Disability statements: A guide to good practice
1. Executive Summary
A Note on Terminology
1.1 As a result of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) has a statutory duty to require all its funded institutions to produce disability statements. This research project, funded by HEFCE, aimed to identify good practice in relation to the production and publication of disability statements in higher education institutions.
1.2 The conclusions lead to the following good practice recommendations for disability statements:
1.3 The statement should be the main information document for potential students with disabilities. The exact format and nature of the 'statement' should be down to individual institution choice - HEFCE guidelines should not be restrictive but they should encourage good practice in terms of coverage, language and presentation.
1.4 Statements should be written for potential students rather than for HEFCE or internal audiences; policy documents can be produced for internal use if necessary. A warm, informal style of language sets the tone for the personal relationship that will develop between the applicant/student and the disability office. Those preparing statements could ask staff usually involved with preparing student recruitment publications to assist with the copy.
1.5 Information should be reviewed at least annually and updated whenever necessary.
1.6 Effective presentation combines attractive layout with good use of headings and subheadings, bullet points and larger typesizes. Advice or assistance could be sought from central marketing/design units. A cover makes the document look more complete and a contents page helps in the location of information. If possible, information on facilities and equipment should be sectioned by type of disability or separate information sheets for each target group produced. Computerisation makes it relatively easy to tailor documents for particular groups (for example those with hearing impairments, mobility difficulties, etc) while retaining the same general information.
1.7 To make the document sound more accessible and interesting an additional title, explanatory paragraph or student quote could be used on the cover. Suggestions of more proactive titles are: 'opportunities for students with disabilities' or 'information for applicants with disabilities'. Covers could clarify which groups of students are included within the term 'disability' (particularly dyslexia) and state the availability of the document in alternative formats (disk, large print, Braille, audio tape).
1.8 Statements should identify a clear contact person (preferably on the cover) û there should be arrangements in place for when this person is not available (ie an answerphone or someone who is briefed to deal with enquiries). Applicants should be encouraged to visit.
1.9 There should be an introduction that summarises the institution's ethos and attitude towards students with disabilities. This can make reference to current student numbers and the proportion of disabled students within the student population (giving detail by category of disability in an appendix or on a separate sheet that can be updated annually).
1.10 The most important aspects of content are the clarity of communication regarding how individual needs can be catered for and the range of services and facilities are available. An insight into relevant policies and planned future developments is useful context. However, the current approach of separating out current policy and current provision leads to repetition, lack of structure and focus. In the case of future developments, the focus needs to be on what is likely to be achieved in the short term.
1.11 The content areas which statements should cover are:
1.12 The institution should identify areas where it might be difficult to cater for individual needs, while keeping an open mind about how adaptations can be made. This honesty is vital to managing student expectations and avoiding problems further down the line.
1.13 Information given about accessibility of buildings and campuses should make it clear which courses/facilities take place there. It should also explain what happens if a course a potential student is interested in is usually held in a building that would not be accessible to them.
1.14 To add a personal flavour short case histories of students with disabilities (covering the main categories of disability) would provide insight into how they have coped and how the institution met their needs. They should be honest and the student should give approval for publication.
1.15 A disclaimer would help to cover the institution against legal action by students. This could be adapted from the one in the prospectus.
1.16 Where an institution has associate and franchised colleges it should make it clear whether the statement covers these institutions, and if not what information is available and from whom. Further education institutions hosting Year 1 programmes or Access courses linked to specific higher education institutions should make it clear in their statements that the support they provide only relates to the time spent at that particular college if that is the case.
1.17 A list of any further documents that may be of interest to potential students would be helpful with details of where to obtain them. This could include reference to publications from Skill: the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities.
1.18 The following should be done to improve awareness of statements:
Other Issues Arising
1.19 There is a barrier for HEFCE to overcome in encouraging institutions to prepare user-friendly materials rather than 'official documents' for its purposes. Clearly institutions are used to responding to HEFCE directives 'to the letter'.
1.20 Institutions were offered free inclusion for their statements on the CanDo website in 1997. The idea of such a site has merit but the low awareness impacts upon the effectiveness and worth of such a venture. As access to and use of web sites becomes more widespread with applicants, a central searchable resource could have advantages. Such a web site would need to be very heavily promoted in order to prove the worth of development costs.
1.21 There is clearly an issue over the declaration of disability on the UCAS form. Some applicants read the question wrongly; others appear to be advised not to declare. The priority should be to encourage those who have support needs to give details so that they can be advised and assisted appropriately.
1.22 Another suggestion which arose in one discussion was the potential use of the UCAS form to establish the applicant's preferred format of communication (audio, large print, Braille, etc).