The Wellbeing of Disability Professionals in the Further and Higher Education Workplace

Importance

There is currently a lot of interest in the experiences of disabled students attending Higher Education with the work being completed by the Disabled Students Commission and the Disabled Students Inquiry. The concerns that disabled students experience have also been highlighted by the rapid move to online teaching and assessment during the Covid-19 pandemic. This report considers a related aspect: it concerns the mental health and wellbeing of disability professionals. The report covers the experiences of members of professional staff in institutions who are working directly with disabled students. The report argues that their health and wellbeing is not only important in its own right but can be directly related to that of disabled students. Members of staff who are struggling with their own mental health will, consequently, struggle to support disabled students.

Summary

Disability professionals provide invaluable support for disabled students and advice and guidance for academic teams. Recent research has highlighted severe concerns about the mental health of students and also academic staff, but scant research interest is available on the mental health of professional services staff in the UK.

This survey was designed as an initial review of the perceptions of disability professionals working in UK institutions in relation to factors which may impact on mental health and wellbeing. It has revealed some pockets of excellent practice with disability professionals reporting a good working atmosphere, supportive teams, excellent work-life balance and effective management at every level.

However, the majority of respondents reported a difficult working environment both physically and emotionally. Their support came from colleagues at the same level, their professional association and immediate line managers. Many were disheartened and felt undervalued.

Respondents used strong and emotive terms to describe their distress. Some suggested that senior managers have struggled to manage the rapid move from a co-operative institutional environment to one that relies on both internal and external competition. Change management is a complex process that requires three-fold management; looking not only at outcomes but also interests and emotions. Research points to a concentration solely on outcomes at the expense of staff interests and emotions. Arguably this situation could be framed as breach of psychological contract.

This report suggests that institutions with staff reporting poor wellbeing need to take action immediately to ensure that support for their staff is re-established and support for disabled students continues successfully.

Recommendations

1.           Institutions review their process of change management.

2.           The Department for Education consider minimum recommendations for addressing the working conditions of disability professionals.

3.           The National Association of Disability Practitioners move to phase two of the research aiming to produce a positive model for change across the sector.

The National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP)

NADP is the professional association for members of staff at colleges and universities working with disabled students. Our 1500 members include academic staff working inclusively with students and those in individual support either within the institution or externally. Membership includes staff from most universities and many colleges in the United Kingdom, as well as several from Europe and across the world.

This report is authored by the members of the Publications, Research and Ethics Standing Committee of NADP