It is good practice to provide all students with early information about the assessment strategy for their module or course. Disabled students can then think about any difficulties they might face and identify their needs. The information provided should include assessment timetables, locations, activities assessed, methods of assessment, types of assessment (i.e. formative or summative), alternative assessment methods and alternative assessment activities.
The adjustments that might be appropriate depend on the assessment method, the needs of the student and the learning outcomes. Sheffield Hallam University's Accessible Assessments website provides useful detailed guidance on possible adjustments for different types of assessment, and on accessible and inclusive assessment design.
A student with disabilities may well have already worked with a learning support tutor or other staff to find a set of assessment strategies that suit their learning style. For example, students with specific learning difficulties may find it helpful to use diagrams or mind maps when planning an essay, or they may have various ways of coping with time restraints. However, other individual issues may still arise, especially with text-based assessments where questions may confuse or answers take too long to write for a student to show their knowledge. The student may arrange to have support from a scribe (amanuensis) or a reader, or both. Alternatively they may produce their written answer using a computer or other specialist equipment.
The main issues for blind and visually impaired students undertaking assessments are the availability of accessible formats and human or technical support. Students may need assessment questions and materials in alternative formats. They may require the assistance of an amanuensis or the use of assistive technologies. Using these strategies invariably takes longer and may necessitate a more flexible approach, including additional time.
Students who are prelingually deaf or whose first language is BSL may have difficulties extracting meaning from written text and formulating answers in English. Deaf students may do well in written coursework assignments where they can have the support of an English language tutor, but not be able to demonstrate their learning in written work under timed examination conditions. Many find multiple-choice or long complicated examination questions difficult to understand. Assessed presentations may also disadvantage deaf students if they are not provided with appropriate reasonable adjustments. Even then, if the assessment criteria include presentation style, they may be unfairly disadvantaged. A solution might be to have the questions signed, or the responses signed and translated or written up.
Mental health problems can be exacerbated by increased tension associated with assignments. Agreeing suitable assessment adjustments with the student in advance may help to avoid unnecessary mental distress in the run up to deadlines and exams. However, you may need to take a flexible approach and be prepared to make other arrangements as necessary.
The main problem for those with mobility and dexterity difficulties is accessibility, time and tiredness. However, as everyone has their own method for coping in these situations it is important to make adjustments that take into account personal preferences.
Procedures to claim extenuating circumstances can be very stressful for any student, particularly if they have to wait some time for a decision to be made on whether their extenuation will be accepted and their work marked. For students with disabilities this delay can be particularly difficult to deal with because of the need to plan their work load and support arrangements.
SPACE (Staff-Student Partnership for Assessment Change and Evaluation) is a project based at the University of Plymouth that aims to develop and promote alternative forms of assessment as a way of facilitating a more inclusive approach.