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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness

Project Aims and Objectives


1 We will enhance the learning experience for disabled students studying at the 4 HEIs in the Manchester area.

It is realised that disabled students are the ultimate beneficiaries of the project. Implicit in the stated aim is the assumption that we are striving to provide a better learning environment for the disabled student. Disabled students spend a good deal of time and effort in the negotiation of barriers within the environment and if we can reduce these we will benefit the student's learning experience.

The transition to this level of education for all students can be a highly stressful experience but in addition to all the usual problems, the disabled student is faced with a variety of other problems to overcome - How will I get a personal assistant? Will my room be accessible? How do I socialise with a peer group that don't understand how to communicate with me? And in the learning environment - Will the lecturer wear my radio aid transmitter? Are the faculty websites accessible to screen readers? Will I get assistance on fieldtrips? How do non-disabled students interact with disabled students on group work tasks? By providing training materials to academic staff we will increase their competence in dealing with the support of disabled students (see below) and hence provide a more accessible environment.

2 We aim to help academic staff to understand the issues relating to the development of an accessible learning environment.

The project is specific to the learning environment, although this term is used in its broadest sense. So this might includes such things as enrolment, access to information at the pre-entry stage, access to information, use of IT facilities, the lecture theatre, field trips, laboratories, graduation, placements etc.

There are many aspects of the environment that can disable the person and are out of the control of the individual student (e.g. accessibility of materials, communication strategies, assessment policies). We hope to provide practical examples of how changing the learning environment can lead to an accessible university.

3 We aim to increase the competence and confidence of academic staff in understanding the needs of disabled students.

Although aim 2 is directed towards providing practical examples of developing accessible teaching environments there is a need to increase the general awareness of staff in understanding issues relating to disability. We hope that through the use of practical examples and case studies we will provide academic staff with the tools for discussing such issues in the faculty/department and hence raising the profile of the issues. We also hope to raise the awareness of academic staff so that they adopt an inclusive approach and to make them cogniscent that it is an issue that they are responsible for. Although faculty staff might seek the advice of the Disability Support Office for expertise in particular areas there is a level of awareness-raising and discussion that needs to take place within the faculty and in an academic arena. The practice of examination and assessment is a good example of such an area.
Whilst the faculty might consult with disability specialists, ultimately, decisions need to be made with academic standards and practices in mind.

We hope to foster a proactive approach and will try to strike a balance between raising awareness and providing practical solutions. Decisions regarding the balance of materials will be made at a project management level and assessed for their efficacy through the assessment protocols and objectives and will be informed by the analysis of training need of academic staff, an understanding of the disability training approach taken so far and the experiences of disabled students.

4 We aim to underpin the project with an inclusive approach.

Most 'common sense' and historical assumptions and attitudes towards disabled people have led to medical and impairment-focused approaches to dealing with disability. In recent years, with the advent of the disabled peoples' movement, the focus of analysis has shifted to one that examines the role of the environment in disabling people with impairments.

At the same time there has been a move away from the segregation of disabled people in education, the workplace and society as a whole (although it is argued that disabled people are still largely discriminated against). In education we have seen a move towards integration within schools and colleges and it has been recognised that this approach should be underpinned by an inclusive model i.e. it is not enough to simply place disabled people within the classroom, but that there needs to be structural and attitudinal changes within the educational practices and policies of the educational institutions.

We hope to develop materials and ways of working within the universities that focus on the disabling effects of the environment and how if these are removed the student's learning experience will be improved.


Objectives and baseline activities

1 We will analyse the training needs of academic staff relating to the support of disabled students in the learning environment.

2 We will seek the views and experiences of disabled students.

3 We will provide relevant staff development materials that will give practical advice regarding the support of disabled students in the learning environment.

4 We will provide relevant staff development materials that will increase the awareness of academic staff regarding the needs of disabled students.

Baseline for the materials:
there will be 5 hours worth of materials/activities and the materials will contain:

Learning outcomes will be stated and evaluated.

5 We will deliver the materials using an appropriate virtual learning environment.

6 We will evaluate the usefulness of the training materials.

7 We will disseminate the findings of the project.

The baseline activities were expounded more thoroughly in the project plan that was submitted as part of the bidding process. This plan was then reformulated and passed by the Steering Group on 13th June 2000.