Supporting disabled students: working with support services

1 Theme 5 Topics View

Simon Jarvis, Head of the Disability & Dyslexia Service, on the range of support services for students at QMUL.

Transcript of Simon Jarvis, ‘Supporting Disabled Students: Working with Support Services’:

The vast majority of the students that we support have diagnoses of dyslexia, to a lesser extent dyspraxia and other specific learning difficulties. In 2007-2008 academic year there were around one thousand students at Queen Mary with a declared disability and around two thirds of those with dyslexia. However, some of our heaviest service users have other disabilities, particularly visual impairments, or if the student’s blind, because they have such high needs in terms of accessing teaching materials, much there depends really on the actual subject the student is studying.

So for example if they’re on a course where lots of the materials are available electronically, or via a web portal or something like WebCT, there are far fewer concerns than if they’re perhaps on a course where the majority of the materials are provided on a paper-based platform, which causes huge problems. So some of the students that we support in terms of the hours that they take up each week, it’s not necessarily as a result of their disability, it’s as a result of the course that they’re taking. But we’re striving constantly to engage with our colleagues in academic departments to ensure students have as few problems in that way as possible and that their progress is as smooth as possible.

Some of the other students that use our service heavily are students with mental health issues, so typically they would see somebody at least once, sometimes twice each week, for a long period of time, potentially over all three years of an undergraduate programme we could see somebody on a weekly basis. We have a number of students with physical disabilities and they can vary enormously from perhaps what people traditionally think of disabled students – students using wheelchairs – to people with unseen disabilities, things like Crohn’s Disease, bowel problems, also conditions like epilepsy and diabetes can significantly impair people’s ability to attend taught sessions and to complete their coursework and examinations on time.

We would consider good practice from teaching staff to provide clear and unambiguous feedback for students. So if they were concerned about the standard of their academic work, the student was made aware of this, and was provided with some suggestions of support that might be available through the College, so that can include not just the Disability and Dyslexia Service, but possibly also the Language and Learning Unit, or even Advice and Counselling. Any of the central services available through the College.

Another recommendation that our service would have to academic schools is that there should be ideally a named representative within each department, within each academic department, for disability-related issues; so if there’s somebody we need to contact, perhaps with regard to a specific student or an applicant, we’re completely clear as to who that person should be, and similarly, if there’s an issue which is thrown up within the Department from an existing student, that person can know who to contact, who’s the most appropriate person to get hold of within the Disability and Dyslexia Service – and that’s something ideally we’d like to see rolled out right the way across the College.

I think the sort of overriding message from our department to academic members of staff would be: if you have any concerns or any queries, just to contact us as soon as you can, because it’s interesting to talk to staff and there’s an awful lot of support which is available which colleagues wouldn’t necessarily be aware of – so what might seem an intractable problem can actually be solved relatively smoothly, because there are quite a few of us now, we’re quite a well-resourced team and we’ve got an awful lot of experience.

So that would be my overriding message to colleagues really, would be to engage with our service and if they’re not happy with something, if they’re not happy with a suggestion of what we would call a ‘reasonable adjustment’, to engage with us and perhaps we can come to some kind of, some kind of negotiation, a negotiated agreement as do what might be more practicable. I’ll give you an example: when speaking to colleagues in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, there’s been some misunderstandings in the past where students have presented with what they report to be advice from us which is nothing of the sort – and misunderstandings are thrown up which could probably have been quite easily allayed just through a couple of phone calls or a face to face meeting.

Interested in support services and other resources for disabled students in higher education? Check out Inclusive Curricula, Teaching and Learning at QMUL: a report or Changes to Disabled Students Allowance: a reason to pursue inclusivity.