Creating accessible information about courses or programmes of study for disabled students

1. Introduction

This leaflet is one of a series written for the SHEFC-funded Project, Teachability: Creating an accessible curriculum for students with disabilities. The whole series covers elements of curricula, from this one on Information about the Course or Programme of Study through to Examinations and Assessments. Each leaflet provides information and suggestions for academic staff who are concerned to make their curriculum design and delivery as accessible as it can be to disabled students. Using the Teachability resources is also likely to help people towards meeting some of the legal duties towards disabled students: a curriculum that has been designed to be accessible is likely to be one that anticipates reasonable adjustments (DDA Part IV, Code of Practice revised 2007); and assessing the impact of teaching on disabled students is required by the Public Sector Duty to Promote Disability Equality.

The series is intended to support academic staff in reviewing curricular provision, and to help decide whether some change is required or desirable. Of course, the implementation of change may involve others in the academic department or unit, or in the wider institution or beyond, such as professional bodies or national organizations. The aim is to identify, and thereafter remove or reduce, inadvertent barriers, which prevent disabled students from successfully participating in courses and programmes of study.

The evolving legislation promotes a departure from the more ad hoc, reactive responses to the needs of disabled people. This suggests that wherever possible, courses and teaching practices should be accessible by design, so that only minimal adaptations need to be made, reactively, for individuals.

Whether anything different or additional might be needed by a disabled student or applicant by way of information about a course or programme of study will depend on the information already made available to all applicants and students. As far as possible, the needs of disabled students should be considered when courses and programmes of study are designed. Given the critical, gateway role of information about the course or programme, it is essential that the features of courses which may be inaccessible to some students should be made known in advance. This leaflet suggests that in thinking about the accessibility of information about courses or programmes of study, it is necessary to consider not only the format and location of the information, but also its content and its tone.

The legislation makes clear that academic competence standards, which are given a very precise legal definition (DDA Part IV, Code of Practice revised 2007) should not be compromised, and do not need to be adjusted. However, there are two important qualifications: (1) adjustments to how students show that they have attained competences should be routinely considered; and (2) we should be very careful before regarding a standard as a ‘competence standard’. These need to be very relevant to the course of study, and they must be ‘genuine’. Information about courses and programmes of study is where competence standards might feature and need to be clearly stated. Universities should be careful to avoid creating the impression that they are more rigid and inflexible than they absolutely need to be. Equally, any non negotiable, essential competence standards should be made known in advance so that all students can gauge whether this is the course for them, and so that disabled students in particular find out about where adjustments they might need are, exceptionally, not possible.

On a more positive note, information about courses and programmes of study is an excellent place for Universities to extend a positive promotion of courses and programmes to disabled people, and thereby to demonstrate commitment to the Public Sector Duty to Promote Disability Equality.

Next page