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Students with disabilities

Some of the issues centring on students with disabilities were dealt with in a number of places in the Enhancement Themes literature.

The challenges of streamlining assessment to cope with increased massification, while at the same time diversifying assessment techniques to cater for specific learning needs, such as those presented by students with disabilities was highlighted at Reflections on Assessment I.

Grappling with the complexities of assessing disabled students fairly, without discriminating against those with no disability was examined at Reflections on Assessment II.  This section in the document talks about a common question which is raised when alternative assessment is proposed for disabled students. That question is: Just how valid, reliable and fair are assessments of disabled students?

One answer is to pilot alternatives, testing their validity, but maybe the most straightforward is to consider offering more than one form of assessment from the outset of the course, as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction on demand, for example, offering a 500 word book review, alongside the traditional 2,000 word essay. By adopting this approach, students who find certain sorts of assessment non conducive are offered a choice by which to demonstrate their knowledge.

The SWANDS (The South West Academic Network for Disability Support) resource offers a number of examples whereby students are assessed maybe using three different forms of assessment and the results compared.

The Employability Enhancement Theme looked at enhancing employability through the co-curriculum. Under Services for student welfare and diversity student-run schemes that are aimed specifically at black and minority ethic or disabled students were explored. 

The first is a mentoring approach to providing students with disabilities with career information and advice. This idea lies at the heart of the 'Willing and Able' Mentoring Program based at Deakin University in Australia. There, recognition that students with disabilities can often face particular hurdles finding employment after graduating, the mentoring programme was started by a then PhD student. The Graduate Careers Council of Australia 2001-02 survey found that 39.6 per cent of graduates with a disability had found employment compared with 53.4 per cent of those without a disability.

The mentoring programme was launched in 2000 with 12 student participants; by 2004 the scheme had 100 student participants. The mentoring scheme works by linking a student with disabilities to a mentor in the career area that the student wishes to enter. Through the mentoring programme many students have managed to find employment but according to the founder of the scheme the real benefit would appear to be 'demystifying of disability on both sides', with one of the mentors commenting that they had learnt more from the scheme than the student.

The second describes what it calls one of the simplest devices for attempting to ensure that careers information is available to a diverse range of students. The example is the Victoria University of Technology's web page of diversity career information resources, which contains links to appropriate sites for the seven following different groups:

  • indigenous students
  • women
  • disability
  • gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and intersex
  • mature age
  • cultural and
  • postgraduate.

In Reflections on Assessment 2, the question was asked as to ways in which the disability agenda could be moved forward, ensuring that both individuals and institutions remain legally compliant while utilising assessment methods that give both staff and students confidence in the validity, reliability and fairness of the system and also reflect the wealth of good practice recommendations available about using assessment tasks.

A number of suggestions were put forward, though concern was expressed over the 'ad hocness' of much of the work ongoing. For the suggestions and also more details about the debate on Inclusive practices that delegates had at the enhancement conference on the theme.