarios presenting a range of practical situations that provide challenges to staff concerned with running fieldcourses.

Many stereotypes and myths surround the idea of disability. It is as well to put some of these to rest before dealing with practical situations (Boxes 3 and 4).

Box 3: Some common stereotypes about disability

Some common stereotypes that have emerged from a history of devaluing people with a disability include:

(Based on University of Newcastle, 2001, Part I, p.4).

Box 4: Some common myths about disability

Some common myths about students with disabilities include:

Equal opportunity means that everyone is treated the same - so students with disabilities should not get any 'special treatment'

Students with disabilities require too much staff time and their needs are inordinately difficult to cater for at university

Students with disabilities create substantial costs through the need to provide extra equipment and academic time

Students with disabilities would be better off studying externally

(Based on University of Newcastle, 2001, Part I, pp.4-5).

The following factions present some examples of practical situations that provide challenges to staff concerned with running fieldcourses, which involve disabled students. Thinking through your responses to these situations should help you to identify several of the issues that are involved in providing learning support for disabled students undertaking fieldwork and related activities.

  1. Tom had a leg amputated as a child. Nevertheless, with the aid of crutches he is very agile in the field (more agile than other students and certainly some of the staff), and on a recent fieldcourse had no problem scaling steep mountain paths in the Lake District, and carrying out all the required fieldwork.

Question: At a departmental meeting where forthcoming fieldcourses are discussed, some staff mindful of recent accidents involving school students on school trips abroad asked whether Tom should be allowed to come and if so how would they be insured against any claims of malpractice if there was an accident involving that student? However, other staff argued for an inclusive policy. The department expects to be reviewed by the QAA the following year. What would you contribute to this discussion?

  1. Claire is an epileptic who has fits once or twice a year, which can lead her to have black-outs. These may be due to her failing to take medication regularly, but may also sometimes be due to unconscious reoccurring seizures.

Question: What are the appropriate decisions about whether she should be allowed to participate in fieldcourses; and if so what if any special arrangements need to be made? Who in the department and the institution has responsibility here?

  1. As part of a fieldcourse you are training students to conduct on-street interviews of the public about their shopping habits. The students will work in groups of four, each group being in a different part of town. Winston is deaf and uses a signing interpreter at university.

Question: How can you ensure equality of opportunity for Winston in this exercise? What should the field course leader and Winston's fellow students do before, during and after the field exercise?

  1. The study of river flow is being conducted just below the weir after heavy rain and in rather gusty conditions. All the standard precautions have been taken by you and your field assistants to ensure the safe operation of this exercise. Helen is partially sighted.

Question: What, if anything, should you do additionally to ensure her safety and that of the students around her?

  1. Students are working in pairs to examine sedimentary rocks up a small cliff face, a few yards from an accessible path. Fred and Catherine work together. Catherine is unable to walk, and uses a wheelchair.

Question: How should the students divide the responsibilities for measuring the beds, describing the rock types, taking notes and so on. What should staff advise?

  1. Sacha, who has severe dyslexia, is undertaking an independent project on moraine deposits in a group of three involving a project proposal, collection and analysis of field samples on the second year fieldcourse and presentation of the findings by a poster.

Question: What, if any, assistance and advice would you give Sacha and the other students in her group? How can the assessment of the task be designed to enable all to feel equally involved and intellectually stretched?

There is a danger of thinking of the challenges of designing inclusive fieldcourses as a series of problems. It is worth remembering the significant gains which have been made in higher education in recent years in giving greater recognition to gender, race and different learning styles. Improving the opportunities for disabled students to participate in fieldwork can be seen as a move to improve our teaching and the quality of the learning experiences we provide.

Page updated 14 December 2001

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