An accessible and safe learning environment is necessary for all students, but you and your institution may find additional challenges when making provision for students who are disabled. Since September 2005 higher education institutions are required to have made reasonable adjustments to premises used for teaching or other activities for disabled students.
The starting point is usually an accessibility audit: a detailed examination of a physical site, resource or activity by an expert to assess the extent to which it can be used by disabled students. The resulting report identifies actual and potential barriers and recommends adjustments to overcome them. The audits are formal processes, but the rationale behind them applies to anyone responsible for teaching and supporting disabled students.
Consider the different locations, built and natural, in which you teach.
Are there likely to be any health and safety implications, particularly in practical learning environments? You may need to ask your manager to arrange a health and safety assessment and then take any necessary actions. For example, stairways must be kept clear at all times.
Are you aware of the evacuation procedures that are in place and what your personal responsibilities are? If there are refuges for wheelchair users in case of fire when lifts cannot be used, do you know where they are?
Will the student need support, such as from a sighted assistant or a sign language interpreter? Will this have any implications for the way in which the learning environment is managed (e.g. lighting levels, seating arrangements)?
Will the student need any specialist equipment (e.g. induction loop, audio recorder, CCTV) or adaptations to existing equipment such as installation of text-to-speech software on a PC? How will these be provided?
Can any adjustments be made to the room to make it more accessible to people with a range of disabilities (e.g. providing extra lighting, more electrical sockets for specialist equipment users, a portable induction loop, an additional table for positioning an omni-directional microphone for a loop or radio aid system, height adjustable chairs, sufficient turning room for wheelchairs, installing a carpet to improve acoustics)?
Can any adjustments be made to furniture and equipment used in laboratories and workshops?
You should discuss most if not all these issues with your line manager or your institution’s disability coordinator and agree on the action to be taken.
It may not be possible to make the physical teaching environment suitable for all students with disabilities, and some of these issues (e.g. room allocation) may be outside your control. If the environment cannot be made safe, provide an alternative educational experience, or make special assessment arrangements.
It is possible that there may be situations where some students may not be able to participate. However, there must be an extremely good reason for any such decision. See more details in the section on the Disability Discrimination Act.