Creating accessible practical classes for disabled students
2. Reflecting on practice
The questions of how practical class teaching can be planned with
accessibility in mind, and what additional adjustments may, or in some cases may
not, be possible, rest on:
Such clarity in itself has nothing to do with disability. However, it
provides a secure starting point for thinking about how to build accessibility
into practical class design as a matter of routine, and also for approaching the
task of making more one-off adjustments to practical work as required by
We have to decide what
actually is the core of the unit. Can the learning objective be achieved differently?
Do students, who may already be sure that they dont want to do a practical
lab-based job, but who want a degree with science have to do dissections,
or chemistry experiments?
The role of practical work within the whole course or programme of study
varies from discipline to discipline, as well as across different University
presentations of the same or similar subject areas.
For people with motor difficulties who would not be able to use much
of the apparatus that is essential in chemistry, assistance could be given
by a helper working under the students instructions.
Virtual experiments are suitable for some purposes, but for an intending
career chemist, they are not a satisfactory substitute for real practical
Benchmarking statements from the Quality Assurance Agency indicate
significant differences for the role of practical activity across different
disciplines. Thus, for example, the benchmarking statement for Geography lists
laboratory practical classes, including the use of scientific laboratories as,
simply, among ‘the learning and teaching methods that geographers have
experienced to date’. On the other hand, the benchmarking statement for Art and
Design notes a wide range of approaches to teaching, learning and assessment,
but regards these as ‘based around an essential core of studio and workshop
tuition.’ The importance which is attached to practical work in the Dentistry
benchmark statement is, arguably, stronger still:
4.7 Opportunities must be provided for the identification and acquisition
of practical clinical skills. The most common methods adopted are for students
to spend time in a clinical skills laboratory or an appropriately equipped
clinical area where they rehearse the procedures they will be required to
perform on patients.
.The transfer and continued development to clinical reality of practical
clinical skills is fundamental to the successful progression of the dental
student, as is the acquisition of professional, attitudinal and ethical attributes
appropriate to the practice of dentistry.
The role of particular tasks within any practical setting calls for further,
and detailed, judgment. Questions about whether all students must do all tasks
are probably raised least often in relation to disabled students, and most often
in relation to considerations of cost:
High quality lab work is expensive to provide, and it is important
that we are sure that students do indeed gain all that they might from it,
especially as the number of students present may have increased, more part
time demonstrators are used, and the frills have been trimmed to cut costs.
(Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, University of Edinburgh, A
Manual for Course Organisers)
The underlying questions for academic staff are therefore about the
educational objectives of practical work and hence the scope, or lack of scope,
for alternative ways of achieving these, or appropriate alternative objectives.
If understanding theories, concepts and processes is the primary aim of
practical classes, rather than the development of practical skill, then the
educational objective may be achievable in an alternative way, such as through
observation, or through virtual practice.
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