Disabled students and those with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) are entitled to support at university to ensure they’re able to access their course and achieve their full potential. The disability team are responsible for recommending reasonable adjustments in all areas of teaching and learning including placement.
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If a student discloses a disability or SpLD to you, you could check first if they have a Summary of Support Needs (SOSN) which will detail any reasonable adjustments they are entitled to. If they don’t have a SOSN then they should be referred to the disability service to ensure that they are advised of all of the support available to them.
It is not always easy to identify a student with specific learning difficulties or dyslexia, but there are some common features which may alert you to this possibility. It is usually necessary to observe a student’s learning over time to see a pattern of difficulties. However, you may notice the following:
a significant and noticeable discrepancy between verbal and written performance
persistent problems with sentence structure, punctuation and organization of written work – not due to educational background
persistent or severe problems with spelling, even with simple or common words
a tendency to consistently lose their place in reading, or in a diagram
difficulty getting ideas on to paper
poor or illegible handwriting
an inability to identify or correct their errors in written work
a tendency to forget things quickly and a weak working memory.
If at any point you are concerned that a student may have dyslexia/SpLD then please refer them to the disability service. We can run a screening for SpLD and if necessary will then refer them for a full diagnostic assessment. If the screening is negative the student will be signposted to more appropriate learning support to help them with their particular difficulties.
If you would like to discuss any of the above prior to making a referral please do contact the disability adviser who will be happy to help.
Any student who has accessed the disability service and is eligible for reasonable adjustments will have a Summary of Support Needs. This document is usually kept confidential, however, if it contains information that you will need to know in order to make your teaching sessions available then the course administrator or disability coordinator is responsible for passing this information to you.
Alternatively, the student themselves may give you a copy. Ideally your lectures and teaching sessions should be as inclusive as possible but there may be students who have individual reasonable adjustments, such as a deaf student who needs to lip read or a student who may need to leave the room regularly for toilet breaks which you may need to be aware of.
Making your teaching sessions more inclusive benefits all students, not just those who are disabled or who have SpLDs and reduces the need to make individual adjustments for students.
Some simple yet effective approaches are listed below.
Making lecture notes and other material available at least 48 hours in advance. This allows students to prepare for lectures, read around the subject and contextualise what they are going to hear. This can make the process of note taking much easier.
Recording lectures using Panopto: all students find access to recordings of lectures invaluable when it comes to revision. For many disabled students these recordings are even more important as it takes away the need to concentrate on taking notes during the lecture and allows them to listen to what is being said more carefully. For students with health conditions which affect their attendance, accessing recordings makes it much easier to keep up with work.
Using a style guide when producing powerpoints, handouts or other visual information. The British Dyslexia Association has a useful guide.
Arranging for video content and online lectures to be captioned
The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in all aspects of Education. It also places a duty on institutions to make 'reasonable adjustments' for students, to help them overcome disadvantages resulting from impairment. This duty is anticipatory, therefore the university is required to think ahead of possible barriers and make the necessary adjustments.
- The term ‘reasonable adjustment’ is wide ranging and there is no fixed definition of what constitutes ‘reasonable’. Cases will be looked at on an individual basis and whether or not an adjustment is considered reasonable may depend on factors such as the impact it may have on other students, maintaining academic integrity, and resources.
- The overall aim of reasonable adjustments are to make sure that no one is disadvantaged or unable to access their course as a result of their disability or learning difficulty. This can require flexibility in the way that courses are taught and assessed in order to ensure that everyone is given the appropriate opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.
- However, reasonable adjustments do not alter competence standards and there is no duty to make adjustments to such standards. Therefore, if a skill or knowledge is considered to be a core competence of an academic programme there is no duty to make adjustments to accommodate a person with a disability. For example, if spelling drug names correctly is a competence standard, there should be no dispensation given to spelling mistakes due to dyslexia. Similarly, if being able to demonstrate a particular clinical skill within a specific timescale is a competence standard then it would not be appropriate to offer any additional time for this.
Reasonable adjustments SHOULD:
- Enable disabled students to demonstrate the required skills and knowledge
- Ensure that disabled students are not disadvantaged as a result of disability or Specific Learning Difficulty
- Be agreed and recommended via the disability service
Reasonable adjustments SHOULD NOT:
- Compromise fitness to practice requirements
- Alter courses to the disadvantage of non-disabled students
- Compromise the requirements of external bodies
- Compromise academic standards