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Supporting disabled students at Queen Mary

In this spotlight we shall look briefly at supporting disabled students in their study at Queen Mary. This includes looking at the specialist support and facilities available to students, discussing some of the specific difficulties that some students face in order to be aware of where help or adjustment may be needed and also some of the simple things that can be done to aid students study more effectively. We will not cover every disability or every idea to help, but will give an overview and snapshot of a few situations in order to provide a basic introduction which can be followed up by consultation with the specialists by staff or students as appropriate.

Overview of support services

There are a wide range of disabilities and conditions that may affect your students’ ability to study, but there is also help and support and facilities available within the College, provided by specialists in the Disability and Dyslexia Service. These colleagues are there both to support students, but also to help and support staff as well to enable them in turn to best support their students. More information on the Service is available from their website:

www.dds.qmul.ac.uk

Services and facilities available to help disabled students

In the following video Simon Jarvis, the Head of the Disability and Dyslexia Service (DDS) at Queen Mary, describes for academic tutors the range of support services available in the College that can help their students’ learning is they have difficulties due to disabilities.

Supporting disabled students: working with support services

Next, Simon Jarvis describes the range of support needs by disabled students at the College and how they can be supported by services and academic staff, individually and working together.

Dyslexia

In this section, we take a look specifically at supporting dyslexic students, with the help of Grazia Bevere, the College’s Senior Dyslexia Tutor.

Difficulties for dyslexic students

Firstly, Grazia discusses some of the difficulties that dyslexic students may face when studying and learning in higher education in order to provide some basic awareness of the issues for colleagues.

Helping dyslexic students: handouts and feedback

In the next video, Grazia Bevere gives some examples of some of the very simple things that academic staff can do that are particularly helpful to dyslexic students (and also often to others too).

Diagnosis and support for students with dyslexia/dyspraxia

Finally, in this video Grazia Bevere describes for academic tutors the diagnostic procedure that students suspected of having dyslexia could be directed towards and the support available to them. This may be particularly helpful for those tutors who have become aware of possible difficulties of one of their students and wish to provide them with appropriate advice in order to use the support services available.

Mental Health

In this section, we look at supporting students with mental health issues, with the help of David Walmsley, the College’s former Mental Health Coordinator (David has since been replaced by Niall Morrissey).

Difficulties for students with mental health issues

As before, we start with a short discussion of some of the difficulties with which students with mental health issues might be faced during their higher education study.

Simple things to help students with mental health issues

In the next video, David discusses a few simple things that can help academic staff to help students with mental health issues. These include acknowledging the limit on time and the other support available for both tutors and students.

Support available for students with mental health issues

Finally, David Walmsley describes for tutors, the range of support that is available for their students with mental health issues within the college from the Disability and Dyslexia service. This again may help tutors to advise their students on the specialist support available to them.

General ideas for helping disabled students

There are a variety of fairly simple ideas and adjustments that can be made by those teaching in higher education that helps disabled students with their learning and helps to minimize any disadvantages that they may have. In most cases, such ideas or techniques are in fact useful to most students, disabled or otherwise, and could be considered part of developing good practice to aid learning. Nevertheless, the ideas may be of particular help for certain students and provide some understanding of why such requests may be received. Below a small selection are briefly discussed.

Helping disabled students: electronic documents

Simon Jarvis describes how and why the availability of electronic documents can help many disabled students with their learning.

Helping disabled students: audio recording in lectures

Simon Jarvis describes how and why audio recording or allowing the recording, of lectures can help many disabled students with their learning.

Within Queen Mary there are now a variety of ways in which Staff can record their lectures, using tools as appropriate for the full range of interest and technical ability. In particular, the Q-Review service can automatically record lectures (video, projection screen capture and audio) in the main lecture theatres as well as via personal device options (see the E-Learning Unit pages for more information). This service is very popular with students regardless of disabilities and can involve minimal effort from the lecturer. Using such services (or recording for all students in general) means that individual arrangements with students’ voice recorders etc. are not needed, simplifying things (and improving the quality) for those students who need additional help. However, as such solutions help all of the students, and thus they are far more inclusive and social solutions than otherwise and all of the students benefit, which is the topic of the next section.

Helping the few, helping the many

There will be some students who require significant help, but it should be clear from the videos above that there is specialist help available to aid both student and teaching. However, as you will have seen from the above, it is often fairly simple adjustments or techniques that can have a large positive impact on the learning of students with a variety of disabilities. Furthermore, many of these adjustments also have a positive impact on other students as well.

Consider the example of students who are hard of hearing (there are many people who will have varying degrees of hearing loss, and obviously those with more severe loss will need further help, but there are many with differing degrees of hearing loss which is largely ‘invisible’). In a large lecture theatre, the use of a microphone will probably help and many such theatres will have wireless microphones which enable the lecturer to remain mobile. Using the microphone will also help the lecturer not strain their voice and also, should the lecture be recorded, will be needed in any case. Students without hearing issues will thus also benefit (including those at the back with a hangover!). Many students with hearing loss may lip-read to an extent (sometimes to supplement hearing). A simple technique is not to speak into the board, should the teacher be using the white/blackboard during lectures. Facing the audience when speaking will not just help sight lines but also help with the projection of the voice given the acoustics of the room (which are unlikely to be designed around someone effectively speaking into a wall) and thus benefit other students as well. Similarly, avoiding covering ones mouth when speaking (common when sitting at a table in seminars for example) can help. Such avoidance may take conscious effort in the beginning. Another simple measure is to repeat questions received from the audience, or at the least make sure the question is obvious from the answer. Again, this has multiple benefits for all students (and again, if recording the lecture, this will be a necessary technique in any case). All students may miss things that have been said and questions from the audience are aimed forward, towards the speaker, rather than the rest of the class, and not necessarily spoken by someone attempting to project their voice into the room. Finally, repeating the question does give the teacher a little extra thinking time to decide on their response.

The basic idea the examples above are aimed at introducing is that many of the simple ideas and small adjustments that can be made to aid students with disabilities are in fact ideas which we could regard as part of good practice, and which will aid all students, and indeed the teacher as well.

Further

There are a wide variety of issues and disabilities which we have not discussed above, and thus it is worth repeating that this is an overview with examples. There are many sites online that provide advice not just on supporting students with certain disabilities but also specifically with advice on teaching. There are examples on guidance for teaching students with specific conditions on many universities’ sites e.g. Berkeley, Cambridge. National bodies often produce resources for educators as well e.g. the RNIB.

DDS at Queen Mary has an intranet site for staff with a range of resources including top tips, guidance and guidelines and links to specific advice pages from external organisations:

qm-web.dds.qmul.ac.uk/staff/Top%20Tips%20and%20Guidance/index.html

JISC TechDis is an advisory service on technology and inclusion (JISC are the “Joint Information Systems Committee”, or were originally, and are behind the promotion a lot of technology for teaching and research within HE in the UK, funded by the HE funding councils such as Hefce).

The subject centres at the HEA often produced guidance for issues common within their own discipline. An example is the Physical Science Subject Centre, which produced a pack for lecturers on supporting students with Asperger’s Syndrome:

www.heacademy.ac.uk/physsci/home/pedagogicthemes/accessibility/aspergerssyndrome

The above links are just examples of easily accessible guides and factsheets that are available to help teachers in higher education with more specific advice on specific conditions should you come across such students. As noted, such basic techniques can be implemented to help students (and the teacher) in general too. Remember that guidance and help for both students and staff is available from specialist experts and services, so if in any doubt, they can be contacted:

www.dds.qmul.ac.uk

Acknowledgements

Spotlight commentary and compiling: Giles Martin

With thanks to the following contributors whose ‘ideas’ videos have been used:

  • Simon Jarvis
  • Grazia Bevere
  • David Walmsley

Featured image: © Queen Mary, University of London. All rights reserved