Disabled learners lack widespread support, study finds

February 6, 2004

Disabled students still face significant barriers in higher education, with gaps between institutions' policy and practice, an Economic and Social Research Council report has found.

The study, by Teresa Tinklin and Sheila Riddell of Edinburgh University and Alastair Wilson of Glasgow University, was unveiled at an Edinburgh conference this week. It found that students were critical of the lack of support they got for teaching and learning.

Colleges and universities across the UK had taken account of disabled students in policies ranging from admissions to estates and buildings, the researchers found. But case studies of 48 students revealed that disability was tackled mainly by student-support staff, with many academics unaware of what was needed.

The case studies found that most students with mobility difficulties had problems in getting around the campus, while students with mental-health problems or dyslexia were often not assessed until they had experienced overwhelming difficulties.

Students with visual impairments repeatedly failed to be given handouts in advance or in alternative formats, despite being promised these, and a number of students said their choice of institution had been affected by the availability of support.

"Many disabled students were isolated and lacked the social networks in which much informal learning takes place," the report says. "They struggled to persuade often reluctant staff to make reasonable adjustments. The culture of some institutions and subject areas was particularly hostile with staff expressing fears over the erosion of standards as a result of the requirement to accommodate disabled students."

The research also found that disabled students were more likely to be white, male and from advantaged social classes.

 

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