“University Disability Support Systems: TR-UK 2007

European Union

Leonardo da Vinci programme


Project Report

May 2007

University Disability Support Systems:

Britain – Turkey

Twenty years ago, British universities were setting up disability support services; Turkey is now at a similar point. By understanding the development of university disability support in Britain, a leader in this field, we intended to gather material and understand concepts so that  Turkish services can develop more quickly, avoiding some of the difficulties experienced during the pioneering years in Britain.  It is hoped that this report will give ideas to people at different universities, both in Turkey and elsewhere, as they too attempt to develop more effective learning opportunities for disabled students.  We must thank the European Union for financing this project which would otherwise have remained ‘a good idea’; we would like to thank our hosts at the University of the West of England, people at RNIB Bristol, and all those at the Vassal Centre who enthusiastically shared so many ideas, but above all we thank Claire Wickham for the comprehensive planning of a program covering essential aspects, the excellent organisation with which she filled 5 full days and particularly her breadth of vision in seeing that staff at the Disability Resource Centre at the University of the West of England would benefit from hosting a Turkish team seeking better solutions.


In January 2007, representatives from 4 Turkish universities (Middle East Technical University, Hacettepe University, Abant Izzet Baysal University and Mustafa Kemal University) and a representative of the Turkish Prime Ministry Administration for Disabled people spent 5 working days in Bristol, UK, hosted by the University of the West of England to understand as much as can be understood in 5 days about how British universities now organise provision of suitable support for significant numbers of disabled students with a wide variety of needs, attending a full range of courses at the university.  We have attempted to summarise what we learnt.  Please inform us of any errors misconceptions so that in future work we can seek better solutions.



A. Principles


  • Each student comes with a different background, and thus preferred methods of operation.
  • Each disabled student will have different needs according to the department they want to study and their skills.
  • Each student should have choices, be involved in decisions, and thus be responsible for their choices and their life.  Each student chooses if they want to disclose: they decide if they want others to know about they needs.  They do not have to register as disabled.
  • Disabled students are firstly students at the university, not medical cases.  In an inclusive environment, the language that is used to talk about disability should be respectful, and focus on the person not the medical condition, e.g. a visually impaired student, a wheelchair user, a deaf/hearing impaired person, a dyslexic person/ a person with specific learning difficulties
  • Information must be provided so that people understand what support is available.
  • Confidentiality (the information that a student gives must be kept secret, and must not be shared with other people unless the student give permission) must be respected to create an atmosphere of respect and confidence. Confidentiality could be broken only if the student is creating risks to themselves/others
  • All students should have equal opportunities, no student being disadvantaged in access to information or buildings, having enough time to do work, etc.  To create equal opportunities, barriers should be identified and removed.  Systems designed to benefit all students can particularly benefit disabled students (see library).
  • Policies should be developed for the Higher Education Institution (HEI = university, college of further education or vocational college), the library, etc.: what can the library do/not do?
  • Student involvement: disabled students should be part of the solution, not simply service users  By being involved, they understand opportunities and procedures, and thus develop a vision of possible opportunities:  their expectations are more realistic.
  • To bring effective changes in social attitudes to disability, role models are very important.  By giving suitable opportunities for disabled people to study successfully, universities will be involved in developing strong role models.

B. Responsibilities are shared

 The HEI (Higher Education Institution: universities, colleges of further education and vocational colleges) should have a vision to develop existing systems (size, resources, expertise, training, delegation and organisation of work …) to best provide service to a maximum number of people. Strategic plans should address disability issues.

The HEI is responsible for giving clear information, in the student handbook and on the website.

A HEI must know how it could provide for students with different needs, without waiting until someone starts a course.

A HEI must make buildings, information and exams accessible.  Physical access is not only for disabled students, but disabled staff, relatives, applicants and others visiting the campus and departments.

The HEI must provide opportunities for disclosure: see Starting at HEI.

A system must work: it must be as simple and clear as possible, but it must also enable students to get support. People who make decisions (professors, lecturers, research assistants, heads of departments, secretaries…) should understand what they can do, and why they should do it.    Can information to be sent to relevant people (faculty, department, course instructors) and guarantee confidentiality? A lecturer can only make her/his lectures inclusive if they have information about the needs of a specific student. If a student who does not want information to be passed on, they can be told that the HEI may not be able to fully meet their needs.

A HEI must maintain academic standards. All entrance requirements must be justifiable: a student application can be rejected only if a student cannot fulfil the entrance requirements (see exams and standards).

All HEI are legally responsible for their disabled students.  At the start, when money is limited, a few centres can develop models of good practice for others to follow or refer to.   A few universities should not become ‘centres of excellence’ with other universities ‘being exempt’.

Audits (checklists of what has been achieved) allow a HEI to identify the changes that they should make.

Any student who can benefit from a course, whatever the employment possibilities at graduation should be allowed on a course: “Can the student come to university? Can they be successful on the course?”

The department should set entry requirements according to the learning outcomes.  A student must understand before applying for a course what they need to be able to do by the time they graduate.

The department is responsible for providing academic support.  Disability officers can train, guide and advise members of staff.  Every department should know how to do basic tasks, like where to get material brailled, but can expect specialist tasks (e.g. creating tactile graphics) be done by specialist services.

Academics must make sure the disabled student can follow classes and has access to course materials, for instance recording of lectures by students unable to take notes.  Some universities record lectures and provide copies of recordings in the library, for all students (e.g. Mc Gill University since the late 1970s).

The student is an active participant, with responsibilities as well as rights.  She/he can choose whether to apply for support.  This affects statistics: if students choose not to apply, statistics are low; the more effective and relevant the support available, the more students will disclose as disabled.  The student is responsible for applying for support.  A student who chooses not to apply may not get suitable support.  With advice and support, students must find suitable ways to study and show that their knowledge and abilities are enough to pass the course.  Exemptions do not strengthen a student’s image or confidence and must be a last choice.


C. Legislation

 Disability legislation is essential to bring significant change.   In Britain disability legislation has been phased over more than 10 years, between 1995 and 2006, each year bringing increasing requirements.    Since December 2006, all public organisations and institutions businesses must provide disability awareness training for staff.

In Britain, a person is discriminated against if refused access, not provided with ‘reasonable adjustments’, or treated less favourably because of a disability.

Every British HEI is legally responsible for providing support for disabled students.

Legislation must be implemented: there must be consequences if an institution doesn’t provide support for disabled students.


D. Funding

Funding is critical to developing effective support. The funding situation in Britain is complex: legally, a HEI must support all students who declare as disabled, but   sometimes the student is given money, sometimes the HEI, sometimes neither (for instance foreign students)

In the early years (1990s) state funding was provided to universities to develop physical accessibility of buildings and campuses.

In Britain disabled students can get money from the state to study at university: Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) are given (students do not have to pay it back), standard (not dependent on family finances) and pays only for extra costs related to university study (so DSA will pay for a personal assistant who allows a student to follow a course but not someone for personal hygiene: this is a general living need, paid by social services). Students apply to their Local Education Authority (LEA), and give medical evidence of their impairment. For dyslexia, an educational psychologist provides a diagnostic assessment.  After the LEA accepts the student’s DSA application, the student goes to an assessment centre (see F. Assessing students’ needs) where an assessor will work out what equipment and support is needed.  DSA money can be used to buy books, do photocopying etc. All receipts must be shown.  For transport: DSA can pay the difference between the normal journey and the cost of the journey for the disabled person. For more information, see ‘www.saas.gov.uk/disabled.htm’

Costs are significantly reduced if programmed into the original planning stage of any process: it is much more expensive to add ramps to an existing building than to design ramps into the plans and develop ramp access as part of the structure.  Also, by separating a student’s needs and the costs into different categories, a large budget can be divided up and shared between different sections


E. Getting to university

 1. Applying for university

A clear pre-entry process allows future students to better understand what they are applying for.  With more accurate expectations, they make better, more informed choices.

All applicants should be able to get information as soon as possible: simple enough, with references/links for more information.  The information, including pre-entry and admissions guidelines, should be accessible on the university website (with screen reader format and other accessibility options).  Disability support information for the HEI should appear easily in an Internet search.

Course suitability: A student should not have false hopes about being able to do a course. Will the student be able to meet the course learning outcomes? A course can have entrance requirements for all students, and refuse applicants who do not have necessary skills to take the full course. However, the HEI is responsible to proving the skills are essential, otherwise they are guilty of discrimination.  E.g. “A dentistry student must have sufficient sight”, “A politics student must have a minimum standard in English and in Politics”

In Britain all students who want to go to university apply to the University Central Admissions Service (UCAS) a year before starting the course.  The applicant can disclose a medical condition or impairment on the form. (A student does not have to disclose: s/he has the right to keep the information private). Later they fill in a ‘Disability Statement Form’, to say what they think they might need.  (In Britain this is done by every HEI, but a central office would be more effective). Many applicants give information but do not want support, and never visit the DSU

A HEI only knows which students are definitely coming to study after the exam results come out, in August: about 4 weeks before the academic year starts. Many months before this time, the Disability Officers (D.O.s) prepare for the students: they meet to decide which students probably would need no support, which need information/a phone call, and which should be invited to talk about complex needs.  If D.O.s are unsure, the student is invited to visit the DSU. It is important to prepare as much as possible in advance because the student needs to have as much support organised at the start of the first semester.

2. Transition into university

Like with any transition, people have to learn to do some new things and do things they had done before in different ways; they will have different responsibilities and interact with others in different ways. Until the new habits develop, everything will take more mental energy, require more conscious planning and be more tiring.

When a school leaver comes to university, they are an adult, no longer a child; they are studying by choice, not because others expect them to study; they are/should be studying a subject/department that they like.  In exchange for this freedom, the student is expected to be more responsible: for knowing where to ask for information, organising their work, meeting deadlines and motivating themselves.

A student will be more successful if s/he is prepared: Does the student have enough information to make choices and be prepared for their course?  Is s/he independent: does s/he have independent living skills?  Can s/he understand the choices that are available, decide which s/he prefers and then act? The more skills a new student has and the more independent they are, the easier they will integrate in university life

Where are the differences between what the school student knew/was used to and what they must learn to do? How to make the transition as easy as possible? Could disabled students have a week of orientation before classes start to develop additional skills, e.g. awareness training, communication skills, mobility, making constructive criticism, having high aims but realistic expectations?  The student should be trained (with real situation scenarios) to analyse choices and take decisions (when, how and who should do what), and manage their assistant. If understood in advance many conflicts of interest can be resolved easily.

Could a skills training course be organised in the summer, after the university entrance exam?

New systems and responsibilities should be explained: how things work, who/ where/ when/ how to ask, how exams happen, etc.  If they understand the skills and strategies they can develop and why these are advantageous, the future students will be better prepared for systems that, designed for non-disabled students disadvantage anyone who does not fit the norms.

 School-university links can be made so that school students – potential university students – know that others like them have gone to university: they are not alone, not the first. A longer project is to form a connection between school-university, so that a disabled student who gets support at school can more easily get support at university: unnecessary repetition of many diagnostic processes is expensive and wasteful (time, money).   Could assessment be done in the last year of school, or when the student is thinking about applying for university? This way support could be arranged much more quickly, at the start of the first semester: when the new student needs more help and guidance.

3. Starting university 

In the orientation week, new students are shown the campus and given information about how the HEI/department works. A campus tour should show students main services like the library, the student affairs office, the health centre and dorms.  For disabled students, this is not so easy: of 4000 new students every year, perhaps only 3 or 5 are disabled; and until they disclose/declare their situation, nothing can be done. Current statistics run at about 3.5%, so one would expect 140 out of 4000 to be disabled students.  First these students must know that they can get support: information about the support should be given in several ways, to make sure that everyone knows where to get support.  If the support provided is relevant and useful, a student will want to disclose/ declare as disabled.  The HEI must provide many opportunities for disclosure, in the right atmosphere: students must trust that the information will be confidential and that disclosure will bring benefits. The information must be sent to relevant people: faculty, department, course instructors. Without disclosure, a lecturer may not test the induction loop works. Students are responsible for asking for support: it is not provided automatically.  Students must provide medical evidence to be able to get funding and to get alternative exam conditions.


F. Assessing students’ needs: learning-living

When a student is given DSA funding, they must be assessed.  An assessor will work with them to talk about their needs and choose the best solutions.  In England and Wales (Scotland is separate) there are 52 assessment centres where users can come and try different equipment before deciding what is appropriate for them.  Most students go to the nearest centre, but only large centres keep the full range of materials, so students with more complex needs are sent to a more specialised centre (e.g. RNIB focusing on visual impairments).

Each assessment centre assesses a minimum of 200 students per year (mostly dyslexia; also Post viral fatigue syndrome, etc.).  The centre’s administrator takes initial enquiries and follows up LEA processes: when the LEA approves medical evidence, the student will get DSA. The administrator gives the student information about the assessment process; the student fills in a form describing any difficulties they feel they have.  At the end, the student fills another form “Evaluating the assessment process”.  At the start of the academic year, many students need assessments and may wait a long time to get an appointment. While LEAs might take weeks-months to approve an application for DSA, the assessment centre aims to contact a student within 5 working days of DSA confirmation, and the report send to the student within 15 days of being written.

Before meeting the student, the assessor prepares by reading the student’s notes, and gathering information that might be relevant.  A blank form is customised/adapted for the student (previous support (at school), coping mechanisms, preferences, etc.) using the information given by the student in the first form.  The assessor listens to the student, demonstrates technology and software, and suggests strategies after prioritising all factors, such as the student’s course and required skills, their preferences, and abilities. A student must first develop foundations skills, e.g. Computer use, (with email and internet)

Recommendations (Not MUST) include skills training (use of equipment, study skills, etc.).  All support and recommendations made by the assessor must refer to the medical evidence: they cannot recommend anything else that the student would like but isn’t justified by the medical evidence.  A student may come back later to change/add support.

Some recommendations have no costs, e.g. the lecturer should give lecture notes to the student in advance, different library use, or exam time extension.  Other recommendations (computer, software, travel, 1:1 mentoring/tutoring) must be specific so that costs can be calculated: how many contact hours, etc.

An assessor spends an average 14 hours per student (including proof reading of reports): some cases take a few hours, others up to 4 days.

Assessors are trained ‘on the job’ as there is no qualification yet.  Each assessor comes with experience and knowledge and the ability to solve problems.  A new assessor learns the range of support available, observes colleagues, selects what to recommend, writes shadow reports, plans assessments, then is observed while doing assessments. Training starts just with dyslexia (the most frequently disclosed condition) then gradually expands to other impairments.

After the assessment, the student is sent the draft report, to correct errors and make changes.  The student signs an authorisation form and the final report is sent to the LEA for approval and release of funding. .  All reports, drafts, etc are kept for 5 years on paper, and electronically on CD.

It would be good if after a year students could be followed up for feedback to analyse how useful the support was, but there are not enough resources.  Students who want to can come back to the centre, but most do not.

Confidentiality: students sign permission for the information to be sent to the named person in their faculty: the student chooses who the information is passed to.

G. Disability support unit (DSU)

 1. General

DSUs are generally responsible for coordinating and developing support; departments are responsible for providing support, with the guidance of the DSU.  Support is developed according to demands by disabled students; the DSU becomes aware of unmet needs, researches possible support and develops its services.

The DSU represents both the HEI and the student.  It is connected to relevant units in the HEI organisation: At UWE the Disability Resource Centre is part of the Centre for Student Affairs, which coordinates Careers, Counselling, Financial support, Chaplaincy, International student welcome, and Research on emerging needs of students.

The DSU knows what resources are available and has contact people in faculties and departments.  By discussion and negotiation, it develops more inclusive mechanisms, to remove physical barriers and barriers within processes and systems.

A senior member of the university administration is responsible for the DSU and has authority to recommend changes.

The progress in the quality of support can be measured by the rise in number of students who disclose as disabled. At UWE, about 10% of students at UWE have disclosed a condition.  But many will never visit the DSU: they know how to manage their condition.

The start of the first semester is very busy.  The DSU should

  • Arrange orientation programs for new students
  • Meet and develop personal plans for new students.  Departments could also do this
  • Informing specific people: DSU processes should allow key contact people to get information in a maximum of 5 days (or other time period, to be agreed) after a meeting/ decision.
  • Giving general information, on notice boards and e-notice boards, and to all known disabled students through email: to guarantee confidentiality, an e-group should be set up so that only the DSU can mail students, and no student can mail others in the group.  This e-group should not be accessible by outsiders: it should not be on any general Computer Centre lists.
  • Organising effective use of resources.
  • Develop new support workers (SW).  Many HEIs use a combination of professional support workers and students who act mainly as note takers and personal assistants. These students are usually offered training.  Student Support Workers are paid and  the experience and understanding they gain will be useful on their CVs, when they apply for jobs.
  • Arrange support workers according to needs and timetables (of disabled students and SW).
  • Meet and keep up to date with HEI/campus developments that can affect disabled people.
  • Follow up developments, such as the purchase of new equipment, building adaptations.
  • Have regular meetings with representatives from relevant sections: student affairs, registrar, architecture, health centre, and also disabled students and graduates.
  • Monitor feedback

The DSU team should be coordinated through Weekly meetings. They are longer at the start of term, coordinate the team.  All members need to understand the roles of others.

2. Setting up an effective support system

Some points to consider:

  • Develop systems that are as simple as possible: Prioritise what is essential, and be realistic about what can be done.
  • Identify which students need support
  • Identify what is already being done, and what resources are available (e.g. what materials are already in electronic format?)
  • Prioritise urgent needs. Be realistic: do what can be done
  • Program options so that students wanting to make choices can be independent, but those not yet ready to take responsibility are given support with a standard system.
  • Develop gradually, growing within the atmosphere of the HEI and gaining recognition and trust.

Where is the Disability Support Unit in the HEI?  Can disabled people find it/ get to it easily: physically and online?

Is it connected to relevant services? Can it make suggestions and bring change?  Are there feedback mechanisms to monitor progress?

How are students informed about the services?

What systems allow information to be passed confidentially to relevant people in faculties, department, dormitories, etc.?


3. Disability Officer (D.O.):

A Disability officer must be a balanced representative, understanding the student’s views and those of the HEI.

Tasks and responsibilities: A D.O. works with a student, as often as needed, from first application through the department, to graduation and skills for employment.

A D .O. gives students information, follows up queries from students and staff, looks at the disability questionnaires, contacts students, makes appointments for advice, does case work (everything has to be recorded and filed, with documentation about everything recommended and all the advice given), follows up students, pays SW, arranges new SW when lectures change/are postponed, keeps records of all meetings and plans/prepares for future meetings.

D.O.s don’t have all the solutions: each part of the HEI should be involved in finding its own solutions.  A D.O. needs to understand what the student needs, and what solutions are possible, to have information, and understand how systems work (which section is responsible for what functions) and be able to organise people, time, resources, etc. .  The most important skill for a D.O. is ‘being able to get on with people’.

D.O. training:  There are no qualifications, D.O.s are trained ‘on the job’, like assessors.  The HEI decides who they think can to the job best: it is an internal decision.  Current D.O.s at UWE came with a range of backgrounds including nursing, social work, exams office, Russian language, etc.  The job description should require “having a university degree, and experience of disability/working with disabled people”.


H. Support

 Human support is as important as technology.  Support mechanisms should be as simple as possible:

  • Set clear targets and responsibilities
  • Start with basics. Develop according to students’ needs
  • Avoid complexity.

1. Human support:

Some students may not need much human support; others need much more, Deaf students the most.  A Sign language user needs all lecturers and tutorials interpreted to be able to have full inclusion.  However, there are few Sign language interpreters and they are expensive; this highly specialised task cannot be done by a student so this solution would not work without guaranteed state funding.  Many other tasks are simple enough to be done by students employed as Support Workers, e.g. notetaking

Human support needs to be well organised. A clear system records names of student and SW, number of hours worked, type of work done, etc. and gets feedback through reports. No official checking is done if both the student and SW are happy and there are no complaints.  Quality assessment mechanisms can improve the service.

Support workers (SW) should be trained, and effective. Both students and support workers need training in working with each other.  E.g. how to best work with a reader in an exam.

Guidelines explain standards and rules, and SW and students sign agreement forms. The contract can be ended at a week’s notice, if the student or the HEI is not happy, notes are sold or other unethical issues arise.   Timetables are prepared every semester, but may change; what happens if a lecture is cancelled?

At the start of the year, students are invited to be trained as support workers: their main requirements should be ‘reliability’ and ‘a good personality’; wrong attitudes may cause problems. For note takers ‘accurate spelling and understand the subject’; hand written note takers ‘legible handwriting’), electronic note takers ‘minimum typing speed of 60 words per minute’. Undergraduate students should work a maximum of 5 hours per week.   If possible SW background and area of knowledge should match the student’s field of study; readers and note takers are often on the same course as the student.   The SW should at least at the same level or above that of the student: post graduate notes are never taken by an undergraduate. Community Service Volunteers (www.csv.org.uk) often work as personal assistants, but this British tradition doesn’t exist in other countries: what alternatives can be used?

The student should be in control of (E.g. hand written notes should be checked by the student The notes belong to the student not the note taker), and responsible for their support. E.g. The SW does not go in to the lecture hall until the student arrives; otherwise the student would be have an unfair advantage.

The student must specify how they want notes taking, (layout, full details, bullet points, diagrams, graphics, etc.

For quality support, the support worker must benefit: In Britain, DSA pays for Non-Medical Helpers, as Sign Language interpreters, lip speakers or dyslexia tutors.  In other countries, state funding must be the long-term aim. However until state funding pays for SW, different options may include local companies or graduate sponsorship, university funds for part-time employment, cooperation with associations, etc.  If a programme is cancelled at short notice, the SW should be paid.

Study mentors work with students with complex needs, e.g. deaf students, students with Asperger’s syndrome, students with mental health issues.  Students with Bipolar Disorder need time to adapt to the new environment. Mentoring empowers students to do the same as others, and focus on solutions to weaknesses.  Mentors are from different backgrounds, with wide experience and expertise, mature and aware of different backgrounds. At the moment no training exits. Students must trust their mentor enough to be able to talk about difficult points and sensitive personal aspects.  Regular meetings follow through the student as they aim for their potential, managing time and stress.  Mentors must be flexible enough to fit in to student’s needs

 Recording of texts onto CD/MP3: the human voice is pleasant and cheap.  A volunteer should first make a demonstration recording.  Always make digital recordings: they are easily saved and copied into other formats.  Without a recording studio, record in a bedroom, with cushions/beds (the hard surfaces of a kitchen give bad recordings).


2. Technology

The range of technology available is constantly increasing and so great it will not be described here.   When choosing technology, it is important to understand the task to be done, the abilities and preferences of the user and then look at the range of equipment.  Students must be trained to use new equipment and software.

When choosing equipment or software, carefully consider the compromises between usefulness, usability and cost: Some equipment may do one task well, but not be easily transported and be expensive. Exactly what does the student need to do?  E.g. Access more than one language; change the background colour and font size; spell check, read large print (a large screen means you can see more large print words on the screen, without having to scan across the text, which is very tiring).  Recording 5 hours of lectures in a day might not be useful if the recording is bad, and then after returning home the student has to sit down and listen to the full 5 hours again, without being able to scan (go quickly through the material to find the part you want).

Software can be got for the HEI or the individual: A HEI licence means the software on the campus computer network is accessible to all.  Some software packages are incompatible and must not be loaded onto all computers.

Who will use the equipment?  One student will be responsible for their own equipment.  Equipment available for anyone to use can be protected by virus scans, etc.  Materials that are lent to students, and returned for others to use, need to be checked between users; revising laptops before passing to the next student is too costly.  When there is no government funding, a ‘Hire Purchase’ scheme can be arranged so that a student can pay monthly for a laptop, and in the end will own the laptop.

Scanning a text to a computer: Mistakes occur (some letters are unclear and misread) but often the text is good enough to be understandable by a native speaker; how would this affect a foreign language learner?  Exams and critical texts should be proof read and checked for mistakes.  When the text is in electronic format it can then become a large print text, Braille or listened to with a screen reader.

Aim to set up systems so that equipment is used effectively.  Consider 1. Who will operate the Braille printer? 2. Who will check the Brailled texts?  3. Who will be informed if the equipment doesn’t work?  4. Who will repair it?

Monitor feedback: Who uses what equipment, when and why?  This information will help plan for the future. But also remember the silent majority do not fill in forms or give feedback and may think differently.

For more information see:


I. Faculties and Departments

 Good links between the DSU and faculties and departments will help provide quality support. When a student graduates successfully, having had suitable opportunities to demonstrate their learning, staff feel encouraged.

When a department clearly states course aims and objectives, a student can decide whether the course is suitable before applying, e.g. ‘to wire a circuit’ (Electronics), ‘to write essays independently, in a given time’ (Journalism), ‘draw fine details on plans and maps’ (Architecture, City Planning).

A student advisor in each faculty or department is the first point of contact for a student and acts as a sign post to the right specialist.  Some universities have departmental advisors, who have more detailed information.  Others, like UWE, have one advisor per faculty; there are fewer advisors to train, each advisor has more disabled students so becomes more experienced and this way they feel the standard of support is better, although it is difficult to guarantee that all advisors give equal service.  Advisors are trained about funding, legislation, disclose, etc and have some knowledge about many issues. However, for specialised points they refer to the Disability Support Unit.  With the DO, they promote choice and independence for disabled students.  Failures most often happen when an advisor is not aware of what is whose responsibility.  Training of advisors is practical, with examples of when to refer what sort of questions. All new academics at the HEI should have an induction programme that includes disability awareness training.

The academic curriculum should be the same for all students. Sometimes a disabled student can follow the curriculum when materials are presented in alternative formats.  If a student can still not follow, the learning outcomes must be analysed: How can the student reach the same learning outcomes?  What is the student expected to understand? What skills must they have by the end of the course? If the student can still not follow: Can the curriculum be changed without lowering the course’s academic standards?

Faculty advisors are responsible for

  • Informing lecturers,
  • Implementing DO recommendations, e.g. getting ‘large print handouts on blue paper’, etc.
  • Cooperating with DO to develop suitable alternatives for a student.

Field trips can be arranged well, especially if the student applies in advance.  If no solutions are found, virtual field trips can be organised, so the student can experience similar situations, make equivalent observations and have to take similar decisions?

A course curriculum can be (re)designed so that it is inclusive. See Different Differences: tools for a HEI to assess why current training should be improved.


J. Library resources

 UWE library aims for all the students should be able to use the library independently.

Each library (on different campuses) should have a contact person that disabled students can apply to.  At UWE, the contact person (who has been given disability training) is part of the Customer Service Team.  She is responsible for looking at services from the point of view of disability and accessibility.  Different universities organise this in different ways.

1. Access

Electronic records inform all the library staff of the conditions agreed for a particular student.

Accessible entrance: electronic swipe cards allow named people to have access to specific gates. Access is organised centrally by the computer centre.

Library catalogues are on accessible computer terminals,

A ‘Library orientation tour’ at the start of the semester and before projects start explains what the library has, how the library is organised and how to use it, e.g. ‘how to do a literature search’.  Disabled students can apply for individual library tours at any time in separate tours so that they can follow the information; they will also need to be given different information that is not relevant to other students.

Communication: notice boards and e- notice boards inform users about new facilities and changes to current services.

Quiet rooms: Disabled students need to rest (especially those living with pain), study quietly, and use restricted equipment.  Doors to restricted areas (areas that are not open to everyone) can be opened with magnetic ‘swipe card’ access: only registered students can open the doors. At UWE, these rooms can be booked for up to 2 hours.  The use of these rooms is monitored so that service can be changed to suit users.

There is a general ‘Silent Study’ area that everyone can use.

2. Services

Extended loans can be given to students who have difficulty reading quickly, get tired quickly, cannot come to the library easily, etc.

Short loan books are never extended, as this would disadvantage all other students.  Photocopy service: after the copyright form is signed, photocopies can be posted to students away from the HEI.

Digitalised materials: Digital information is very important for many disabled people.  Visually impaired people can use screen readers to ‘read’ texts; Deaf and hard of hearing students can get information online directly, without needing to talk with anyone.  And anyone with mobility difficulties can access information from any computer connected to the internet.  At UWE, the library acquisition team is digitalising book collections, developing Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), and putting materials (e.g. frequently used articles) put on the Intra-net for all users, but this particularly benefits disabled students.  E-books and e-journals can be accessed off campus with a password.

3. Equipment

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) allows visually impaired library users to easily read material.  A CCTV should be located in an open space so that anyone can come and use it: whether the print is small, they have tired eyes, or have reduced sight: it is not just for disabled students.  A CCTV should be selected with option to change the colours of background/print as well as magnifying the print.

‘Kurzweil’ is a system that visually impaired students can operate themselves to can scan in, show on screen, magnify,  read slower or faster, change colour background and contrast, give spellings and definitions, and read the web: with a much more human voice than JAWS. Supernova and Inspiration are mind-mapping software programs useful for dyslexic students and others who need to improved their organisational skills.

The library has scanners (to get texts in digital form) and a Braille printer.

 4. And also…

How do deaf users know when the library is closing? Clearly show the closing hours.  Ask students to tell staff where they are working, so they can be told when the library is closing. Vibrating ‘pagers’ and flashing (visual) fire alarms can inform hearing impaired people.

Can a wheelchair user move between the bookshelves?

Is the lighting good enough? This is important for anyone with limited sight: ‘task lighting’ focuses on the area of the table where the student is working.

You might wish to reference the CLAUD website.


 K. Exams

 The disabled candidate must ask for their access needs to be met, so that they can show what they can do.  Every student must show that they have the understanding, knowledge and/or skill required to pass a course/ get a diploma.    No one should be exempt: assessment should be adapted so that a disabled student registered on a course can be evaluated.  Exemption might seem an easy option for the person preparing the exam and for the student; however, in the long term, exemptions lower the general value of the diploma, and give the student a false sense of confidence.

Exams can be made accessible in different ways.  Some of these are:

  • Printed in large font (Do not magnify by photocopying: the letters are less clear)
  • Given with extra lighting, or the student using equipment such as a magnifier.
  • Printed on different colour paper (With some eye conditions, some colours are easier, less tiring to read. See www.rnib.org.uk)
  • Printed with each question at the top of a new answer page for students with short-term memory difficulties.
  • Reworded, more directly for Asperger’s students.  A person with Asperger’s has a factual view of life.  Exam questions should be as clear as possible, without unnecessary metaphors.  Einstein may have had Asperger’s syndrome.
  • Marked with a sticker (for dyslexia), so that examiners know that they must only grade knowledge and concepts, not spelling.
  • Longer. Extra time depends on the type of question and the student’s impairment.  Long paragraph analysis needs more time than short multiple choice questions.
  • Read by a trained reader.  The role and responsibilities of the reader must be clear.  The student should get training in how to work with a reader.
  • In a different format:
    • Exams printed in Braille must be checked for accuracy.
    • Giving the exam on computer, with suitable software, permitted by the exams office

Students should have choice of format, and should always work in a format they are used to, and that they have had practice with: exams are given in familiar format.  No student, disabled or non-disabled, should be substantially (significantly) disadvantaged or advantaged by any alternative format.  A student working with a reader, using a noisy Braille typewriter, or getting extended time must take the exam in a separate room.

A student who wants an alternative format must inform in advance so that alternatives can be organised: all alternative formats must maintain academic standards and be approved by the department or faculty, and the exams office.   The student must give medical evidence.

To develop an equivalent exam, consider the learning outcomes of the course/exam: What must the student know or be able to do? Analyse the task: What are the core elements that the exam is testing?  Can these be broken down and tested separately?  E.g. Is a listening exam testing short or long term memory, vocabulary, context, implied meaning.  Then, look at how the student normally works to have an equivalent alternative format.

Time extension is especially important for a student who has recently acquired an impairment, and is still getting used to new ways of working. The student doesn’t have to use the extra time.

Rest breaks may be needed if the exam is very long, if the technique is tiring (e.g. reading large print), for going to the toilet, taking medication, etc. Extra time is recommended by assessors and sometimes by educational psychologists, according to the task.


L. Careers

 Disabled graduates are much more likely than others to be unemployed.  Collaboration between the Disability Support Unit and the Careers’ Centre can significantly increase the employment chances of disabled graduates.

A full university education prepares an individual for their career, from the start of their first year to graduation:

  • Developing independence and confidence by exposure to new situations, people, technology, etc.
  • Learning how to work effectively with others (including personal assistants), with peers, in groups, against time.
  • Better evaluating opportunities, having more realistic expectations, expressing opinions and making responsible choices.

Like all future graduates a disabled student should highlight strengths and consolidate weaknesses.  By starting early, even from registration, a non-traditional student can develop a useful range of skills to offer employers.  E.g., a disabled student can develop useful employability skills by being a mentor for disabled pupils at local school. A student who learns to work well with a support worker develops interpersonal skills.

Career centre advisors should be trained in find relevant training and work opportunities. Targeted careers courses can be organised for disabled graduates.  By working with supportive companies, a career centre can develop models of good practice, examples of what can be done that other companies can follow.

Britain used to have a quota system (as in Turkey, ‘Each company/institution should employ 3% disabled people’) but this rule couldn’t be enforced so the legislation was changed.  Since December 2005, ‘each institution/employer must be proactive’: each employer is responsible for making suitable provisions for disabled people.


 M. Training

 Even if a student has funding and suitable equipment, a negative or inappropriate attitude, (e.g. saying ‘The student is lazy’, ‘I do not have time’, or pretending ‘That student is the same as the others’) can destroy confidence. Attitudes are often the greatest barrier; changing habits is difficult, especially if people don’t (want to) understand.  In Britain, many people are still fearful about disability. When they can talk about issues related to disability, many fears disappear.

1. General training

Everyone working with disabled people should get general disability awareness training: not only contact persons in departments and libraries, but also staff in dormitories, canteens, and any public area. Training of new staff includes disability awareness training.  Training is practical, based on real situations, with scenarios for trainees to discuss.  Support workers and volunteers should have general disability equality training then disability-specific training.  Training manuals and interactive DVDs have been produced by certain organisations (local authorities, business associations) in cooperation with disabled people.  A training booklet for staff can be followed up by an online quiz.

Disability Equality Training ‘DET’: Disability equality is when two people in one family/class/organisation – one disabled, the other not – are given equal choices and control over their lives.  In DET, disabled people give – in their words, their presence and their confidence – clear understanding of how disabled people perceive and interact with the world, so that non-disabled people can better understand the needs of disabled people, the problems created by inappropriate environments, organisation and attitudes and how these problems can be solved.

2. Specific disability training,

For example: Deaf awareness: a one day course for people working with the public (reception, public relations, etc) covers communication skills, equipment, etc.; personal assistants need a longer , more detailed course.  Unseen impairments, like hearing impairments are not noticed by others. 17% of the UK population (9.2 million people) have some form of hearing loss.  Not everyone can lip read, and even fewer people know Sign language (about 50 000, 1/200 of the total deaf population.  Lip reading is difficult and not very effective; many sounds give similar lip/face shapes, so the lip reader often has to guess.  Hearing aids mainly give vowel sounds, but not every type of hearing loss can be helped with a hearing aid.

3. Peers, class mates and volunteers:

Basic training for non-disabled students can create a more positive supportive environment.

People who have experience then train others.  However someone who has experience of one type of impairment may not be able to represent all disabled people

To develop awareness, disabled students meet up, start to talk and decide what first small target to focus on.

4. Support Workers

After having general training, a SW needs to understand acceptable ways of interacting and ethics. Then training depends on the specific task of the SW: the trainer needs to understand the difference between the different roles.  What are people training to do/be: a note taker, a mentor, etc.?


N. National coordination

 A national coordination centre is essential to advise universities starting disability support A national centre should:

  • Collect and provide information, on a website providing standard information, and through specialists who can be asked questions.
  • Develop standards.
  • Connect individual coordinators in different HEIs through an internet forum. In Britain, over 700 members of ‘DisForum’ share information and ideas very effectively: raising standards are raised as DSUs with more expertise advise others.
  • Review changes and propose better ways of working, developing models of good practice that work within the national system, according to cultural practices and considering available resources
  • Organise conferences for specialists to discuss development, to collect information, data and models of good practice, to develop standards and to encourage reflection on observations and trends.

In Britain SKILL is a government funded national centre providing advice for individuals and for universities, about courses, how to set up/ make accessible and organising national conferences. Such conferences should be free so that all interested can participate.

SKILL, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities:  www.skill.org.uk/


Confidentiality: the act of keeping personal information secret, and respecting the person’s choice to decide what should become public information.

Disability: the social exclusion that results from the organisation of society, barriers in the physical environment or social attitudes and prejudice.

Disclose, disclosure: to tell officially that you have a disability (or other difference).  This is personal information that should not be given to everyone

DO: disability officer

DSA: Disabled Students Allowance

DSU: disability support office

HEI: Higher Education Institution: universities, colleges of Further Education and Vocational schools.

Impairment: a condition or function that is significantly impaired relative to the usual standard of an individual of their group (‘en.wikipeadia.org/wiki/Impairment’ )

LEA (Local Education Authority)  D MEB Il Mudurlugu .

ME: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis; Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome

RNIB:  Royal National Institute for the Blind

UCAS (University Central Admissions Service)  D ÖSYM

UWE: University of the West of England

SW: support worker


Disability Rights Commission: www.drc-gb.org

Higher Education Statistics  www.hesa.ac.uk



 Claire Özel (Project coordinator)  Middle East Technıcal University, Ankara


Ferda Dokuztuğ Üçsular, Abant Izzet Baysal University, Bolu


Kasım Karataş, Hacettepe University, Ankara

Nurcan Köse, Mustafa Kemal University, Hatay

Tayyar Kuz, Turkish Prime Ministry Administration for Disabled People, Ankara




University of the West of England Disability Resource Centre, Bristol, UK