Hargreaves, Janet, Walker, Lizzie, Golding, Berenice, State, K., Blacktop, Jon, Fletcher-Cook, Phyllis Isobel, Hickling, Keith and Arthurs, David G (2009) Making the transition: disabled students in Higher Education. Project Report. University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield. (Unpublished)

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, (Department for Education and Skills (DES) 2001) gave education providers in the UK legal responsibility to ensure disabled students are not disadvantaged in or excluded from education. The more recent Disability Discrimination Act (Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) 2005) stipulates that public bodies, including universities, need to eliminate discrimination and harassment whilst ensuring that their policies meet the needs of disabled people, promoting equal opportunities. In addition universities are now mandated to embed these regulations in all aspects of their work. Inclusive practice should be anticipatory and should be evident in every aspect of academic life for students (Equality and Human Rights Commission 2009a). Against this backdrop a three year project was undertaken through the Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund (TQEF) at the University of Huddersfield.

The project aims were to evaluate perceived satisfaction with the level of support received by disabled students and to improve provision through staff development and dissemination of best practice. This entailed a review of the literature; the design and administration of a self completion questionnaire and face to face interviews with disabled students; a staff survey of knowledge, skills and attitudes in relation to disability; the development of staff development activities and resources and a national conference ‘Degrees of Independence’ which was jointly hosted with the University of Huddersfield Student Union. Full details of the project can be found at http://www.hud.ac.uk/tqef/1d.html. This report offers a discussion of the analysis of data from student questionnaires and interviews.

Difficulties conducting research with this particular student group emerged whilst attempting to reach a sample of disabled students. Disabled students may choose not to declare their disability to the university and students may have a disability that is unknown to them. We therefore concluded that it was not possible to identify with any certainty the full population of disabled students in the School. Despite these and other challenges three themes emerged as worthy of note and further development:

1. The gap between identification of a disability and the provision of support

2. The unintentional discrimination that may occur where university staff are unaware of the disabled students’ need

3. Preparation for professional practice.
Reflection on this project leads to a philosophical re-examination of ‘disability’ in Higher Education.

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