Week 14: Activity 27.1: Seale Chapter 8
1. How helpful do you think it is to have 'specialised' rooms or areas in an educational institution, which only disabled learners can use to access technology/online learning material?
Bristol UWE: specialised rooms - entered by student card key. Students have personalised cards, for example students can have their cards modified to allow them to use the Islamic centre, to use the specialist computer labs for science students, to use the accessible entrance to the library etc. A student told me that they really liked the system as the numbers using the room were small and they did not have to fight other students for access. She has Asperger syndrome and struggles in crowded spaces.
Staffordshire University: many computers available in the library with 4 specifically labelled saying that they have to be vacated if a disabled student requires them. These computers have large screens for magnification, adjustable desks and a selection of programmes (Zoom text, Jaws etc.). I have been working with a blind student and she always seemed very confident when asking another student if you could have the computer but last week she told me that she hated doing it as she was always worried about interrupting other students' work. We discussed a separate room and she said that she would love it.
Keele University: many computers available all over site. One in the library has a large screen and Jaws installed. This is on an adjustable height desk and labelled for use by disabled students only. A site licence for Supernova has been purchased and so it can be used on any networked computer on site. Study rooms with a networked computer can be booked for support work for a maximum of a two hour slot or individual study cabins with can be booked for whole days with a £10 deposit for a key. Wireless networks extend over the whole library building and many other buildings on site so students can use their own computers with specialist software in many places on campus. It is possible to connect these to electrical sockets in many places. Study rooms are available for all students so they need to be booked in advance which causes some frustrations to disabled students. In my opinion it is a great compromise as it allows students to book rooms and does not create the impression of an unfair advantage for disabled students. I would imagine that it is very frustrating to see spare computers in a room which you cannot enter when you are desperate to print out an assignment/lecture notes and cannot find a free computer anywhere else!
2. Do you think student support services need to employ accessibility or disability experts? If so, how might the role of these 'experts' complement or work against the role of other staff working within student support services?
I believe that disability/accessibility experts are required and should be available for consultation by both staff and students. They should also coordinate the personal support available for students, have equipment that is available on loan and I would really like to see the university have its own ACCESS centre for DSA assessments.
3. How are student support services organised or structured in your institution? In what ways do you think this organisation influences the way in which disabled learners are supported to use or access technology?
Staffordshire University have a 'Student Enabling Centre' for students with disabilities. ACCESS assessments are carried out here and organisation for academic support. It is a friendly and comfortable environment. In Stafford it is located in the main building and easily accessible; in Stoke it is located at one of the campuses and not easily accessible from the other but emails get a rapid response.
Keele University have CLASS - the Centre for Learning And Student Support. It is in the centre of campus and easily accessible but one office deals with all student support and it can be crowded. It can also be difficult to get an appointment with the only disability-trained adviser. A few private rooms are available for training but these are difficult to book. ACCESS assessments and dyslexia assessments can be carried out on site by visiting professionals but need to be booked quite a long time in advance. The students coming to the centre have a variety of support needs and often end up discussing their needs over the counter with untrained secretaries in order to justify why they need an appointment. This is often in front of a crowd of other students, and support workers waiting for other students.
4. What would you change about the way in which students are supported in your institution and why? (You might find your notes from Topics 8 and 9 relevant to this question.)
I am currently working at Staffordshire University most of the time. I have been very impressed with the support they offer to both students and staff but I would like to see a bookable support room and more memory space on the computer to enable my student's pendrive version of Supernova to operate correctly. I would also like to see a specialist librarian in control of ordering accessible versions of ebooks for visually impaired students. Currently a very busy lecturer is tearing his hair out trying to sort them! Some of these seem small problems to sort out but most of the student's time is taken up by frantically trying to play catch up with the work load. She is a great student and a high achiever and so it takes a long time to access all the material she requires and complete tutorial work and assignments.