Students with Disabilities Face Unique Challenges at UK Universities
Like much of the world, as the UK went into COVID-19 lockdown, it left many individuals without adequate resources for adjustments, particularly the disabled. According to Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), 13.7 million people in Great Britain have a disability. Particularly, younger people who are blind or partially sighted, according to an April 2020 report by the Vision Center are feeling the greatest impact by a loss of independence, control, and isolation as they “tend to be less connected with local community support groups and have not been able to access help.” These challenges aren’t isolated to those with vision impairment, but the majority of those with disabilities whether physical mental, or intellectual. Plus, disabled individuals who rely on caretakers are facing challenges with access to PPE (personal protective equipment), groceries, assistance with social interactions, getting sufficient mental health treatment, and challenges to the new social distancing norms.
For those working in higher education, the challenges faced by disabled students is all too real. As the National Association of Non Medial Healthcare Providers reports:
Lockdown and restrictions have impacted student’s accommodation and home life; the suitability of their study environment; their physical and mental health; financial and work demands, their relationships and support links, and many will have caring responsibilities for children or family. For vulnerable students, including those with disabilities, the Covid-19 effects could be more serious, with the adjustments introduced for most students perhaps not working as effectively for them.
Furthermore, a May 2020 report by the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP) has warned that disabled university students are struggling much more than their peers during this period. NADP’s report notes that disabled students require “extra expenditure of time and energy for study” and that those struggling with mental health are facing an “exacerbation of stress due to Covid-19” and an inability to complete academic coursework as high levels of anxiety are known to impede concentration.
For those who are hard of hearing, visually impaired, or struggle with other disabilities, seeking help from their universities for adjustments in classes can be challenging due to inadequate reporting and disclosure, particularly if students didn’t seek adjustments prior to COVID-19.
Higher education institutions (HEI) are reporting difficulties identifying students requiring support with IT resources. Many HEIs have asked all academic and professional staff to inform them of students who have mentioned that they are struggling to study, but universities are reporting that many students are reluctant to disclose that they are having problems and this has been exacerbated with the fact that students are communicating with staff remotely.
NADP has urged universities to make sure that online learning is inclusive for all students needing adjustments due to visual and hearing impairments and access to teaching and course materials. Without adjustments for disabled students, many will continue to struggle to meet deadlines which will increase extreme worry about how this will affect their overall degree level progression and, ultimately, retention in the university, as NADP’s report highlights.
With Symplicity Access, educational institutions can effectively help provide services for students with disabilities and learning difficulties to a fully new level. Our user-friendly platform simplifies your services to students with disabilities for a better user experience, higher accountability, compliance and transparency across the institution plus increased operational efficiency and savings for the university. Through its intuitive, mobile-friendly student interface, it’s easy for students with disabilities to find how they can get the support they need. This, allows for effective communication among students, teachers, staff, and family members to ensure that disabled students whose academic coursework has been impacted by COVID-19, get the critical support they need to ensure they succeed academically and beyond.