Competence standards and reasonable adjustments: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (GEES)
HEIs are not required to make reasonable adjustments to a competence standard. However, a competence standard which can be shown to be unjustified will be direct discrimination with regard to a disabled student or applicant.
Competence standards should cover all essential course criteria at the same time as being as inclusive as is possible.
A partnership approach to drawing up and reviewing competence standards, involving both academic staff but also representatives from the HEI disability services team, can support the development of inclusive competence standards and assessment methodologies.
Prospective and current students should be informed of the course competence standards and made aware of the support which can be available to them if they require it.
‘I think one of the key challenges for students with disabilities would be in getting through University systems to speak to people who run / deliver the courses to discuss the course specific support that would be available and to get a sense of the attitudes of staff towards this. There is a lot of information on line but certainly for those whose disability presents a greater challenge to study my sense is that this is not always enough. In particular, having worked with a wheelchair user with cystic fibrosis completing a physical geography course it was only through discussion between programme leader, module leaders, prospective student and parents that the detail required could be discussed.’ GEES academic tutor
‘We have found that it is best to talk to the students individually to assess their qualms, issues and requirements. For dyspraxic students or students with a physical impairment we would talk through access issues at outcrop well in advance of getting into the field.’ GEES academic tutor
Very often there are different ways in which a particular competence standard can be assessed and, under the Equality Act, HEIs are required to make adjustments to assessment processes wherever possible in order to ensure that disabled students are not disadvantaged.
Many HEIs now offer a range of different forms of assessment and wherever possible students should be offered some choice in how they are assessed provided this does not prevent them from meeting specific competence standards.
Decisions about the most appropriate individual reasonable adjustments require input not only from the disability service but also from academic staff who understand the particularities of their discipline.
Academic and disability staff need to ensure that adjustments are reasonable and do not give unfair advantages to disabled students.
‘The main issue that we have encountered involves provision of helpers to disabled students. Where geologically-trained helpers are provided, some disabled students tend to expect additional academic help that may not be justified by their disability. This in turn is (correctly) perceived as unfair by other students. We can best resolve this using non-geologist helpers.’