Legislation places a duty on institutions to anticipate the needs of all potential students and it is necessary to embed good practice before it is needed. There are two aspects of reasonable adjustments:
- anticipating what it needed without necessarily having students with disabilities to accomodate
- adjustments made in conjunction with and discussion with students, staff and disability officers.
US legislation is influencing legislation in other countries.
There are three things that have influenced the provision for people with disabilities in education:
Americans with disabilities act 1990
This act states that individuals with disabilites have a right to obtian equal education, equal access to all programmes and be able to access the same opportunites as people without disabilies.
1973 Rehab Act Section 540
This states that an individual cannot be denied accessibility to education activites that receive federal funding because of their disability
1973 Rehab Act Section 508
this section does not directly apply to HE as it applies to employees. It states that electronic and IT must be accessible to staff and public.
There is no specific legislation in relation to onine services and sites but education has to comply with certain guidelines and standards
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 Section 2 states that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of disability. A website does not legally have to be accessible but there has to be an alternative provided for those unable to access it.
The Disability Standard for Education 2005 is under review. It clarifies the obligations of education and training services providers. Students with disabilities must have the same rights, comparible access, services and facilities.
As well as an obligation to make changes to accomodate the needs of the student there is also an obligation to address harrassment and victimisation of a student with disability.
The legislation in the EU is not consistant but the EU commision has recommended that specific legislation for Europe is developed.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 states that there should be an end to discrimination that disabled people face. This includes HE making adjustments to how they provide their service. There has to be access to communication and the way communication is used has to be accessible. There also has to be access to and use of IT services.
SENDA 2001 is an ammendment to the above act and concentrates specifically on education. It makes it an offense for an institution to discriminate against a disabled person. Reasonable adjustments have to be made so that they are not at a disadvantage. It mentions distance and elearning.
The legislation varies between internal standards where it is explicit what standards have to be reached and others rely on benchmarking against external standards.
It has been shown that there has been no marked improvement to accessibility of elearning in HE due to the guideline and standards. In many was accessibility is worse due to increased complexity of websites. 48% of academic websites in UK and USA have been found to be inaccessible.
- No provision of text equivalent eg text for images
- Inconsistant or ineffective navigational systems
- Misunderstanding of the requirements to make sites accessible
In many ways practice is not changing and there is a lot of confusion in how the legislation should be interpreted. There is a tension between flexibility and rigidity of compliance and in some ways the standards cannot ease this tension. This is because often the guidelines are used as a checklist rather than really working out what should be done to make education more accessible. The standards do not always take into account what the student wants or needs.
There is a lot of support for students with disability studying physiotherapy. This includes university based modules and clinical placements. The disability officers of the university are often involved in the discussion about the type of support needed and the students are involved as well. There are some general standards that are adhered to which support students with disability but are beneficial to all students. These include being able to change the website colour and font, providing lecture notes 24 hours in advance of the lecture. Students with dyslexia and allowed extra time in exams. All students have access to the disability office.
LEGAL and PROFESSIONAL CONTEXT
It is important to address issues of accessibility as a challange to be met rather than a problem. The legislation should be an impetus to provide change and should be integral to the teaching and learning not an add-on.
Anticipating needs should not require the student to be there some needs can be addressed as a way to prepare better. In practice this can be a challenge and does not always fulfill the needs of the student. However it does ensure that accessibility is at the forefront of the process.
Disclosure can be a difficult this for students but a student does not have to provide evidence of a disability to qualify for assistance. Institutions could make disclosure easier by ensuring an open atmosphere and ensuring privacy and confidentiality. It is important that the instituation takes steps to find out the disability that a student has and what needs they have.
It is important to achieve change on courses that lead to professional accrediation.
Which do you think benefits more from legislation: disabled students or educational institutions?
Legislation can push the case and promote change with is beneficial for the student however unless the atmosphere is open and supportive change will only occur in order to comply with legislation. This means that the institution will benefit more than the student. An institution can publish statistics about compliance with legislation which will provide good marketing but may just be following the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it.
The UN has tried to standardize rules for people with disabilities. They claim that there has to be participation and it is important to provide training, capacity building, awareness raising, show areas of good practice and spread knowledge. It states that everyone has a right to education with no discrimination and equal opportunites.
The UK has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They have reservations about equality in the military and reserve the right to provide alternative eduaction opportunities to school children.
Look at the author’s concluding comments. What common factor or factors does she identify as hindering progress?
- Resources need to be allocated to implement government changes
- There has to be active participation of people with disability
- There must be training and education of community leaders within the disabled community
- Society must be unified worldwide.
Disability as part or the Equality Lobby
Do you think that there are specific issues relating to disability and accessibility that are different from those arising with regard to other aspects of equality and human rights, such as racial discrimination?
Yes, there are issues with people with disability not being able to do certain things due to barriers in place or support/assistance not being available. This is different to educating the public about treating all people equal regardless of race, religion etc as adjustments are not required for these people to function equally and without discrimination in society.