Financial Support for Disabled Students

I have been researching the availability of support for disabled students in my FE college.As far as I can see, students on degree courses are eligible for a Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) which they can use to fund assistive technology, signers etc
In my own college, where the vast majority of students are not on an HE course, it seems that the funding is harder to access. Here is the reply I got to an enquiry:
Courses need to be funded by the SFA or EFA in the first instance or
funded via 24+ Advanced Learning Loans in order for the College to draw
down funding for ALS.  As far as I am aware there is no funding students
can actually get for themselves, however they should be able to access
specific software through the
College if their needs are assessed by the ALS (Additional Learning
Support) team as being necessary.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) says:
We will fund learners with learning difficulties or disabilities as set
out in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. That
Act states that we are responsible for:
‘Securing the provision for adults who:
• are aged 19 and over, and under 25, who are not subject to an Education,
Health and Care Plan; or
• are aged 25 and over and who self-declare they have a learning
difficulty or disability.’

So this seems to mean that if a course is funded by the SFA the college can use funding to help a disabled student. A 24+ Advanced learning loan is, as the name suggests, a loan which has to be repaid. Is it really the case that the college can only draw down funding if the student takes out a loan?
There seems to be different provision for students under the age of 23, but I haven’t explored that as my students are almost always over that age.
So, to sum up, HE students can apply personally for financial support, others can only do so if their course is funded by the SFA.
* is this an example of how support for disabled students is fragmented rather than being readily available? It took me quite a while to hunt out the information.
* Idea: should course publicity state up front whether attendance on that course would entitle a disabled student to support? I’m going to try to do that for my course.
* my students’ fees are often paid by their employer. Perhaps I could suggest to them that they ask their employer for help with assistive technologies.


Challenges for disabled students

1. Common to all:
*Course info on website assumes IT skills
* Teachers unsure how to accommodate disability may react negatively
* Teacher unaware of disability before the student appears. How does the student inform the teacher/institution of their disability?
* The onus is on the student to seek accommodation
* Emphasis often on the disability rather than the measures which would alleviate it
Issues around whether a disability can bar a student from a course eg arboriculture. Who decides?
2. Campus-based courses:
* Physical access (rooms are allocated to a course without awareness of a student’s disability)
* Need to attend in person may present mobility challenges, including moving around the campus
* Slides may be hard to see for visually impaired students
* Handouts may not be accessible
* Room too dark?
* Materials often not available in advance. If that is seen as helpful (not all teachers might see that as desirable or even possible) perhaps teachers could prepare as a matter of course a basic pack of information and materials for every course.
3. Online courses:
* Difficulty using mouse
* Problems with IT systems
* No transcript for hearing impaired students, no audio for sight impaired learners
4. Challenges specific to certain courses:
Teacher training: a student who signs wanted to join my course but was not accepted because we felt she could not meet some learning outcomes, especially the micro-teach. We suggested a teacher training course for signers
I struggled to accommodate a hearing impaired student with a signer
Hearing impaired applicant for A-Level German: we saw the challenges but not the solutions. our options:
*stick to the rules: no spoken oral exam, no qualification
* Arrange for signer, but we had no knowledge of German signing


Disability and the Learning Environment

I have started on the OU H810 course looking at disability and the on-line learner. It has already got me thinking:

  • we should not concentrate on disability as something within a learner but rather we should think about whether there is something in the learning environment which is a barrier to a student’s learning
  • in my online course maybe I should ask for students to declare any potential barriers they anticipate before the course starts.
  • How do we decide what measures to remove a barrier are reasonable and which are not?
  • I am hourly-paid; does that have any impact on the extent of the measures I would be expected to take? Should my commitment be open-ended?

I can already see that H810 is going to help me do a much better job of making my course more accessible.