Competence standards should cover all essential course criteria at the same time as being as inclusive as is possible.
A partnership approach to drawing up and reviewing competence standards, involving both academic staff but also representatives from the HEI disability services team, can support the development of inclusive competence standards and assessment methodologies.
Prospective and current students should be informed of the course competence standards and made aware of the support which can be available to them if they require it.
Very often there are different ways in which a particular competence standard can be assessed and, under the Equality Act, HEIs are required to make adjustments to assessment processes wherever possible in order to ensure that disabled students are not disadvantaged.
Many HEIs now offer a range of different forms of assessment and wherever possible students should be offered some choice in how they are assessed provided this does not prevent them from meeting specific competence standards.
Decisions about the most appropriate individual reasonable adjustments require input not only from the disability service but also from academic staff who understand the particularities of their discipline.
Academic and disability staff need to ensure that adjustments are reasonable and do not give unfair advantages to disabled students.
Examples of Adjustments
Our research indicated that students with a range of different impairments were able to succeed in French and Spanish HEI provision.
For example, new technology had greatly enhanced the potential for students with some hearing loss.
Example: one of the hearing impaired students was anxious about aural exams. At ‘A’ level she had found it difficult to hear the comprehension passage which was delivered on a device which played to the class as a whole, however, at university delivery was via headphones in a language lab, so there was no difficulty.
Some students with specific learning difficulties or with a visual impairment had benefitted from the use of speech to text software.
'From the perspective of a needs assessor, access to academic materials is good with text to speech software including French and Spanish.'
The most commonly articulated difficulty came with the year which needed to be spent abroad.
'Disabled students can face additional barriers in engaging with university life and can be prone to social isolation. These barriers are compounded where, as part of their degree programme, students have placements abroad. We have had two students on the autism spectrum who required significant support in identifying and arranging a placement with appropriate support.'
While spending a year abroad would not of itself constitute a competence standard certain skills and knowledge arising out of it will and students need to be clear what these are and how they will be assessed. This should be available in the student handbook.
Concern was expressed that HEIs in host countries did not always have the same level of support, however most HEIs had been able to find ways of ensuring that disabled students were able to complete and succeed in their year away.
'There have been some instances where this has been difficult, but in my experience all difficulties were overcome – we have had wheel chair user students in Latin America, and students with ME successfully completing teaching assistantships.'
The main factors which contribute to a successful year abroad are close liaison with the Disability Service and the identification of ongoing support mechanisms both in the host university and at home.
'Where a student has complex support requirements, the Disability Service will be proactive in drawing up a Placement Learning Plan and will liaise with the School regarding ongoing support, e.g. identifying a mentor at the host institution or arranging support remotely via Skype. The School is key in identifying an appropriate placement and for liaising with staff at the host institution.'
In very rare instances when a student is not allowed to travel abroad following medical advice HEIs have found ways of addressing the competences being assessed during the year abroad in a home context.