Creating accessible placements, study abroad and field trips for disabled students
2. Reflecting on practice
Whether particular placements, study abroad, and field trips are accessible
to particular disabled students; whether, if not, they can be made accessible;
and how far, in the event that they can not be made accessible, the relevant
learning experiences can be enabled in some other fashion, may call for
difficult judgement. Knowledge of the likely benefits of such learning
experiences will assist such decisions:
The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), in Benchmark Statement for Language
and Related Studies, lists such benefits for study abroad as 'development of
cultural insight ...academic and personal development resulting from extended
contact with the target language environment ... development of intercultural
awareness and understanding... and the acquisition of vocationally oriented
The QAA's Benchmark Statement for Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences
and Environmental Studies takes the view that significant exposure to field
based teaching, and the related assessment is essential for satisfactory
understanding, and attributes much of the advance in knowledge and understanding
to accurate observation and recording, skills which are essential prerequisites
for careers in these areas.
It would be difficult to overstate the strength of these claims made by QAA
for what off-campus learning does for students. It follows that any serious
attempt to treat disabled students fairly and avoid discriminating will set
equally high standards for the value and efficacy of their off-campus learning.
The high standards set by QAA for study abroad and field trips thus provide a
benchmark against which proposed adjustments for disabled students should be
judged. Where adjustments have to be made, the promotion of the educational
benefits for disabled students ought still to be primary, as they are for all
Despite the evident differences between placements, study abroad and field
trips, many of the issues which arise in the context of disability are general
and apply to all off-campus course elements. For one thing, it may be that a
disruption of living arrangements, as well as study in the narrow sense, is
involved. It may be too that the student has to function in an environment where
an employer, or a professional association, makes the rules.
So it may happen that the off-campus element of a course presents
difficulties for disabled students, and many of these difficulties may at least
appear to be outside of the home institutions control.
But while off-campus studies may be the subject of somebody else's rules, it
would nowadays be normal for these rules to be at very least known and predicted
As part of his education the god Thor was sent to spend time in the house of
the giants, so that he would learn cunning by exposure to their hostile and
mischievous tricks. There is no suggestion in the story that anyone knew before
time that he would meet these potentially catastrophic tests and return wiser
and stronger. Such an arrangement falls far short of the practice expected of a
The QAA Code of Practice on Placement Learning underlines as important
considerations for the approval of placements, the ability of the placement
provider to support students, to provide learning opportunities that enable the
intended learning outcomes to be achieved, safely and with regard to students'
skill and experience.
Thus students considering a course which included off-campus course elements
would reasonably expect to know, inter alia,
whether participation is a requirement of the course, and whether
alternative ways of satisfying course requirements exist
what is involved in participation, both in terms of what is likely to happen
and in terms of what preparations are required
what are the likely costs
what are the arrangements in the case of sickness or emergency
And disabled students might reasonably expect to know what scope exists for
the achievement of the foreseeable demands and opportunities of off-campus study
in alternative, equally valuable, ways. Clearly, the nature, role and importance
of off-campus course elements vary enormously from course to course, with
consequences for the possible scope for adjustments.
"The scope of the PhD was reconsidered, and slanted more towards the
geological angle where fieldwork would involve visiting mines and mining
prospects, usually with 4WD tracks and close vehicular access possible."
(Inclusive Fieldwork and Expedition Practice, Royal Geographical
Society/Institute of British Geographers 2002: http://www.rgs.org/)
"Should it prove impossible to find a suitable placement, students are
given an alternative assignment through which the same learning
outcomes are achieved."
In cases of study abroad, it would be expected for the institution to inform
itself, and pass on to students relevant information, about conditions in the
country involved and about facilities in the host institution. Thereafter, it is
a matter of liaising with the host institution about what provision they can
make, and with the disabled student about what might be needed.
We have a small number of partner institutions so that very good
relationships have been built up over the years."
"The organisation arranging the year in St Petersburg wasn't overjoyed to
learn that a student with juvenile chronic arthritis wanted to go! But a student
who came back told me that the hostel where students live was in the same
building as the teaching block. This meant I wouldn't even have to go outside in
the morning to get to classes... I got a grant from SAAS to cover things like
extra transport, as well as laundry and cleaning, things I find hard as my hands
"Since the purpose of exchange is to immerse oneself in the language and
culture of a foreign culture, no alternative experience can be offered in the
UK. But studying abroad is not core to the course and students are able to take
the language and culture modules on offer."
Of course, it may be that technology makes movement in space less necessary.
Just as, in theory at least, the Internet, where appropriately accessible, has
led to an evening-out of access to information of all kinds, audio-visual
technology and accessible virtual learning environments can be said to have made
all sorts of natural and cultural environments more accessible.
A review of what has been achieved using virtual field courses (VFCs) in
geography and Geoscience, together with searching discussion on the merits of
real and virtual field work in these areas, can be found in Issues in
Providing Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and
Related Activities, Healey et al., 2001, a publication of the Geography
Discipline Network at the University of Gloucestershire:
http://www.glos.ac.uk/gdn/disabil/index.htm The broad strategies identified
there (and endorsed in the QAA Code of Practice: Students with Disabilities,
1999) for approaching fieldwork are equally applicable to placements:
- At programme design stage, identify possible barriers and think about
(a) whether they are necessary and (b) whether they can be designed out.
"One of the key questions which needs to be addressed on a profession
wide basis is whether all student nurses need to be able to undertake all
- Facilitate or adapt the activity so that the student can take part.
"We allocated the student to a placement within his comfortable travelling
"We negotiated for the student to be allowed access to patients notes the
day prior to working with them to ensure time to assimilate the content."
- Substitute an alternative real or virtual activity with the same learning
"Alternatives to site visits include virtual field excursions, video records of
field excursions, photographic displays, use of samples collected in situ
and core logging."
"Over the next few years, technicians will attend all field courses and
generate support material for students unable to access the outcrops. All
students will benefit from this approach as it is not possible always to get
the best from a field excursion, e.g. in horizontal sleet in the Highlands."
The Royal Geographical Society (op.cit.) has published useful reports of actual experiences of making real fieldwork accessible. These cases cover the experience of wheelchair-using students, students with vertigo, colour blindness, and deaf students, among others:
"Fieldwork and expeditions often conjure images of strong, athletic young
white men climbing mountains, scrambling over glacial moraine or wading
through torrents of rushing water. In reality the ... people who undertake
fieldwork are as varied as the research themes they are following.""
Top of Page
Teachability Home Page
Copyright: The University of Strathclyde 2000 - 2008
Extracts from this document may be reproduced for education or training purposes
on condition that its source is acknowledged.