It can be easy to identify people with a disability if they use a wheelchair, walking aids or a white cane, but many disabilities are less obvious.
Learning difficulties, dyslexia or Asperger’s are examples of disabilities that may have no indicators, and can be tricky to recognise and support.
Sometimes, invisible or unknown disability can remain undiagnosed for years and can contribute to a lack of success at school: it’s not uncommon for adults to be diagnosed with a difficulty only when they continue their education in further or higher education institutions.
‘Print impairments’, an umbrella term for a range of barriers to reading print, including dyslexia, learning difficulties, and problems that prevent the learner from turning pages or holding a device to read from, are agreed to affect about 10% of those in higher education. This figure is higher within the further education and skills sector.
Taking students who have English as an additional language into consideration, this percentage could be as high as 25% So it is crucial you make sure that content and materials for learners is as diverse and varied as the students themselves.
Inclusive practice with the help of technology
Inclusive practice involves providing content that is accessible to as many people as possible, ensuring that a diverse range of students can use, access and contribute to it in a meaningful way.
In practice this involves using ways of conveying information other than by text, as text can present problems to people with disabilities. This short presentation shows how difficult it can be for different people to access written text, compared to other formats.
Technology can also improve the inclusivity of your learning resources, helping students with disabilities to access the curriculum, providing alternatives to printed text, and supporting better collaboration and sharing.
My top tips
Audio and video content can be difficult for learners with hearing or visual impairments to access. Providing transcripts for audio and video content helps.
Use accessibility features
Documents that are difficult to navigate can cause problems for some learners. Using existing built-in accessibility features of applications helps create more accessible and well structured documents.
Make use of free software
Learners with vision or hearing problems can find it difficult to access standard learning materials. Using simple, free additional software applications to provide access to the curriculum.
Helping Omar participate in group work
Omar studies HNC social care at the City of Glasgow College and is dyslexic.
Trying to take notes during lectures was frustrating and distracting for him. Now he uses AudioNote to take notes and record what he needs to quickly, and even to capture extra comments and pertinent asides from teachers and students to enhance his learning.
Omar is now able to learn better and participate in group work more effectively.
How technology supported Megan's learning
Megan is deaf and uses technology to support her learning. She uses her phone to record her lessons; she listens to them again at home, using a sound-enhancing software, to reinforce her own learning in a way that works well for her. Megan’s efforts and hard work earned her ‘Student of the Year’ at her college.
Reframe content in learning materials
Some people with disabilities find the format of learning materials is the biggest barrier to being able to access them. There are many simple and effective to allow uses to reframe content into a format they find easier.
Why David chooses his mobile over a computer screen
David, who is blind, is taking a degree in script writing. His visual impairment means he finds concentrating on a computer screen for long spells difficult, so he prefers to use an iPhone for much of his writing. He finds using a phone much easier, and he feels this relaxed working setting really helps his creativity.
Make resources available online, on time
How VLEs ensure Megan doesn't miss out
Megan, whom we also mentioned above, can struggle to hear during lessons due to her hearing impairment. But because all her lessons are on the college’s virtual learning environment (VLE), she can go back and check the content if she thinks she might have missed or misheard something. She also uses online quizzes and assessments to check and reinforce her own learning.
Supporting collaboration and sharing also develops crucial employability skills and also provides an opportunity for deep learning and the development and testing of ideas.
Technology to give Luke confidence
Luke, who has autism, can struggle to engage with people socially – but using his confidence with technology has helped him to improve his interpersonal skills. Luke has been showing other students how to use tablets. Using technology as a basis for this personal development has given him confidence and he enjoys being able to connect with his fellow learners.
There are a number of more detailed student case studies within our guide supporting learners with special needs.