The end of August marks the end of school holidays, the beginning of many college courses and the start of the new university year.
However, if you are a student with a Disability, some planning many have to go into the start of your academic year in order to facilitate the support you need to stay on course.
First of all, it is important to remember that you are just as entitled to attend school, college or university as everyone else.
It is also important to always believe in yourself, you can do it.
Dyslexia as an Example
At times, the society we live in may make education difficult.
For example, if you are dyslexic and have difficulty reading, remembering and writing - the three "Rs" as far as Dyslexia is concerned - the need to hand in written work, read through pages of black and white text and then to sit a written exam on the subject, educational achievement may seem like a challenge. However, it need not be.
In this case, you may be entitled to additional time with your course work, to additional time with written exams, to use a scribe, to additional toilet breaks if you need a breather, the use of a computer and assistive technology.
This list of support described above is by no means prescriptive nor is it exhaustive.
What the list reflects are the potential "reasonable adjustments" that can be put in place for you to help you stay on course.
Personal approach is necessary
It is also important to remember that no one person with a disability - whether it is dyslexia, a mental health condition, a physical support need or something else - is the same. We are all unique, and with that, each of us may have different support needs.
Unfortunately, many school administrators like to group disabled students, misunderstanding that the support needs for one person may not be the same as those you require. This can lead to some difficulty in determining what is "reasonable" in terms of the adjustments that any institution may have to make.
The Medical Model of Disability
For example, a number of years ago the issue of student mental health - as a disability - was hotly contested within the education sector. There was, and still is, to some extent, a lack of understanding concerning mental ill health.
Many educationalists preferred to focus on the medical model; always seeking a diagnosis and determining from that whether or not mental health fell within the scope of "disability" in order to make any reasonable adjustments.
The over reliance on the medical model, is something that many more experience disabled activists will be familiar with. For the sake of brevity, the medicalisation of a disabled person removes the personal, it dehumanises and it predominately sees the disabled person as a problem.
The Social Model of Disability
This approach is contrasted with a social model of disability. Under this model, it is society, with its focus on maintaining utility for the majority, that is actually the problem.
The majority of people are able bodied, do not use wheelchairs and do not have support workers to enable day to day living. This is why, amongst other things, buildings, services, educational assessments and the way our society operates are all designed to accommodate the utility for the majority.
The social model articulates that society is actually the disabling factor. Unlike the medical model, the societal understanding of accommodation is the problem. Importantly, the problem is not the disabled person themselves.
Mental Health as an Example
Returning to the example of mental health, the medical model almost entirely ignores the problems created by society in providing appropriate support - and reasonable adjustments - for people with mental ill health.
Additionally, the medical model also seeks to categorise - through diagnosis - the mental health problem in hand. This means that people with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder or some other category are often grouped together rather than being looked at as individuals with personal support needs.
What is essential to providing support to any disabled person is that you have an understanding of the support needs for that person; not as a homogenised group of persons with a particular category code or diagnosis.
A student with a mental health problem may experience problems with motivation, concentration, memory and also experience fatigue and general ill health. In order to support someone in this context, a support worker may be necessary, additional time for assessments allowed, no penalties for handing in work late or absence. Again, this is not an exhaustive list.
The legal position concerning reasonable adjustments is found in the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act is lengthy and for this reason, a summary of what it says is provided here;
- Disabled students are protected from discrimination - discrimination can either be direct or indirect.
- Protection also extends to acts of harassment or victimisation for a reason connected with the disability (in some circumstances, the criminal law also provides protection).
- You do not need to be disabled yourself to benefit from protection; you are also protected from discrimination by association or a reason connected with the disability.
In some cases, an education provider may decline to make a reasonable adjustment, if it is felt that the request is not reasonable.
If a dispute arises concerning a School, there are specific tribunals established to resolve a dispute. Unfortunately, the tribunals do not have jurisdiction over colleges and universities. In these cases, a dispute would have to be resolved through the local crown or sheriff court.
It is important to make contact with your education provider as soon as possible.
The institution should then refer you to an appropriate service to seek support and discuss reasonable adjustments. In many colleges and universities there is a dedicated student support service with disability advisers who can make recommendations.
It is important to be as open as possible about what support you may require.
The discussion you have is a two way process. You do not simply have to accept what someone tells you, if you want something else or do not feel that it is appropriate.
You may also be asked to provide evidence. This is a reasonable request, but it should not be made too onerous. For example, in the case of dyslexia a report summary from a Psychologist should suffice. In the case of a mental health issue, a letter from a G.P.
Please note, if you are told that the recommendations do not have to be accepted by the course provider, then this could constitute an unlawful act of discrimination, harassment or victimisation.
The law says that reasonable adjustments must be made. The law also prohibits discrimination. Education providers are not given a choice about the law; it is there to protect you.
In Higher and Further Education, the Government provides a scheme called the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). The DSA provides funding for you to buy equipment, software and to access non medical personal help. In order to access DSA funding, your education provider may have to refer you to a specialist assessment centre.
Once you settle into your academic year, you should be able to enjoy your course and fingers crossed, that with a little planning in advance, you get the support you need.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has prepared various guidance notes concerning Equality in the Education sector. For more information, visit:
Caveat: This article is not legal advice.