Your Patch: Disabled students and the National Association of Disability Practitioners

Community Care shares the experiences and views of professionals and students with disabilities delivering and receiving learning support at college

Students’ views from Blackburn College

Farmeen Akhtar

Course: BA English Language and Literary Studies, 1st Year P/T.
Disability: Visual impairment.
Support services used: Notetaker, research assistant.

What does the college do well?

Support was available for me before my disabled students’ allowance (DSA) assessment of need. I don’t know how I could have even got through the first week without it.

What could the college do better?

I’m really satisfied, although they could publicise the support services better. A lot of people don’t know what’s available.

What would you like to see long term?

More people with disabilities in higher education. People shouldn’t be put off by past experiences, or because they have a disability that they think can’t be supported.

Have support services helped you achieve your goals?

They have, really. I said I’d never go back into education my past experiences had really put me off. Everything’s been great.

Alan Haggart

Course: BA Social Sciences P/T 4th year.
Disability: Physical – mobility difficulties, dyslexia.
Support services used: 1:1 dyslexia support tuition.

What does the college do well?

Facilities are always there for students to use, it’s just a matter of asking for them. Support is always provided when possible.

What could the college do better?

It would be a good idea to have enabling software, like those I have via my disabled students’ allowance, on all college PCs.

What would you like to see long term?

Better funding for things like access courses for students needing extra support.

Have support services helped you achieve your goals?

Yes. I’ve learned a lot from the support staff here.

Tom Glover

Course: BTEC National Diploma in Sport Fitness
Disability: Deaf
Support services used: BSL communication support worker, notetaker

What does the college do well?

There are good communication support workers and note-takers. They’re very easy to understand. If I have any problems the learning support service is happy to help.

What could the college do better?

If you’re deaf, hearing impaired, or have other problems you might not be able to get to college. We could do with other ways of getting in touch instead of a parent having to phone in. [Tom was unaware of Blackburn College’s SMS service.]

What would you like to see long term?

More people should be deaf aware. Some people still think deaf people can’t do much.

Have support services helped you achieve your goals?

Yes. If the communication support worker or notetaker was not there how would I understand what was going on in class?

Practitioner’s view

Maria Perkins, disability officer, Blackburn College’s additional learning support service for disabled students

What do you do well?

As a department we believe that disabled students’ needs should be assessed individually, valuing the student as a disability expert in their own right. After many years of service improvements we could safely say, “we are over the worst”. We have mainstreamed educational opportunities for all; we have a skilled and experienced department of support staff who work closely with curriculum tutors to encourage full participation; and we have the capacity to be responsive to almost all student needs.

What could be better?

Each year the number of disabled students requesting support exceeds the number of qualified staff available, which makes timetabling extremely challenging for our support managers. This is often because students, even those with complex needs, turn up on the first day of term without us knowing about them beforehand. We should dedicate more time to promoting our service, which will help, even though this is tricky to do when we must prioritise the needs of students already with us. We need to ensure our classrooms are fully inclusive.

Name one thing that works well for your students?

College can seem enormous to new students who access support services, so good communication is essential. To ensure this we have a support co-ordinator and a number of support tutors working within each further education curriculum area. For the East Lancashire Institute of Higher Education a disability officer supports students applying for disabled students’ allowance and coordinates support services and adjustments. This gives students and tutors a clear line of communication to the learning support department.

What does the future hold?

The Learning and Skills Council’s, Learning for Living and Work is the first national strategy for disabled learners or those with learning disabilities and from this we know that changes to the current funding system for additional learning support is imminent. We are trying to anticipate this to ensure the changes do not detract from the standard of service we have fought hard to provide. We can also expect a qualifications framework for support staff, which should promote better service standards for students. Last, we should find that collaboration with external agencies becomes the norm and not the exception, which is something that we already try hard to foster.

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This article appeared in the 24 May issue under the headline “People shouldn’t be put off because they have a disability”

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