Effective practice advice
We encourage providers to consider different disabilities and the challenges posed by these disabilities when developing support for disabled learners.
Students with different impairments, and within different impairments, will require different tailored support to address the barriers facing them.
1. Collect data
We expect providers to collect data on gaps across the student lifecycle for disabled students, including access, continuation, attainment and progression.
Provider-level data can be found on our access and participation data dashboard.
We also expect providers to collect data on disaggregated disabled student groups, at a minimum those with mental ill health, specific learning difficulties and physical impairments.
Providers may consider disaggregating further disability categories to gain a more thorough understanding of the gaps for particular disabled student groups.
2. Adopt an inclusive approach
The social model of disability is widely accepted as the most appropriate way to approach support for disabled students. The social model was developed out of an understanding that disability is not something medical to be treated but a failing on the part of society.
A social response to disability is not about ‘fixing’ the individual but about restructuring environments and attitudes around them.
Providers can adopt a social model of disability by building inclusive practices into their structure and operations. This means that fewer reasonable adjustments will be needed over time and where adjustments are needed, providers can be much more responsive to individual needs.
Inclusive practices could include:
- assistive technology
- learning resources, including staff training and induction
- considering inclusive learning in module and programme development and evaluation
- alternative assessment methods for disabled students
- counselling services and administrative processes to identify potential wellbeing issues
- accessibility plans for social spaces, teaching and learning facilities, services and accommodation.
A 2019 review by the Institute for Employment Studies found that there were key elements which appear to align with positive progress, including:
- strong leadership
- a holistic approach covering all students, and involving shared responsibility across the provider
- collaboration within providers between core disability services and across all staff groups
- balancing inclusive approaches with tailored support for individuals
- encouraging disclosure across the student lifecycle
- improving accessibility to services, digital resources and estates
- giving students a voice and involving students in the creation of services and training
- focusing on mental health and wellbeing
- ensuring adequate resources
- harnessing technology.
3. Engage with disabled students
Giving disabled students a voice and involving them in the creation of support services is a key element for positive change and a way of reinforcing the social model of disability.
Providers can engage with students through students' unions, surveys and focus groups.
Providers listening, interacting and being flexible is key.
4. Adopt a whole-provider approach to mental health
Providers can adopt Universities UK’s whole-provider approach to mental health. The framework includes eight areas:
The Stepchange: mentally healthy universities model calls on providers to adopt mental health as a strategic priority. It is formed of four domains: learn, support, work and live.
UUK has identified five cross-cutting themes to help providers embed a whole provider approach. These are:
- strong and visible senior leadership
- co-production with students and staff
- effective information sharing
- creating an inclusive environment
- research and innovation.