Hinchcliffe, Vanessa (2009) Who’s Really Supporting Us? The Disabled Student Experience. In: Degrees of Independence: Providing Inclusive Learning in Higher Education, 16-17 April 2009, University of Huddersfield, UK. (Unpublished)

This paper explores preliminary findings from online interviews with educational support workers and web-based diaries with university students with social communication difficulties, concerning student support networks and the implications for retention and progression. Mostly, support workers with the least training and experience were less confident in contributing to the establishment and maintenance of student support networks. However, those with more training and experience were more confident in providing advice and support to develop students’ social skills and facilitate broader support networks. Regardless of training and experience, support workers were generally reluctant to engage in peer networking because it places them in danger of crossing professional boundaries. This can have serious negative consequences for those who have peer networking difficulties. Increased student isolation from their peers puts students at risk of dropping out or failing, both at modular and course level. Nevertheless, support workers agree that if there is a clear identified and evidenced need, students should have access to peer networking support to encourage social integration. However, who could provide this peer networking support remains unclear at this phase of inquiry. Emerging issues from student diaries indicate that there are a number of people supporting them; support workers and lecturers can provide visible adjustments, whereas family and peers can provide invisible support.

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