Policy Statement and Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs and Disability
Aston University is committed to a comprehensive policy of equal opportunities and recognises its responsibility under the current legislation to ensure that it does not discriminate against students or potential students with a disability. Aston welcomes students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties and is committed to the continuing development of an “enabling” environment and a non-discriminatory culture within the University community.
The University is committed to a programme of action to ensure that this policy is fully effective.
The University's Commitment
The University recognises the importance of effective support mechanisms in enabling all students to achieve their potential and will continue to improve and expand provision for students with a disability. The University Policy and Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities seeks to reinforce this commitment.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, as amended by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA), places specific duties on providers of post-16 education and other related services, rendering it unlawful for bodies responsible for such provision to discriminate against students with a disability.
Aston University is committed to providing access for students with a disability in an inclusive learning and teaching environment and to ensuring that students with a disability have the same opportunities as non-disabled students. Staff at Aston University will strive to anticipate the requirements of students with a disability and to ensure that wherever possible appropriate provision is in place and that reasonable and anticipatory adjustments have been made.
This Policy and Code of Practice is designed to support staff in understanding their responsibilities under the Act and in identifying and developing best practice.
Implementation of the Act
The Act will be implemented in three stages:
Most of the Act came into force on 1 September 2002, making it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people or students by treating them less favourably than others and requires the University to make reasonable adjustments to provision where disabled students or other disabled people might otherwise be substantially disadvantaged
the duty on the University to make adjustments involving the provision of auxiliary aids and services comes into force on 1 September 2003
the duty on the University to make adjustments to physical features of premises where these put disabled people or students at a substantial disadvantage comes into force on 1 September 2005.
Roles and Responsibilities
The Act identifies the University Council as the ‘responsible body’ and it is the members of Council who have legal liability for ensuring that:
- the University complies with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination legislation and the duties arising from the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act (2001)
- and who are legally responsible for;
- the actions of individual employees of the institution in the course of their employment, whether they are full-time, part-time or temporary;
- the actions of agents, including contractors, visiting speakers etc.
- The Vice Chancellor with the University Council is responsible for ensuring:
- that the policy and its related procedures are effectively implemented
- that all staff and students are aware of their responsibilities under the legislation.
- All members of staff are required to comply with the Act and all students and staff are expected to comply with the University's Policy and Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
Disability as Defined by the Act
The Act defines a disability as:
A ‘physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. The effect must be substantial (that is, more than minor or trivial); long-term (that is, has lasted or is likely to last for at least 12 months or for the rest of the life of the person affected); and adverse.
- ‘Impairment’ covers physical impairments and impairments affecting the senses such as sight and hearing. It also covers mental impairments, including learning disabilities and mental illness where the condition is recognised by a respected body of medical opinion. If an impairment is controlled by medication or special aids the student is still considered as disabled for the purposes of the Act.
- ‘Substantial’ means more than minor or trivial and includes progressive conditions where impairment is likely to become substantial, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and HIV infection. Students with such conditions are covered by the Act from the moment there is a noticeable effect on day-to-day activities, however slight.
- ‘Long-term’ means effects which last for at least twelve months, or are likely to last for twelve months or more. Long-term effects include those which are likely to recur.
- ‘Day-to-day’ activities are normal activities carried out by most people on a regular basis, and must involve one of the following broad categories: mobility; manual dexterity; physical co-ordination; continence; the ability to lift, carry or move everyday objects; speech, hearing, eyesight; memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand; perception of the risk of physical danger.
- Severe disfigurements are treated as a disability, even though they may not effect a student’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
The Act describes discrimination in two ways:
- When the University treats a disabled person less favourably, for a reason relating to the person’s disability, than it treats (or would treat) a person to whom that reason does not, or would not, apply and that treatment cannot be justified.
- When the University fails to make a reasonable adjustment when a disabled student is placed, or likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to a person who is not disabled.
The Act requires that the University ensures that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are in place so that students with a disability are not placed at a substantial disadvantage in relation to non-disabled students. It also requires the University to make anticipatory ‘reasonable adjustments’.
The Act requires the University to:
- take reasonable steps to ensure that a student with a disability is not placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with a student who is not disabled.
- When considering whether a student with a disability is placed at a substantial disadvantage when compared with a student who is not disabled, the University will take account of:
- the time, inconvenience, effort or discomfort entailed in comparison with other students. A ‘substantial’ disadvantage is one that is more than minor or trivial.
The University will take into account the following factors when considering
what is reasonable:
- the need to maintain academic and other prescribed standards
- the cost of taking a particular step and the financial resources available
- grants or loans likely to be available to students with a disability (and only those students) such as Disabled Students’ Allowances
- the extent to which it is practicable to take a particular step
- the extent to which aids or services will otherwise be provided to students with a disability
- health and safety requirements
- the relevant interests of other people including other students.
It is a requirement of the Act that adjustments should not be reactive to known current students with a disability but should anticipate the needs of disabled applicants. It is therefore important that the University anticipate the generality of student needs by making sure routine practice is reflective of, and responsive to, a diverse student population. The anticipatory duty is an evolving one and the University will be required to continue to improve on provision over time.
Inclusivity will be a central requirement of all new buildings and projects as built-in accessibility is easier and more cost effective than later adjustments.
Funding Reasonable and Anticipatory Adjustments
Departments will be responsible for funding reasonable and anticipatory adjustments for students, including the provision of course materials in alternative formats and the cost of individual exam arrangements. Students requiring further support for which there will be additional costs will be expected to fund this through the Disabled Students Allowance, if they are eligible. Students not entitled to such funding can apply to the University Additional Needs Fund which may cover all or part of these costs. However, it should be noted that it may not be possible for the University to any or all of the costs incurred.
Access to Buildings
The Act covers all aspects of the physical environment, including:
- Access to buildings; circulation within buildings, including their interior layout, effective lighting and signage and colour or tone contrast on doors etc to aid orientation; effective emergency evacuation arrangements, such as flashing light fire alarms or vibrating pagers for people with a hearing impairment, fire refuges or alternative escape routes for people with a mobility impairment. Convenient and reserved parking spaces for those who need them
- Acoustics appropriate for hearing aid users and loop systems in lecture theatres, at reception desks and other key areas
- Desks, laboratory benches, work surfaces and receptions desks at varying or flexible heights and appropriate seating
- Access to services, such as toilets, catering facilities, or payphones* in a corridor, mail boxes for the collection of work and notice boards.
* It should be noted that the University provides students with a disability with a mobile phone where appropriate.
Refurbishment and Routine Maintenance
When undertaking refurbishments or routine maintenance every opportunity will be taken to introduce improvements, such as colour/tone contrast on doorways, better lighting, or flooring that is easier for wheelchair users.
The University will actively seek creative solutions where there is lack of access to a building or physical feature, for example: exploring the use of technology to provide alternative access to services or identifying if the service can be brought to the student by identifying another venue.
Reasonable Adjustments for Individuals
The University acknowledges that it may not be able to anticipate every need but recognises that it should be ready to make reasonable adjustments on behalf of individuals.
The Act requires the University to offer students every opportunity to disclose their disability. In accordance with the Data Protection Act, any information will be treated appropriately. Not choosing to declare a disability is the right of the individual, however, in order to comply with its duty to make reasonable adjustments the University will seek to ensure that it is aware of the needs of individual students and will seek to anticipate those needs. The University will encourage students to disclose a disability by:
- Asking students to declare their disabilities on application and enrolment forms
- Publicising the provision that is made for students with a disability
- Providing opportunities for students to inform staff and by ensuring that staff are aware of how to respond appropriately to such disclosure
- Asking students when they apply for services whether they need any specific arrangements because of a disability, e.g. individual exam arrangements; University accommodation
- Ensuring that the atmosphere and culture of the University is open and welcoming so that a student with a disability feels safe to disclose their disability.
If a student declares a disability staff should be aware of the procedures for the dissemination of information and of the issue of confidentiality.
A student with a disability has the right to request that the existence or nature of their disability is treated as confidential. In determining whether it is reasonable to make an adjustment the University must have regard to the extent that making the adjustment is consistent with the request for confidentiality. In some instances this might mean that a reasonable adjustment may have to be provided in an alternative way in order to comply with the students request to keep their disability confidential.
In some cases a confidentiality request might mean that a less satisfactory reasonable adjustment is provided or that no reasonable adjustment can be made.
The Data Protection Act 1998
The Data Protection Act 1998 restricts the processing of personal data and
‘sensitive’ personal data about individuals and particularly how and whether
that information can be passed on to others. Information relating to an individual’s disability is classified as sensitive personal data. In ensuring that students with a disability are not discriminated against and that reasonable adjustments are made, it may be necessary to pass data concerning a student to members of staff or others, such as a work placement provider. Even if students have not requested confidentiality, the use and transfer of information about them, including references, is restricted by the Data Protection Act and disclosure of information will often require the students’ explicit informed consent. In order to ensure that the University is not in breach of either SENDA or the Data Protection Act it may be necessary to:
- Ask the students’ permission to pass on information necessary for making reasonable adjustments
- Advise students of the use that will be made of information when asking them to disclose a disability on application, enrolment or examination forms
- Ensure appropriate procedures are in place to keep sensitive and other personal information confidential.
- However, should a student request confidentiality information may not, from that point, be passed on for the purposes of making reasonable adjustments.
It is important to ensure that a potential student is not placed at a substantial disadvantage even before applying to the University. All information targeted at potential students, including the prospectus, should be available in alternative formats, for example, Braille, large format or electronically. Web based materials should be accessible to those using assistive technology, such as screen reading software or those not using a mouse.
Information about Central Services should be accessible to students with a disability and should make clear what adjustments are already in place. Information should also be made available concerning additional adjustments that can be made on an individual basis.
The prospectus should be available in Braille and electronically and departments should ensure that any specific marketing literature relating to courses is also available in other formats.
The term student, as defined by the Act, includes not only those registered on full or part-time undergraduate or graduate courses but also those attending for part of a course or visiting from another institution.
The Act makes it unlawful for the University to discriminate against a
- in admissions or enrolments
- in the terms on which admissions or enrolment offers are made
- by refusing or deliberately omitting to accept an application for admission or enrolment
- The Act defines applicants and potential applicants as:
- those receiving a prospectus;
- targeted by recruitment drives and outreach work;
- attending open days or attending for interview.
The University welcomes and encourages applications from students with a disability. All applications will be judged solely on the basis of academic potential. Applicants with a disability will be asked to provide information about their disability and will be invited to discuss their individual needs and how these might be met. The University will make every effort to offer suitable provision although exceptionally this may not be possible.
Under the Act the University has an additional duty not to discriminate against a student with a disability by excluding them temporarily or permanently from the institution on the grounds of their disability.
Learning and Teaching
The University is committed to creating an inclusive learning, teaching and assessment environment for all its students and to ensuring that students with a disability receive full access to education and other related provision and have the same opportunities as non disabled students. Parity of provision is paramount, academic standards for courses cannot be used to bar specific groups and any justification has to be relevant to the academic standards of a particular course and to the abilities of an individual student. With regard to learning and teaching careful consideration must be given to reasonable and anticipatory adjustments.
The University will ensure that, wherever it is reasonably possible, students with disabilities are not discriminated against in the delivery and assessment of the curriculum. This will be achieved by:
- mainstreaming inclusive practice
- engendering and embedding a climate of innovative and flexible practice, monitored by the department and not centred on an individual student
- ensuring access to classes, lectures, seminars and practical sessions
- identifying alternative methods of examinations and assessments
- ensuring access, or identifying realistic alternatives, to study abroad, work placements or field trips
- producing learning equipment and materials such as lecture notes and handouts in advance; ensuring laboratory equipment, computer facilities, seminar rooms, lecture theatres, laboratories etc. are accessible
- ensuring access to the library and other resource centres
It is the responsibility of teaching departments to ensure an accessible learning and teaching environment and that, where appropriate, there is a range of assessment methods to enable a student with a disability to realise their full potential.
It should be noted that by addressing the needs of students with a disability other students, such as International students, may also be better served.
Students will be placed at a substantial disadvantage if the course is delivered through an inaccessible medium and consideration needs to be given to producing materials in accessible formats. Digital materials are most easily converted into a range of accessible formats such as Braille or audio. Web based material and visual aids such as OHP’s, to support orally delivered material is most useful if made available prior to the lecture. This assists students with dyslexia as well as students with a hearing impairment who can lip-read more effectively if they have some advance knowledge of the subject matter and any new terminology. There is also a positive advantage for International students who will also benefit from learning new terminology in advance of the class.
Where video’s are used, subtitling or transcripts may be essential for some students and audio description of key visual information may be essential for others. Subtitled videos can also be of benefit for students who are non-native English speakers.
The Act does not require the University to do anything that might mean it cannot maintain academic or other prescribed standards in a particular learning programme. However, the University will seek to ensure that it takes all reasonable steps to enable suitably qualified students with a disability to successfully participate in and complete all academic programmes through the provision of a flexible learning environment.
The University is committed to providing access to services for all students and the Act makes it unlawful for the University to discriminate against a student with a disability in the provision of services. This includes provision such as: recreation, catering facilities, accommodation, health services, counselling, chaplaincy, careers advice, careers libraries and training and welfare services.
Services providing advice, counselling or information should have materials available in other formats and sign language interpreters available if required. Staff should be trained to know how to communicate with a student who lip-reads or has communication difficulties.
As every need cannot be anticipated services should be ready to make reasonable adjustments on behalf of individuals. These could include:
- provision of a sign language interpreter
- offering a timed session if a service operates a ‘drop-in’, for someone who experiences fatigue and finds it difficult to wait
- assisting a dyslexic student in the completion of forms such as applications for a Hardship Loan
- providing a personalised training routine for a student who cannot use equipment in the standard way
- ensuring catering outlets are accessible, with no fixed seating, a lower counter area and easy to read menus or staff available to read the menu and to carry a tray to a table if required
- adaptations to fire and other emergency procedures
- appropriate training for staff, and possibly some students, in supporting a student having an epileptic seizure.
The University accommodates a significant number of students in University residential accommodation. Several rooms have been adapted for wheelchair users or those with mobility difficulties sited alongside rooms for non-disabled students. Rooms have adjustable height work surfaces in the kitchens and consideration is given to allocating larger rooms for students with additional technology needs, providing them with additional power points to enable them to access this technology. As buildings are refurbished contrasting paint colours are used for doors and corridors.
Reasonable adjustments which the University would consider making for individuals might include:
- the installation of a hoist
- private fridges to store medication
- Braille markings on ovens and microwaves
- Extra shelving for Braille materials
- Flashing lights or other alerts for hearing impaired students
Charging policies should not penalise students with a disability who is required to live in more expensive accommodation solely as a result of that disability. In these circumstances a ‘standard’ or ‘average’ rate should be charged.
Staff working in the residences, Housing Managers, cleaners and Residence Tutors should know how to respond if a student discloses a disability to them and who, with the students’ consent, information should be passed to.
Students with a disability should not be asked to encounter processes not applied to non-disabled students and procedures need to reflect this.
Private Sector Housing
Services helping to find private accommodation for students should be aware that some students with a disability may need additional information about accessible local accommodation and transport links. Assistance should also be given to students who may need extra support negotiating with a private householder.
Contracted out Services
The University maintains responsibility for ensuring that students are not
discriminated against if services are contracted out. Contracts should,
therefore, be specific about the level of anticipatory adjustments that should
be made; individual adjustments for students where appropriate and allocation
procedures and charging policies.
Complaints of Discrimination on the Basis of Disability
The University offers support and advice for students and staff who believe they are being discriminated against or harassed on the basis of their disability. This includes advice on how to make a formal complaint. The University has a Harassment policy and a team of trained Harassment Advisers who can provide further information and guidance.
Harassment and Victimisation
Victimisation is a form of discrimination covered by the Act. It applies whether
or not the person victimised is a disabled person. The Act says that a person discriminates against another person if he or she treats the other person less favourably than he or she treats (or would treat) other people in the same circumstances – regardless of disability because the other person has:
- brought proceedings under the Act (whether or not proceedings are later withdrawn); or
- given evidence or information in connection with such proceedings; or
- done anything else under the Act; or
- alleged someone has contravened the Act (whether or not the allegation is later dropped).
The Act also says that a person discriminates against another person if he or
she treats the other person less favourably than he or she treats (or would treat) other people in the same circumstances. Such victimisation is discrimination whether or not the victim is disabled.
Complaints of harassment or victimisation are treated seriously by the University. It should therefore be noted that anyone making mischievous or malicious complaints will be referred to the appropriate disciplinary procedures.
Any incident of discrimination, harassment or any action which causes a person or group to suffer a detriment on the basis of their disability will be regarded very seriously and may be grounds for disciplinary action. The appropriate disciplinary action may result in sanctions up to and including expulsion or dismissal from the University.
- Admissions Policy and Procedure for students with Disabilities
- Equal Opportunities Policy
- Disability and Additional Needs Unit
- The Disability Rights Commission
- The DRC has produced a number of guides including:
- Examinations and Assessment Good Practice Guide and the Code of Practice for providers of Post-16 Education and Related Services www.drc-gb.org
Guidelines to Schools on responding to the issues raised by SENDA
It is suggested that the following may assist staff in Schools with the implementation, delivering and monitoring of their obligations under the legislation.
Identify a member of staff (academic or administrative) to oversee and monitor development of practices within the School generally, building up good practice and being proactive in giving advice to staff across the School as well as being proactive in ensuring that physical arrangements and learning materials are available to all students in such as way that does not get in the way of their studies.
• Ensure that admissions staff provide information targeted at potential students in appropriate alternative formats. This needs to be done in advance and must include open day material, and that provided in paper-based and web format.
• Ensure that admissions and programme staff are available to meet with the student and that either advice is sought from the Disability Team , or the student referred to the Disability Team for a needs assessments at the application stage
• Ensure the involvement of appropriate staff at induction so that all students have access to areas required for their studies and that other aids are available for teaching sessions (in liaison with Registry and Planning Services and the Disability Team).
• Arrange for appropriate staff (academic or administrative) to meet with the student to assess (with the Disability Team) their individual needs. This also may require adapting examination requirements with the help of the Disability Team .
• Ensure the involvement of appropriate Computing/Technical staff (academic or administrative) so that the appropriate equipment and adaptations are made on hardware, software and other equipment to be used by the student in studying in that discipline.
• Select an appropriate personal tutor and/or other named support for each student, to be available to receive and follow up ad hoc queries as they occur.
• Ensure the involvement of appropriate staff (academic or administrative) in facilitating meetings/flow of information as appropriate (within the bounds of confidentiality) between individual or groups of students and individual lecturing staff to ensure all learning needs are anticipated at the beginning of each module.
• Ensure that Academic staff are able to allocate the time needed to ensure that the learning approaches that they use (including delivery and learning materials) are appropriate to all students.
• Ensure that time is allocated (by academic or support staff) for providing learning material such as lecture notes and handouts in advance in a medium appropriate to each student – e.g. via VLE or paper-based.
• Ensure that all students have the same access to placement provision.
The following case studies reflect the experiences of past and present students, although some details have been changed to protect the student’s identity. It is intended that they should provide examples of the positive and practical ways in which students with a disability can be supported whilst studying at the University.
Case Study 1
Carol is a student with a visual impairment studying a course which involves the use of specialised computer software. Carol can read non-handwritten, enlarged print and finds it easier if the majority of information is presented electronically. Carol finds it fatiguing to read for long periods of time, so again finds it easier to use text books on audio tape.
Carol’s department provided the following:
• A list of all the required reading for the course was sent to Carol in the early summer before arriving at Aston. This enabled Carol to research the availability of texts on tape through the RNIB and to scan information onto her PC for use with talking screen reading software
• A demonstration copy of the specialist software Carol would need for her course, so she could check that it would be compatible with her screen reading and screen magnification software, prior to her arrival
• The purchase of text magnification software for the department to use when delivering practical computer-based elements of the course within the University
• Copies of all handouts and lecture outlines/notes in advance, via email, so that Carol could either print them out in the required format or access them via her screen reader prior to attendance at the lecture
• Individual exam arrangements, allowing extra time and the use of a computer
• A draft copy of Carol’s timetable was given to the University Disability Team, prior to her arrival at the University to enable them to arrange support workers at the appropriate times.
The Disability Team provided:
• Advice on applying for funding through the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) to pay for personal study-related expenses, such as specialist software, computer equipment and support worker assistance. This paid for: A laptop computer, 19” monitor, keyboard & mouse, laser printer, scanner (training & software install) Screen reader/magnification and voice recognition software for use on laptop, MiniDisc, external microphone and headphones
• Support workers providing assistance in lectures (note-taking and transcription into electronic format). The DSA paying for 150 support hours
• Orientation assistance for the first week after Carol arrived at the University, in order to familiarise herself with the layout of the campus and the location of teaching spaces and other facilities, which was provided using the DSA and volunteers.
The DSA allowance came to approximately £8000.