Barriers to learning for disabled students may be attitudinal, organisational or practical. The Disability Discrimination Act has a vital role to play in dismantling barriers and delivering equality of opportunity for disabled people in higher education. Initiatives to recognise diversity within the student population and to understand the continuum of learner differences will help institutions to recognise and reduce barriers to learning for disabled people. However, some barriers to learning may still persist, either because they are outside the control of institutions or because they are a feature of a person’s impairment (e.g. living with pain).
Higher education requires active participation and a high level of personal organisation and drive. It is also an increasingly social activity, involving complex academic interactions with peers and tutors. It relies heavily on reading the written word and hearing the spoken word, and often involves working in buildings that were not designed with access in mind. It can be a difficult environment for many students and it is still strewn with barriers for those with disabilities.
The barriers to learning faced by students with disabilities are many and complex, and differ from student to student and often from day to day. Knowledge of their existence and their disabling impact will help you to appreciate their implications for learning. It will also help to set the legal concept of ‘reasonable adjustments’ into context.
Here are some examples of typical barriers that are recognised for students who have
Students with or without disabilities fall along a continuum of learner difference, rather than constituting separate categories. The adjustments you make for learner differences should occur for all students, not just those with disabilities. Curriculum materials should be varied and diverse, including digital and online resources, rather than centring on a single textbook.
Barriers to participation in higher education can be considerable for many disabled people. Remember the four As when you are thinking about how to remove or lower barriers.