Titles of support staff and the roles they undertake do vary. The list below describes the roles of specialist staff you are most likely to come across. See also Support staff for deaf and hard of hearing students.
Depending on the size of your institution, you may have staff (with a range of job titles) who provide a generic service to support disabled students.
Disability service manager or disability coordinator – this key staff member coordinates or manages the services for disabled, and often dyslexic, students. They have an institution-wide role and are involved in the development of strategy and policy and the monitoring and development of services. They may also provide staff development on disability issues.
Disability adviser or disability officer – usually works with individual students and provides advice, information and support. They are involved in assessing the needs of disabled students and making recommendations for reasonable adjustments to help them access the curriculum (such as alternative assessment arrangements and the use of specialist software). They may also assist disabled students to apply for DSAs.
Dyslexia tutor, learning support tutor or study skills support tutor – supplies support that is not specific to any particular subject, but deals rather in enhancing coping strategies and supporting general study skills such as motivation, concentration and self-esteem, and provides study skills sessions.
Educational psychologist – carries out diagnostic assessments for students prior to their receiving a Disabled Students' Allowance and may also advise on study strategies.
Some disabled students require individual support. These support workers may have different titles in different institutions, such as non medical helper, learning support assistant or learning support worker. Most of these support staff operate within your institution and are primarily concerned with supporting a student’s learning.
Personal assistant – under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, social services departments have a duty to assess the needs of a disabled person and to provide them with services to enable them to live in the community. Their assessment of the individual’s personal requirements may not match what is required within a teaching and learning situation, but does encompass daily living needs such as washing, dressing and feeding. A student with a personal assistant may well ask them to help around the campus, and may bring them along to lectures and seminars and use their support when studying in the library or in other situations. In some cases this assistant may be specially trained to provide support with communication and mobility issues. It is important to remember to communicate directly with the student even though the personal assistant may act in a supportive role and may facilitate verbal communication.
Mental health advisor or Mental health coordinator – offers advice and support through a one-to-one contact with students on mental health issues, as well as to their friends, colleagues and tutors. They can discuss wider support services, financial help, and the adjustments that can be made to academic arrangements. They may have responsibility for coordinating the support requirements of students with mental health difficulties.
Specialist maths support tutor – does not necessarily help with particular course work but helps develop skills so the student can cope with the course. Support is offered in a way that suits the student’s learning styles so that he or she can grasp complex concepts more easily.
Technology support officer – is linked to the computer services department and has a specialist remit to work with students with disabilities. The university may have its own assistive technology centre where assessments for suitable supporting technologies can take place and training related to their use can be organised.
Non medical helpers or academic support – are general terms for those who can provide aspects of support that enable the student to access buildings, cope with day-to-day studying, research and work on assignments. They may become involved with providing help in laboratories, on field trips and other study related outings. Their tasks when supporting students with mobility and dexterity difficulties may include acting as a reader, note taker, scribe, amanuensis or practical assistant in the library or elsewhere, as described below. This category also includes volunteers, such as community service volunteers (CSV), who may provide support for students and can also become personal assistants. In 2003/2004 over 700 CSVs worked in colleges and universities. They are trained, whereas volunteers that are friends tend to help on a more casual level.
Practical assistant – helps with manual tasks at the student’s direction, for example in a laboratory or workshop, or on a field trip. This can help those who tire easily or have limited dexterity – carrying books may be difficult, coping with small items and using fine instruments may require assistance.
A reader – is of great benefit to some students, in particular during tests, as some text cannot be scanned and made available electronically and photocopying may not always be possible. Large books, fragile papers, microfiche etc may be hard to handle. A reader may also read text into a recorder if the student is unable to scan the information into a computer, or struggles to absorb the information when a synthetic voice is used. Page turning may also be an issue and mechanical page turners are not very reliable with certain types of books and journals.
Note taker – during lecturers, seminars and situations where notes need to be taken a non-medical helper may carry out some or all of the writing. Although recorders can be used, in many circumstances the content still may have to be typed or written out. When it comes to equations or other scientific data it is often easier to have items written down as they are explained. Diagrams and drawings may also need to be copied from overheads and white boards.
Amanuensis or scribe – an amanuensis writes what is dictated by the student during an examination, or may help when the student is writing assignments and the alternative of a recorder and computer does not work for them, perhaps because their typing is slow or they find it hard to concentrate on typing and composing. The title scribe may also be used, but there is no difference between the two. An amanuensis can only write down what has been said – they may punctuate text but make no changes to the content. An amanuensis is usually not the same person that has been working with the student during the term although it helps if they understand the subject.
A buddy – may accompany a student in lectures, seminars, or exams to reduce anxiety and provide general support.
Trained assistance, medical or seizure alert dogs – although you may be most familiar with guide dogs for blind people, dogs are also used by deaf people, wheelchair users and those with certain medical conditions. In addition to guiding, they are able to help carry and fetch items, pick up objects including the telephone receiver, open doors, and warn of events such as audible alarms or an impending seizure. These dogs need breaks in the same way as their owners, but on the whole they sit quietly throughout teaching sessions, where they should be provided with enough room to stay beside their owner. Unless you are involved in making arrangements for them you should ignore them.