Creating accessible examinations and assessments 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 series covers various elements of curricula, from Information about the Course or Programme of Study through to this one on Examinations and Assessments. Each leaflet provides information and suggestions for academic staff endeavouring to ensure that their curriculum design and delivery is as accessible as it can be to disabled students. Given that a curriculum which is accessible is one in which reasonable adjustments have been anticipated, the leaflets are also likely to be of value to those who are reviewing their provision in the light of the duties of the Disability Discrimination Act, Part IV.

The series is intended for use by academic staff in the review of their curricular provision, and to help decide whether some change is required or desirable. 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 successful participation in all aspects of courses and programmes of study.

The DDA Part IV, Code of Practice (para. 4.27) requires that academic staff be clear about core course requirements. Such clarity is useful in identifying what scope there may be for changing aspects of curriculum design and delivery. It is important that academic staff consider where adjustments may, and may not, be made, or where course design or delivery may or may not be made more accessible. The legislation promotes a departure from 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 in examinations and other assessments will depend on the pre-existing arrangements for all students. As far as possible, the needs of disabled students should be considered when courses and programmes of study are designed.

The legislation also makes clear that academic standards should not be compromised. However, it adds that academic standards should not be used spuriously, or as justification for barring whole groups of disabled people from courses or services. Thus it is likely that it would be unlawful to suggest, for example, that no dyslexic students or no blind students would be accepted onto a particular course.

In the context of examinations and other assessments, there is a need to establish clearly three things:

If it is conceivable that some adjustments which might be needed by some disabled students would not be possible, perhaps because they would conflict with academic or other prescribed standards, then it is essential that this information is made available to applicants for the course or programme of study. (See Creating Accessible Information about the Course or Programme of Study leaflet in this series.)

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