Why this role is important
Personal support for learners may include assessments, working one-to-one in a support role, supporting small groups on study skills and troubleshooting assistive technology. Support staff also promote good accessibility practice to other roles in the organisation and shape cross organisational policies, as part of the quality assurance framework, to maximise benefits and minimise barriers.
A good disability support department will have an impact on:
- Specific gains in independence and achievement for disabled learners
- Generic benefits for the whole organisation (accessible practice has benefits for learners beyond the target group).
What you can do
Many learners with disabilities don’t want to stand out or use different tools from everybody else. Promoting the benefits of assistive tools to all staff and learners is a way of reducing the stigma and encouraging uptake.
Tools like text-to-speech, mind mapping and word prediction should be available across the entire network. You may not have the budgets for high-quality commercial versions, however free and open source versions can fill any gaps.
Make sure disabled learners are aware of:
- Inbuilt accessibility in Microsoft Word tools
- Inbuilt accessibility tools in Mac OS
- Inbuilt accessibility in your organisation’s web browser (ie plug-ins for text-to-speech - for example Selection Reader)
- Accessibility in mobile devices - ie, apps, inbuilt zoom.
You may deal with problems that are the consequence of choices made by others. For example, scanning textbooks for visually impaired or dyslexic learners may be an unnecessary problem created because:
- The library has no e-book subscription or the e-book platform is inaccessible
- The tutor uses a different textbook from the one on the e-book platform
- The tutor chose a textbook from a supplier with a poor reputation for disability responsiveness.
Minimise this by working with library managers, academic staff and senior managers to develop an e-resources policy. The free RNIB Bookshare service also provides accessible learning materials for those who have difficulty reading standard print.
Be open and informed
Keep yourself informed about educational technologies - you can help steer your organisation’s investments to maximise benefits and minimise barriers.
- Recognise that the virtual learning environment (VLE), the whiteboard and mobile devices may be important assistive technologies
- Encourage learners to share their strategies with you and with one another
- Encourage learners to explore free tools
- Take advantage of regional fora
- Join mailing lists like some of the JiscMail disability lists (eg, DisForum, Assistive Technology or Dyslexia).
The ultimate goal is to minimise barriers and maximise independence for all learners. Think carefully about how your organisation promotes accessibility services and ensure any documentation is accessible.
Working with others
In many organisations, it is easy to develop a silo approach. A positive proactive model involves close working with:
- Senior management to promote accessibility in procurement decisions
- IT staff to maximise accessibility on the VLE and the availability of tools on the network
- Library staff to make the most of e-book availability and accessibility
- Marketing staff to ensure your marketing materials and prospectus are appropriately accessible
- Academic staff to advise on good practice (for example creating accessible documents or optimising the accessibility of practicals and field courses).