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Improving provision for disabled students on psychology degree courses

Posted on 11 November 2002

In 2001 nearly 42,000 people were studying psychology degrees in British universities. It is estimated that of these, over 2,800 had some sort of disability.

Psychologists at York, Aston and Middlesex Universities are about to embark on a project to help university psychology departments provide appropriate teaching and learning for disabled students, and to help disabled people make informed decisions about studying psychology. The project is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Psychology is a popular and growing area of study for undergraduates and is offered by the great majority of UK Universities. A degree in Psychology may lead, after further training, to a career as a professional psychologist, but is also seen as a good all-round qualification for employment.

Researchers will study the current environment for disabled psychology students and their departments. Their findings will inform a series of printed and electronic guides for potential students, current students, academic departments and disability advisers. They hope that these best practice guides may have value for other subject areas too.

The project will focus on the particular requirements for the study of psychology, including practical and project work, use of technology and ethical issues. The project work will be monitored and evaluated by an external steering committee and evaluation group.

"The researchers will look at a whole range of things which affect disabled students on psychology courses," said the project leader, Dr Nick Hammond. "We have found that departments tend to focus on practical issues, but we are interested in the way the curriculum is organised and how work is assessed too.

"For example, our initial research with disabled students, which mainly included those with hearing impairment or dyslexia, showed that these students had particular problems with laboratory practicals, group work and assessment procedures."

"As a result we will consider things like access to course materials, assessment, and the use of technology."

"We hope to encourage potential students with disabilities to consider studying psychology," said Professor Nigel Foreman. "New legislation requires that universities provide access for all, and there are enormous benefits in having disabled people studying psychology, not least that personal experience of a disability can help in understanding other people's problems."

Nick Hammond's team at York will manage the project and lead the evaluation and dissemination activities. Aston, under the leadership of Peter Reddy, will take the lead in conducting an audit of student views and experiences of the problems and difficulties of studying psychology as a disabled student and of the help and support available. And researchers at Middlesex under Professor Nigel Foreman, will take a lead in the design of materials for the acquisition of appropriate information from departments, and participate in the collection, collation and analysis of data.

The guides produced for students and departments will draw upon evidence from the research and build on existing generic and discipline-specific guides. They will include evidence-based practice of supporting disabled students on psychology programmes and possible solutions related to specific problems, for example dyslexic students' problems with writing experimental reports or blind students' difficulties with laboratory practicals.

Notes to editors:

1. Guides
The team expects to produce student guides on the following topics:

  • Can I study Psychology?
  • Studying psychology with a visual impairment
  • Studying psychology with a hearing impairment
  • Studying psychology with a physical disability
  • Studying psychology with a mental health problem
  • Studying psychology with dyslexia

And guides for academic departments on:

  • Research methods
  • Practicals
  • Projects
  • Ethical teaching of disabled students studying psychology
  • Specific uses of technology within teaching and learning.

2. Funding
The Higher Education Funding Council has awarded £162,021 over two years, starting January 2003 for the project under its programme 'Improving provision for disabled students'.

3. Researchers

  • Dr Nick Hammond is an expert on issues of educational provision in psychology, with particular interests in the use of educational technology (he is president of the Association for Learning Technology). He is member of the Steering Committee of the JISC Technologies for Disabilities Information Service (TechDis) and Director of Learning and Teaching Support Network Subject Centre in Psychology.
  • Peter Reddy has considerable experience of teaching and curriculum development in psychology. He has previously researched the educational experiences of psychology undergraduate students.
  • Professor Nigel Foreman was formerly tutor for disabled students in the Psychology Department at Leicester University and in Middlesex researches cognition in people with disabilities, including the cognitive consequences of impaired mobility.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153