Providing Learning Support for Blind and Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities




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НазваниеProviding Learning Support for Blind and Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities
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About the Author

Ifan Shepherd (Middlesex University)


My name is Ifan Shepherd, and I am currently Professor of GeoBusiness at the Middlesex University Business School. However, I have spent most of my professional career as a geographer.

My current research interests include: business and public sector applications of geographical information systems and computer mapping; evaluation of information quality on the Internet; data visualization; multi-sensory GIS; evaluation of public sector projects; student transfer of knowledge and skills; and the building of a spatial database for late nineteenth-century London. I have undertaken numerous consultancies in the public sector, including several large-scale audits: poverty in the London borough of Hounslow; early years provision in the London borough of Hackney; and NHS Direct in West London.

I have been involved over many years with research and development in the field of educational innovation, key skills and computer-assisted learning, and I have been a visiting consultant on e-learning to several universities in the UK. I am a member of the editorial board, and former joint editor, of the Journal of Geography in Higher Education.

I have a personal motivation for writing this guide. As a child, I vividly remember a blind neighbour in my home village in Wales who taught basket making in a local evening class. At that time, basket making was one of the few, and certainly the most readily recognised, occupations open to the blind. A measure of the progress made since my childhood in bringing the blind back into the social mainstream is the considerably greater range of occupations now open to them. Nevertheless, unemployment among the blind is still very high (NFB, 2000b), and certain job markets, notably the UK armed forces, are still resistant to disabled entrants.

I was also inspired, more recently, by a geography student with about 10% vision, who refused to be anything other than 'normal'. Not only did he master the art (as it then was) of map interpretation, assisted by maps that had their artwork redrawn with extra-thick lines, but he also joined the student Outdoors Society and spent weekends dragging companions across the Pennines in the North of England. By comparison, the fieldcourses he attended presented him with few significant challenges.

In the past decade, I have been involved in research into multi-sensory GIS and data visualisation, which has opened my eyes to the sensory deprivation perpetuated by modern geographical software that caters almost exclusively for the visually adept. Although several sections of this guide reflect a belief that computer technology can be applied to helping blind and visually impaired students learn more effectively, I hope that this technological perspective does not overshadow the human approaches that are essential if blind and visually impaired students are to participate in effective field learning.

Editors' Preface


Awareness of the need to develop inclusive practices, which provide equal opportunities for disabled students in various parts of their courses, is beginning to spread through Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK. This has been stimulated by the publication of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) (2000) Code of Practice – Students with Disabilities and the extension of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) to education through the Special Education Needs and Disability Act (2001).

This series of guides to providing support to disabled students undertaking fieldwork and related activities is the main output from a project funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England's (HEFCE) Improving Provision for Disabled Students Funding Programme.

The advantage of focusing on fieldwork is that many of the issues faced by disabled students in higher education are magnified in this form of teaching and learning. If the barriers to full participation by everyone can be reduced or overcome it is likely that our awareness of the obstacles to their full participation in other learning activities will be heightened and the difficulties of overcoming the barriers will be lessened.

The project has been undertaken by the Geography Discipline Network, a consortium of old and new universities based at the University of Gloucestershire, whose aim is to research, develop and disseminate good learning and teaching practices in geography and related disciplines. This project was undertaken by a group of geographers, earth and environmental scientists working alongside disability advisers and educational developers.

There are six guides in the set. The first ‘Issues in Providing Learning Support for Disabled Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities’ provides an overview to the series, including the role of fieldwork models of disability, barriers and strategies and the legislative and quality assurance frameworks. It also discusses ways of developing an inclusive fieldwork curriculum and the role on institutional disability advisers. The text is peppered with case studies and boxed examples of good practices. Each of the remaining guides addresses the application of these general issues along with the particular circumstances involved in providing support to particular groups of disabled students:

  • Providing Learning Support for Students with Mobility Impairments Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

  • Providing Learning Support for Blind or Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

  • Providing Learning Support for d/Deaf or Hearing Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

  • Providing Learning Support for Students with Mental Health Difficulties Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

  • Providing Learning Support for Students with Hidden Disabilities and Dyslexia Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

These categories are ones commonly used in providing information, support and analysis of disabilities. Furthermore, many of the obstacles that disabled students face in undertaking fieldwork, and the appropriate methods of overcoming or minimising them, are specific to the kind of disability. Despite using medical categories for describing disabilities we are committed to emphasising a social model to exploring disability, which emphasises the barriers to disabled students which society creates. The distinction between the medical and social model is important because it shifts the responsibility for improving the provision for disabled students from individuals (blaming the victim), to society and the strategies and policies that higher education institutions and their constituent departments develop and enact. The emphasis of this series of guides is on identifying the barriers that disabled students face to participating fully in fieldwork and the ways in which institutions, departments and tutors taking field classes can help to reduce or overcome them.

The net outcome of the quality assurance and legislative changes is that HEIs will need to treat disability issues in a more structured and transparent way. In particular we may expect to see a relative shift of emphasis from issues of recruitment and physical access to issues of parity of the learning experience that disabled students receive. The implication of this shift is that disability issues 'cannot remain closed within a student services arena but must become part of the mainstream learning and teaching debate' (Adams & Brown, 2000, p.8). But there is an opportunity here as well as a challenge. As we become more sensitive to the diversity of student needs we can adjust how we teach and facilitate learning in ways which will benefit all our students.

Phil Gravestock and Mick Healey

University of Gloucestershire

November 2001

References

Adams, M. & Brown, P. (2000) 'The times they are a changing': Developing disability provision in UK Higher Education, paper presented to Pathways 4 Conference, Canberra, Australia, December 6-8.

All World Wide Web links quoted in this guide were checked in November 2001.
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