Week 9: Wednesday 19th August

Webinar: “Teamwork makes the dream work” – academics and disability teams working collaboratively

Idalina Rodrigues, Senior Lecturer, Faculty Health & Life Sciences, De Montfort University

Rachel Davies, Course Specific Initiatives Officer, De Montfort University

Video 1: The accessibility revolution in assistive technology, and what it means for us.

Rich Nind, Sheffield Hallam University

Since the announcement of the DSA changes in 2014 (Willets), there has been ongoing concern about access to assistive technology for disabled students. However during this period, the scope for students to access assistive technology independently of the DSA process has widened. Assistive technology has now begun to be included by technology companies as a mainstream feature in their hardware and software. Additionally, the mass adoption of the Software as a Service (SaaS) model by technology companies has made specialist software affordable to students for the first time. Alongside these developments, the advent (and now dominance) of centralised App Stores has streamlined the discovery process for end users.

We are now seeing assistive technology marketed and sold directly to the consumer, often with the term ‘assistive technology’ (and the jargon we associate with it) missing. The features we associate with assistive technology are becoming part of the standard feature make-up of operating systems and software packages, and are being adopted by all users. Free mobile apps and web browser add-ons are available to support the user with (literally) a million different micro-tasks. The term ‘assistive technology’ is becoming less relevant, even as it becomes more prominent and accessible.

This has implications for all parties involved.  Students will be most affected by these changes – and hopefully in a positive way. However, adoption of a more horizontal, student-led model of assistive technology provision is likely to disrupt our currently well-established support pathways.  Assessment is likely to be complicated by a more informed and technology-literate student body who may already be using some of the tools offered via DSAs, but in a far more simplified and accessible manner. Meanwhile software vendors working in the DSA market must work hard to maintain their value, and will need to continually innovate to provide useful tools that are not available in mainstream computing.

This session will review the developments since 2014 and briefly demonstrate some key technologies. It will also explore the effects and possible consequences of these changes. Finally it will examine how practitioners can respond positively to these changes, and will include a brief discussion of the changes we have made to our assistive technology delivery at SHU.

Video 2: Modernising Solent University’s disability service for the new decade

Alexandra Banks & Rebecca Harris

Access Solent are a committed team of staff who plan and co-ordinate support for students to facilitate their independent learning. They advise students with specific learning difficulties, autistic spectrum disorders, mental health issues, visual and learning impairments, physical difficulties and complex/multiple needs and tackle the significant challenges of working with the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) system and working with multiple external assessors and providers of personal care and NMH.

In 2019 we completed a review of the Solent disability service and developed an ambitious action plan to modernise the service. The aim was to have a very good service by January 2020 and an excellent service with innovation and good practice shared externally by January 2021.

This video presentation will focus on how we critically reviewed the service and identified priorities, the challenges of implementing changes and lessons learned. We will discuss our successes and outline the next steps to achieving our vision that Access Solent will have an excellent reputation and will be pivotal in enabling the University to become the first choice of university for students with learning difficulties and disabilities.