Issues in Providing Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities
Creating and Inclusive Fieldwork Curriculum
Preparatory meetings, discussion, explanation and materials
Accessibility can be achieved in two different ways. A 'product' or 'service' is directly accessible if anyone can use it as it stands. However, this will not always be possible, so some products or services may only be directly accessible by, for example, working with some external enabling technological devices or with the help of a personal assistant.
Preparatory or briefing meetings with any disabled students on the fieldcourse are usually sensible to ensure that they achieve the most from the experience, and that they understand what both the group and they as individuals will be doing. This may be the last occasion on which students undertaking free-standing fieldwork are seen before they start their study, so it is important in this case for the tutor to establish how any further communication will take place.
It is useful to have all the relevant support materials available in written or other appropriate form prior to departure, to allow the disabled students to prepare themselves fully. Provision of detailed daily plans — including such things as timings of activities, what the students will be expected to do at different points in the day and the availability of toilets — will help reduce anxiety and is a key approach, particularly for helping students with mental health difficulties. A multimedia approach may be helpful for the production of support materials. In other words, consider the use of all types of materials in an integrated way expressed as much as possible in the form of text, diagrams and audio. For example, the essence of a diagram could be captured in text (which could be spoken as well as written) (Box 19).
Several actions may be suggested at this stage:
- In particular for certain students/activities, exploit the capabilities of new technologies, where these can be used either as part-substitute, as preparation, or in the field and/or follow-up activities.
- In written materials use simple clear language, large font sizes.
- Think about sequencing and layout of materials in explanations - non-linear approaches may be more difficult to access, or confusing for some students (while recognising that for some students this may be their cognitive style).
- Adhere to consistent agreed standards regarding materials and activities; while being flexible where appropriate.
- Discuss these and related issues with other staff involved in the field trip.
- Ensure that any training needs are met, and that all parties understand the proposed arrangements.
Box 19: Some questions for fieldcourse teams to discuss at the preparation stage
- How familiar is the destination and specific sites to staff accompanying, or responsible for, the fieldwork?
- Does the chosen location and sites present particular challenges in relation to mobility, visual impairment or other disabilities? If sites are not all accessible, can alternative arrangements be made that will not unreasonably disadvantage students?
- Does the chosen accommodation ensure that all students have full access to facilities?
- What are the particular requirements (including accommodation and transport) for helpers that will support particular students?
- Has the nature of any group work been appropriately explained to the student group? Is it possible that some students can watch or direct particular investigations in operation (for example, the measurement of river flow, the questioning of local residents, or the sketching of an exposure) so that they understand the process but not be required to demonstrate that they can do it themselves?
- Are there opportunities for students and other staff to suggest different tasks or other ways of doing those tasks that meet the required learning outcomes?
- Are there strategies in place to accommodate the unexpected turn of events?
- Does the proposed assessment raise particular problems to students with specific disabilities? Could it be altered in ways that develop and test the required learning but do not discriminate against such students?
- Do the disabled students understand what is intended to happen on the fieldcourse?
- Should the evaluation strategy focus on particular issues regarding disability? Should there be, say, a three year cycle where particular issues are addressed over that time period?
© Geography Discipline Network/authors, 2001
ISBN: 1 86174 113 8