Disability Support Units' Experiences of Supporting Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork
Nineteen disability advisors replied to the survey; the source of the reply was not always forthcoming i.e. six returns did not include a contact name or address. Fourteen respondents gave evidence of how they had worked with staff and/or students in terms of disability training and provision for fieldwork (one respondent gave advice to staff). Four respondents mentioned early discussion with an applicant or a student at entry to ensure the disabled student's needs would be accommodated. This was reinforced by one advisor who stressed the importance of liaison with LEAs and staff concerning awareness of student disability. Despite this, one disability advisor gave the example of a student who gave up the course because of the department's inability to meet the various needs of the student and the 'field trip was further down the line'. Whilst another advisor illustrated the case of student who had changed out of a course because of fieldwork requirement. Although this was not in geography, earth and environmental sciences but archaeology.
The information provided by the disability advisors tended to restate or augment the information given by the HoD survey. Comments specific to a particular disability were in several instances applicable to all disabilities. Responses to question 2 covered a range of issues related to overcoming barriers. For mobility impaired students the following are the key themes mentioned: access to the department and accessible fieldwork sites, transport arrangements, advice on equipment, use of non-medical helpers/support workers, and general awareness to ensure all possible difficulties are anticipated. In one case reference was made to negotiating the assessment task and time period for the fieldwork. Accounts of dealing with dyslexia mentioned note-take strategies, use of a Dictaphone and a laptop whilst in the field. In fact response to the situation for dyslexic students varied in that one respondent understood no specific support was required whilst as mentioned earlier others provided various 'aids' to help the student. Students with ME (hidden disability) had negotiated extra time for writing up results and rest time whilst in the field. Other hidden disabilities were dealt with by obtaining additional financial support to purchase equipment (lap top), making alternative travel arrangements, and making sure staff were aware of the disability for example epilepsy. In the case of deaf students one institution had provided an interpreter whilst another acknowledged that using a radio microphone had been problematic due to wind and poor reception.
Replies to question 3 illustrated that staff from a geography, earth and environmental sciences department did approach the disability advisor to gain advice on financial issues related to fieldwork, equipment needs, health, safety and welfare issues, medical requirements, support for a disabled student whilst in the field, and insurance and liability cover. Negotiation and awareness of issues was an underlying theme. At one institution the following information was supplied: 'field trips/fieldwork is usually covered in the full needs assessment. We consider each student individually and set up support based on their requirements. The support is usually practical e.g. people, equipment, finance'.
Disability advisors' awareness of whether fieldwork requirements had been modified or waived were minimal (question 5). There was one case of fieldwork requirements being waived, and four cases of modification to fieldwork requirements: one for assessment; one to allow group-work; another to provide material accessible to a visually impaired student, and finally for a student who could not attend the field trip samples were gathered and given to the student who produced results from laboratory work. This student also received extra tuition sessions with staff and students. There were even fewer responses to question 6 which asked the disability advisor to give evidence of issues experienced when working with disabled students on fieldwork. The following replies were given: 'One group of students did not feel that the disabled member of their group contributed fully' and 'one tutor was anxious about responsibilities' and 'proof reading, help on structuring - dissertations'.
Eight respondents had been involved in disability equality training for staff from geography, earth and environmental sciences (question 7). The nature of this training was: four respondents involved in general training, two in deaf training, one for the blind and one for dyslexia. However, one respondent mentioned the disability support team is available for university staff. Only one respondent stated that the unit produced a written policy of guidelines (question 8).
Five advisors stated that they had no experience of dealing with disability in geography, earth or environmental sciences. However, three had been involved in disability equality training for staff from geography, earth and environmental sciences departments. Of these three advisors, two undertook general training whilst the third person had experience of mobility, blind, deaf and dyslexia training. One respondent stated that 'after speaking to the HoD it is clear that the geographical location of the fieldwork is the biggest problem which would affect a student with a mobility impairment. Students with other types of disability do not seem to face the same difficulties with terrain/location.' One advisor saw the primary interest of his/her work to provide academic support to enable students to gain access to the course on the campus. This person went on to state that 'Physical or medical support is arranged through external agencies by students or their social workers. Thus, students may be receiving support on field trips all the time but we don't know'.
Other issues raised by respondents included staff awareness training, recognition that some staff are more motivated than others, unpredictability of disabilities, students needing to keep departments informed of changes in condition, funding issues, development of policy, inflexibility of regulations, making fieldwork requirements 'transparent' to students at earliest possible opportunity i.e. entry consideration. Finally, the disability advisor may not be aware of what is happening in the departments; this reflects a break down in communications between students, teaching staff and the disability advisor.
Appendix 1 Academic Departments' Experiences of Supporting Disabled Students undertaking Fieldwork
Appendix 3 Survey letter and questionnaire to academic departments
Appendix 4 Survey letter and questionnaire to disability support units
Page last updated 7 February 2001