Frequently Asked Questions - Legal responsibilities

The section on Legislation will provide much of the information you require and there is a PDF download from the Equality Challenge Unit  for those working and supporting students in Higher Education.  

The video below has been produced by XpertHR with the company's head of content Jo Stubbs and group editor David Shepherd discussing changes to the law on disability discrimination that will be brought in by the Equality Act 2010. Published August 2010.


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Professional examinations tend to take place once a student has left the university,  but it is important to check that any examinations set by outside organisatons are accessible to disabled examinees.  There is the example of the case of "a qualifications body [that was found to have] discriminated against a blind systems manager when it failed to make its computer-based exam accessible to her".  

The Equality Challenge Unit has a PDF of guidance on managing reasonable adjustments for disabled staff and students that points out that "The Equality Act 2010 continues the existing duty upon HEIs to make reasonable adjustments for staff, students and service users in relation to:

  • a provision, criteria or practice
  • physical features
  • auxiliary aids"

In the video below Alistair McNaught of JISC TechDis discusses reasonable adjustments and the work that JISC TechDis has done in this area including a Toolkit for creating accessible learning materials for those who have visual difficulties


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The Equality Challenge Unit Managing Reasonable Adjustments in Higher Education Report  provides the following statement with regards to "Making the case for an anticipatory approach"

"The revised version of the Quality Assurance Agency’s code of practice for disabled students (QAA, 2010) states that to meet legislative requirements successfully, an HEI needs to have an ethos that embraces diversity, as well as senior managers who demonstrate a commitment to resourcing the disability equality agenda and take an active interest in accessibility. The QAA additionally proposes that institutions make consideration of the entitlements of disabled students and staff a core element of institutional practice relating to all decision-making activities.
The Statutory Code of Practice for Post-16 Education Providers (DRC, 2006a - revised 2010) encourages institutions to take a strategic approach to the provision of reasonable adjustments."  The following pages provide useful advice:
  • Planning ahead - page 18
  • Auditing policies and procedures - page 19
  • Teaching and learning - page 161
  • Assignments and assessments - page 165 canada viagra online
  • Vivas, Orals and Presentations - page 175
  • Practicals- page 175
  • Work based assessments - page 177


A disabled student who is visually impaired and uses screen reading software is assessed in the office environment in which he is working as part of his qualification in administration. The course provider discusses with the student and the assessors the way to ensure that the assessment is fair and takes account of the screen reading software that the student uses.


The Sensory access in higher education: guidance report 2009  provides a check list for managers to consider listed below: 

  • Make available adequate funding to ensure disabled students, including sensory impaired students, are not discriminated against because of their support needs. Alternative funding for supporting sensory impaired students from overseas needs to be considered at the application stage, as these students are unlikely to be eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowances
  • Take a centralised approach to student and disability services – this benefits students by providing more consistent and better quality services, and could reduce staff time and unnecessary duplication of services and equipment.
  • Provide tighter support systems in institutions, and formalised communication of changes to all the people who need to know, giving specific responsibilities to named people. This would make disability services and the extension of disability support services on offer in different departments part of a formal provision for students.
  • Ensure formal communication pathways between departments and students services, with clear responsibilities for staff members to ensure information about students is successfully conveyed. Course administrators could be the student’s liaison between lecture staff and disability services to ensure adjustments are coordinated and applied appropriately. Workload remission for staff members working to support disabled students should be offered to ensure they are able to provide adequate support.
  • Encourage all students, including overseas students, to disclose their disability. To achieve this, it is important to ensure a comfortable and safe environment, such as a face-to-face conversation in a private office. Students need opportunities to disclose information at any time. It is also important to appreciate that some students will not wish to disclose their disability, and this needs to be treated sensitively to ensure they do not feel pressured.
  • Involve sensory impaired students in decision-making and planning, for example through course committee meetings, informal discussions and course feedback questionnaires; this could include an online format to increase accessibility.
  • Consider general accessibility on campus, such as reducing background noise, providing separate cycle and pedestrian routes, and ensuring doors are clearly labelled with ‘push’ or ‘pull’ signs
  • Provide a colour-coded accessible map, with full descriptions of facilities, to students before they start their studies at the institution.
  • Assign a mentor to each potential student once a disability has been declared. If possible, it would be useful for the mentor to have studied the same or a similar course, as well as having a similar disability. Such mentoring support could also help students with autism to navigate their way around campus, increasing their confidence in accessing all buildings and services.
  • Offer a campus orientation day for disabled students before their arrival, and consider the accommodation needs of sensory impaired students.
  • Make it possible to change room bookings to enable suitable provision for sensory impaired students. Devising an inventory list of the accessible equipment helps to support the choice of suitable provision.
  • Ensure services not targeted specifically at disabled students have an understanding of disability equality issues.

What is visual impairment? By Dr Simon Hayhoe
In 2006, the National Health Service in England renewed its definition of visual impairment (VI) as follows: “There has been a change in the terminology of the registers, blind and partial sight should now be expressed as severely sight impaired (blind) and sight impaired (partially sighted).  This change was lobbied for by service users/patients as it more accurately describes their situation as people who may be technically blind or partially sighted could have useful residual vision” (NHS 2006: P. iii). As a consequence of this problem, producing an all-encompassing classification of what a VI is in the classroom or who a VI student is, provides three key problems:
1.     The individual development of VI students’ personalities. When attempting to design a standard curriculum or integrate VI students, there are so many different forms and degrees, not to mention cultural, social and psychological experiences of people with VI, that a single definition becomes unworkable and unfeasible.
2.     The myths that scientific and cultural institutions have constructed around the notion of blindness and VI in institutional education. As Hayhoe (2008b), Jay (1994) and Paulson (1987) argue in relation to Europe and North America, the classification and educational policies related to VI differ historically between nations, and are based on issues such as religion, politics and academic accounts. In addition, most academic studies concerns themselves with an understanding of congenital total blindness (Hayhoe 2008a, 2008b), which only represents a tiny minority of people with VI - in the UK in the year to March 31st 2006 less than 1.5 % of people registered blind by the National Health Service were between the ages of 0-4 (NHS 2006), and thus the 98.5% would most likely have a visual memory and could understand visual concepts.
3.     The understanding that VI in education, particularly in its most extreme form of blindness, is not a medical condition or an illness, as many think it to be. VI is merely the result of an illness, accident, aging or other form of physiological or psychological damage. Thus we must take account of the practical context of the impairment in education. For example, are we defining VI in a laboratory context – which affects the equipment and reading material sourced for the student, the ability to get around the laboratory and the health & safety implications to the student when using certain equipment – or a broader educational context – which include mainly mobility and communication issues?
Research by Hayhoe (2000, 2008a, 2008b, 2011a, 2011b ) suggests that the student experience and attitudes towards students with VIs varies markedly not only in terms of their impairment but also in the experience of education and the social experiences their impairments cause. In particular, he suggests that a simple model of understanding blindness needs to include an understanding of the student’s personal history, the attitudes that have been shown to students by teachers and others in their personal lives, and also whether they have visual memories or not. Thus he presents the following simplified model for taking into account the student experience (Hayhoe 2008a, 2011a, 2011b, forthcoming), adapted from on an earlier model by Berthold Lowenfeld (1981):
·CLASSIFICATIONS OF BLINDNESS: 1) Total Blindness - No light perception. 2) Minimal Light Perception - Some light perception, but little enough to be usable – the student is registered blind. 3) Distorted Vision - Light perception, highly distorted e.g. achromatism, photophobia, tunnel vision or no central vision.
·CLASSIFICATIONS OF MEMORY: 1) No Visual Memory – Totally blind from birth or very early blind, 0-4 years. 2) Assimilated Blindness - Blind from mid to late childhood, 4-18 years, educated in older schools for the blind, primarily non-visual. 3) Visual Memory - Blind in adulthood, 18+ years.
These classifications do not address the causes of the student’s VI, as these are rarely important to teaching and learning. Conversely, the symptoms or the outcomes of the illness or damage that causes VI are imperative to the strategies employed with students. All of these forms of impairment can be caused by a number of overlapping physiological conditions, and can be present in different combinations – such as common distortions of vision with floaters – in the same student. The most prominent three examples of these symptoms include:
1.     Obstructive impairments. This will usually result in slow reading and a need to look at material at very close quarters. Material on the board will usually be unreadable, but colours and mobility can be adapted from normal teaching methods, facilities and equipmentThe most prominent terms for these impairments are:

  • Tunnel vision, in which a student will only be able to see a small area in the central area of their vision, with no peripheral perception.
  • Peripheral vision, in which a student will only be able to see the outer areas of a document or an environment, with the inner area either distorted or missing.
  • Floaters, in which the sight is impaired by parts of vision being taken over by small spots of distorted colour and depth.
  • Warped vision, in which the depth, colour and outline of forms are deformed.

2.     Adverse psychological reactions to light. This will also often result in slow reading and a need to look at material at very close quarters. Material on the board again are usually difficult to read depending on the combination of impairments and of course colours will not be legible. In terms of mobility, again this can be adapted with normal teaching methods, facilities and equipment. Examples of this impairment include:

  • Photophobia, where the student is adverse to any form of light perception and, in extreme cases, has an adverse neurological reaction to light perception. These students will also normally have to wear dark glasses that filter out all but minimal light.
  • Achromatism, in which the student may have no colour perception. Although this condition means that the student may have impaired vision under normal lighting conditions, they may have better vision in dimmed light than a sighted person (Hayhoe 2008a, Sacks 1997)

3.     Total blindness, in which the student has no perception of light at all. This will result in a different mindset in teaching. For example, in these circumstances the student will certainly require training in Braille, the understanding of tactile graphics and equipment and audio devices for recording lessons and playing literature. Although these tactics are essential for students who are totally blind, they may also be useful to aid students with the first two categories of impairment.
Finally, although in this chapter I have outlined VI in relation to assisting education at a particular point in time, it is also important to remember that many VI students will have a degenerative impairment, one which may become more serious and extreme later in life. Thus when adapting education for students with such impairments, it should also be considered that education has a central role in teaching and training the student for the conditions they may face in later life.
Hayhoe S (2011a) Blindness, computing, cognition and culture: Four case studies of blind programmers, In Emerging technologies in Learning: Impact on Cognition and Culture (M. Bhattacharya, N. Mach & M. Moallem Eds.). Chesapeake, VA: AACE
Hayhoe S (2011b) Non-Visual Programming, Perceptual Culture and Mulsemedia: Case studies of five blind computer programmers, In Multiple Sensorial Media Advances and Applications: New Developments in MulSeMedia (Ghinea G et. al. Eds). Hershey, Pennsylvania: IGI Global
Hayhoe S (2008a) Arts, Culture and Blindness: Studies of blind students in the visual arts. Youngstown, New York: Cambria Press
Hayhoe S (2008b) God, Money & Politics: English Attitudes to Blindness and Touch, from Enlightenment to Integration. Charlotte: North Carolina: Information Age Publishing
Hayhoe S (2000) The effects of late arts education on adults with early visual disabilities. Educational Research & Evaluation 6/3/229-249
Jay M (1994) Downcast eyes: The denigration of vision in Twentieth-Century French thoughtBerkley, California: University of California Press
Lowenfeld B (1981) Effects of Blindness on the Cognitive Functioning of Children. In Berthold Lowenfeld on Blindness and Blind People: Selected papers. New York: American Federation for the Blind
NHS (2006) Registered Blind and Partially Sighted People Year ending 31 March 2006, England. London: The Information Centre, Social Care Statistics
Paulson WR (1987) Enlightenment, romanticism and the blind in France. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press
Sacks O (1997) Island of the colour blind. New York: Vintage Books