Creating accessible examinations and assessments for disabled students

Alternatives to how the assessment is carried out

There are various ways in which the questions of assessments can be conveyed to students. Students whose first language is sign language may understand signed questions more easily than written text. Students who are blind, partially sighted, or dyslexic may need questions in formats such as Braille, tape, or enlarged print, and for some students the colour and contrast of the exam or question paper is important. Alternatively, the questions or titles of the assignment could be provided on disk, if appropriate access technology is available. Or they could be read to the student.

Achievements which are being assessed may also be capable of being demonstrated in a variety of ways. Responses can be conveyed by a student using sign language, which can then be verbalised by an interpreter, and written by an amanuensis (scribe). For some students who are pre-lingually deaf, written English may be 'deaf' English, i.e. in the word order of sign language, which is very different from the word order of English. If the subject of the assessment is what is understood rather than how this is expressed, then signed responses may be acceptable.

"Students who have impairments would be given every opportunity to meet the needs of the module's practical classes through other means. This might include observation if they were completely unable to take part, either in the kitchen/restaurant/bar/laboratory or through the use of videos. This would then be followed up with some form of written or oral assessment in which the student could demonstrate understanding of the practices and principles involved in the exercise."

Some students may rely on equipment for the demonstration of assessed achievements, whether in a formal examination environment, or the less formal setting in which assignments are prepared for continuous assessment. A tape recorder, computer, or amanuensis or assistant, may be needed to enable a student to complete an assignment. There is a need for clarity over the role and involvement of equipment or assistant, so that arrangements are identified which ensure that the student maintains control over producing what it is that is to be assessed.

"Taking the example of a visually impaired student, we have provided a member of academic staff to read examination papers to the student and allowed the student to use a computer with special reading software installed. This requires considerable judgment on the part of the member of staff as to when it is valid to give assistance to ensure the student is not unfairly disadvantaged, and when to hold back from giving assistance which would give an unfair advantage."

An amanuensis can be regarded as an efficient writing machine, responsive to instructions and free from the mechanical complexities of keyboards or tape-recorders. It is usually necessary for the amanuensis to be literate in the subject he/she is scribing. This is particularly true of subjects with terminology and symbols unfamiliar to most people.

Working with an amanuensis takes practice, for both parties, as decisions have to be taken about such matters as spelling, punctuation, and, especially in a timed examination setting, the speed of dictation. Negotiations may also need to take place about how visual material is to be conveyed to and from a student who is unable to see or produce it, or about how aural material is to be conveyed to a student who is hard of hearing.

Where the assessment is carried out may be affected by how it is carried out. Students relying, in a formal examination setting, on either speech-totext software or an amanuensis, will obviously have to be accommodated in a room separate from other candidates. Other aspects of physical arrangements may also be relevant, such as lighting, height of desks, as well as accessible location and proximity to facilities such as appropriately accessible toilets. Some students become unusually anxious about examinations, and for a few, the provision of a separate room can make a significant difference.

Many departments mark anonymously. Where students produce assignments in an alternative way, departments may have to consider whether the goals of anonymous marking can be achieved in some other way. If departments regard anonymous marking as a protection against marker bias, then it may be possible to achieve this end by some other way of monitoring standards in marking, for example by arranging for an additional marker to assess the student's performance.

In many cases the student will have useful insights into his/her own best ways of meeting an assessment of the ability or performance in question. The student will, for example, have useful information about his or her ability to use a computer or other access technology. Early discussions with the student and the university's disability service are a prudent precaution against making arrangements which disfavour the student.

"Arrangements made for the students are tailored to each individual and would allow, as far as is practicable, the student to demonstrate their independence. For example, it may be possible to complete the practical component in another setting - for example, during the industrial placement. Remediation, or completion of the practical component for the first time, would be tailored to individual needs of the student. This alternative assessment would be verified by the internal team and once approved would be passed to the external for approval."

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