Under the Equality Act 2010, a person has a disability 'if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'. 'Substantial' is defined by the Act as 'more than minor or trivial'.
An impairment is considered to have a long-term effect if:
- it has lasted for at least 12 months
- it is likely to last for at least 12 months, or
- it is likely to last for the rest of the life of the person.
The proportion of all students who disclose themselves as disabled is rising. In a five-year period leading up to 2015-16 the proportion of full-time, first-degree entrants with a known disability increased by 56 per cent.
The most common type of disability is a specific learning difference, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The proportion of full-time, first-degree undergraduate students disclosing a mental health condition has also increased rapidly in recent years.
Despite this, disabled people remain underrepresented in higher education and there are variations in the degree outcomes of disabled students compared with others.
Why is this important?
- Disabled students who do not receive Disabled Students' Allowances are more likely to discontinue their studies than non-disabled students.
- Data shows that a slightly higher proportion of non-disabled students get better academic results than disabled students.
- Disabled graduates are also less likely to find a job or a permanent role
- According to a study in 2017, two thirds of those in the study with a declared mental health condition thought about dropping out of higher education. This compares with one third of those who did not have a declared mental health condition.
We encourage providers to consider different disabilities and the challenges posed by these disabilities when developing support for disabled learners. For example, students with different impairments, and within different impairments, will require different tailored support to address the barriers facing them.
We expect providers to collect data on gaps based on impairment type and to engage with the sub-groups concerned when developing their access and participation plan. Data collection should also include gaps across the student lifecycle, including access, continuation, attainment and progression.
Providers should consider how to support disabled students in the context of changes to Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA).
We expect providers to go above and beyond ‘reasonable adjustments’ in supporting disabled students, in order to reduce gaps at all stages of the student lifecycle for this group.
To increase opportunities for disabled students, we encourage providers to consider the social model of disability, as outlined by The Disabled Student Sector Leadership Group.
This guidance outlines why change is needed and how this could benefit a higher education provider. It will also help providers to implement reasonable adjustments and reduce risk by providing inclusive teaching and learning. This approach recognises and values diversity within the student body.
A HEFCE 2017 review of models of support for disabled students in higher education provides information on an inclusive social model of support in higher education, which includes:
- assistive technology
- learning resources, including staff training and induction
- 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/recreational space, teaching and learning facilities and accommodation.
Universities UK have developed a framework for a whole-provider approach to mental health, which emphasises student and staff involvement and using evidence.
The framework includes eight areas:
- Leadership – including making mental health a strategic priority
- Data – using evidence to identify gaps and effective practice
- Staff – including training staff in mental health literacy and health promotion
- Prevention – for example promoting healthy behaviours and providing tools for self-care
- Early intervention – run campaigns to reduce stigma and encourage disclosure
- Support – including a range of effective services and evidenced interventions, which are regularly audited
- Transitions – for example, focusing on susceptible or vulnerable groups during transitions such as into employment
- Partnership – including developing links with NHS, local authorities and third sector to coordinate care.
- Equality Challenge Unit report ‘Equality in higher education: statistical report 2018’ (September 2018)
- HESA disability categories for 2018-19
- HEFCE report ‘Models of support for students with disabilities’ (October 2017)
- Universities UK framework on mental health (September 2017)
- Disabled Students’ Sector Leadership Group guidance ‘Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education as a route to Excellence’ (January 2017)
- IPPR guidance ‘Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities' (September 2017)
- Student Minds website
- Student Minds Mental Health Charter
- UUK and Papyrus guide ‘Suicide – safer universities’ (September 2018)
- OFS Challenge Competition: Achieving a step change in mental health outcomes for all students
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