Academic adjustments for disabled students policy

Updated on 26 August 2021

This policy sets out the University’s position on the provision of academic-related reasonable adjustments for disabled students and clarifies responsibilities and procedures in this respect.

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Approved by Learning and Teaching Committee: 18.05.09; Approved by Senate: 03.06.09; updated 19.09.16.

Unless otherwise stated, quotations within the text are taken from the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Technical Guidance on Further and Higher Education (2012).

1. Purpose

1.1    This policy sets out the University’s position on the provision of academic-related reasonable adjustments for disabled students and clarifies responsibilities and procedures in this respect.

1.2    The term ‘disabled students’ is used throughout to describe students with one or more of a wide range of physical, sensory and cognitive impairments in line with the definition of disability under the Equality Act (2010) (see 3.3).

1.3    The term ‘adjustment’ is used throughout to describe provision that would be deemed reasonable under the Equality Act to meet the needs of disabled students.

1.4    Implementation of this policy will be monitored through the University’s School/College boards and by the Learning and Teaching Committee.

1.5    This policy should be read in conjunction with related University policies that include reference to disabled students and applicants. These include: the Assessment Policy for Taught Provision, Equality and Diversity Policy, Learning and Teaching Strategy and the Student Placements Policy. These are available on the Academic and Corporate Governance webpages

In addition, the University’s Web Accessibility Policy sets out the University’s commitment to ensuring that existing and new web resources are accessible to disabled people:

2. Aims

2.1    The University is committed to providing an inclusive and equitable learning environment that enables disabled students to access the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers. The University is also committed to the Social Model of Disability (where the emphasis is on removing the disabling effects of the environment rather than assessing the impact of individual impairments), and to the Universal Design for Learning (where the curriculum is designed to be appropriate for all students through the provision of flexible teaching and assessment, and accessible learning materials).

2.2.   The University will aim to anticipate the requirements of disabled students and to identify all reasonable adjustments to meet their individual needs. To this end the University will:

  • raise awareness of the support and provision it offers for disabled students and its legal responsibilities under the Equality Act
  • promote an inclusive culture and a supportive learning environment that welcomes disabled students and instils confidence to disclose
  • provide repeated opportunities for disabled students and applicants to disclose a disability throughout their University studies
  • ensure disability disclosure information and details of individual students’ disability-related needs are processed in accordance with approved disclosure and confidentiality procedures and the Data Protection Act (1998)
  • ensure information confirming the nature of a student’s disability is only requested when justified, i.e. when the impairment or required adjustment is not obvious
  • identify, communicate and implement all reasonable adjustments in a timely, efficient and consistent manner
  • deal effectively and promptly with any implementation issues for adjustments and any disability-related complaints
  • monitor and review the provision of adjustments
  • gather and monitor data on the admission, progression, retention and achievement of disabled students compared to their non-disabled peers (via Admissions and Student Recruitment or Registry as appropriate)
  • ensure that the design and delivery of all programmes and modules are as inclusive as possible, including all aspects of e-learning, and that accessibility issues are routinely considered during programme/module approval and review
  • provide training and guidance for staff to support delivery of an inclusive curriculum and accessible teaching and assessment practices

2.3    The University will identify and allocate resources to meet these aims, monitor the impact, implement any necessary changes and keep all provision for disabled students under regular review, including responding to any legislative changes.

3.  Legal context

3.1    Under the Equality Act (2010), Universities are required to make reasonable adjustments in anticipation of, and in response to, disabled students’ needs and must ensure that disabled students are not treated less favourably than other students for reasons relating to their disability. These duties apply to all services and facilities the University provides for students, including all aspects of learning and teaching.

As this is a duty to disabled students generally, it applies “regardless of whether the education provider knows that a particular person is disabled or whether it currently has disabled students”.

3.2    Universities are also required to be proactive in encouraging students to disclose a disability; “An education provider should do all it can reasonably be expected to do to find out whether a student is disabled and requires reasonable adjustments.”

3.3    A disabled person is defined as someone who has "a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities". This definition covers a wide range of physical, mental and sensory impairments, including specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and chronic health conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and depression. The definition also includes people with cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis from the point of diagnosis.

3.4    The Equality Act has strengthened the duty on public bodies, including Universities, to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, and to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation. In addition, disability discrimination claims can now be brought on four grounds: direct discrimination; indirect discrimination; failure to make reasonable adjustments; and discrimination ‘arising from a disability’. Protection on the grounds of ‘association’ and ‘perception’ has also been extended to disability; for example, treating somebody less favourably because they have a disabled child is unlawful. It is however lawful to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person (positive action); for example, restricting services or facilities to disabled students.

3.5    Reasonable adjustments should be made in anticipation of disabled students’ needs, as far as possible, through inclusive services and teaching and assessment practices. Individual adjustments, to meet the specific needs of individual students, may also need to be made to ensure that the disabled student is not placed at a substantial disadvantage.

3.6    In making judgements on what is reasonable, account may be taken of maintaining academic and other core competence standards (including those set by external professional bodies), the health and safety of the individual and others, the practical and financial feasibility of making the adjustment and ensuring that others are not, as a consequence of making the adjustment, placed at a substantial disadvantage. In addition, some individual adjustments that may be deemed reasonable with sufficient advanced notice may not be deemed so if requested with little or no notification. However, once identified as reasonable, an adjustment must be made. There is no justification under the Equality Act for failing to make a reasonable adjustment.

3.7    The Equality Act does not require Universities to do anything that might mean they cannot maintain academic or other core competence standards in a particular learning programme, if these standards are genuine (see Appendix 2). However, Universities should seek to ensure that they take all reasonable steps to enable suitably qualified students who are disabled to successfully participate in, and complete, all academic programmes through the provision of a flexible and inclusive learning environment and, where necessary, individual reasonable adjustments.

3.8    The Equality Act also requires professional and other qualifications bodies to make reasonable adjustments to their procedures for conferring qualifications and assessing competence standards. They must review the basis for these standards and determine any options for flexibility to accommodate disabled students’ needs. Universities and professional bodies are expected to liaise to ensure that any standards set are genuine. Schools offering programmes that are accredited by external professional bodies should therefore seek clarification of any fitness to practice criteria/ core competence standards from their respective professional bodies.

3.9    The curriculum should be modified to the extent that disabled students will be supported, as far as is reasonable, to develop the intellectual, practical, technical and transferable skills and the knowledge and understanding demanded by individual programmes. Where a student’s disability prevents them from being able to develop specific skills, it may be necessary for a revised programme to be negotiated that allows the student, within the constraints of their disability, to develop and demonstrate the programme’s core competence standards and skills, and the required knowledge and understanding.

3.10  Adjustments to teaching and assessment are intended to compensate for the disadvantage caused by a student’s disability. Assessment arrangements should be organised to ensure that a student's disability does not unfairly disadvantage them in demonstrating that they can satisfy the programme’s learning outcomes. Reasonable adjustments typically include revising the assessment arrangements and, in those circumstances where this is not appropriate, offering an alternative but comparable mode of assessment. In the case of the latter, the student is expected to demonstrate the same learning outcomes as other students.

3.11  Examples of anticipatory and individual reasonable adjustments to teaching and assessment are provided in Appendix 1.

4. Quality Assurance context

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) sets out the national framework for reviewing and improving academic standards and quality in higher education. ‘Chapter B3: Learning and Teaching’ in the QAA’s Quality Code (2013), refers to the importance of promoting equality in learning and teaching:

“Equality of opportunity involves enabling access for people who have differing individual requirements as well as eliminating arbitrary and unnecessary barriers to learning. The nature of students' particular learning experiences may vary according to location of study, mode of study, or academic subject, as well as whether they have any protected characteristics, but every student experiences parity in the quality of learning opportunities. In addition, disabled students and non-disabled students are offered learning opportunities which are equally accessible to them, by means of inclusive design wherever possible and by means of reasonable individual adjustments wherever necessary.”

The University has developed a Quality Framework (QF) that reflects the QAA requirements and is committed to meeting all QAA Indicators - see Code of Practice mapping document on the QF webpages

5. Responsibilities and procedures

5.1    The University’s policy is to operate in an inclusive manner by anticipating the diverse needs of all students, wherever possible. However, where a student has a disability which requires individual adjustments to teaching and assessment practices, Disability Services will determine the specific reasonable adjustments that are required for individual students.

5.2    In making such decisions, Disability Services will take into account the need to maintain academic and other core competence standards, the health and safety of all individuals, the practical and financial feasibility of making the adjustment and the need to ensure that others are not, as a consequence of making the adjustment, placed at a substantial disadvantage. Such decisions will be informed by all available information about the nature of the student’s disability (including, where relevant, transition information from the student’s Secondary School/FE College/other education provider, psychologists' reports, medical reports and other diagnostic/needs assessment reports from recognised professionals) and the requirements of the student’s programme of study, including core competence standards, any fitness to practise requirements and any requirements set by external professional bodies.

5.3    In this context, Disability Services is responsible for:

  • gathering information and evidence to support the need for individual adjustments;
  • liaising with Academic Schools to identify core programme requirements and competence standards;
  • assessing disabled students’ needs, and the needs of disabled applicants to the University, and identifying reasonable adjustments for individual students;
  • obtaining the student’s consent to share identified adjustments with other University staff, including staff in their Academic Schools;
  • communicating information on identified adjustments to Academic Schools via the School’s Disability Support Officer and School Manager;
  • supporting the provision of inclusive risk assessments, where appropriate, in liaison with Academic Schools;
  • reviewing students’ individual needs on a regular basis and monitoring the impact of individual adjustments;
  • supporting the provision of support workers in classes and examinations in liaison with Academic Schools and the Examinations Office;
  • providing specialist study skills support and assistive technology training to disabled students to enable them to develop independent study strategies;
  • providing advice, training and guidance to Academic Schools on inclusive practice and the University’s responsibilities under the Equality Act.

5.4    Director of Academic and Corporate Governance is responsible for approving adjustments identified by Disability Services based on students’ individual needs assessments and diagnostic evidence. Once approved by the Director, such adjustments form a contract between the University and the student and, as such, must be implemented.

5.5    Disabled students are responsible for:

  • liaising with Disability Services to discuss their support needs as early as possible and on a regular basis thereafter so that adjustments can be identified, modified where necessary, and implemented to meet their individual needs. This is particularly important for any adjustments to examination arrangements
  • providing evidence of the nature of their disability (e.g. doctor’s letter, psychologist’s report), where this is justified. Support with this can be provided by Disability Services if required
  • seeking guidance and support from Disability Services and the Academic Skills team to prepare appropriately structured academic reports and essays and to develop independent strategies for the accurate presentation of written work that compensates, as far as possible, for their disability-related difficulties
  • where all reasonable adjustments are in place, utilising assistive technology and other study aids/strategies to overcome any remaining disability-related difficulties with accessing the curriculum or undertaking assessments to reduce the need for, and reliance on, concessionary forms of support.

5.6    Disability Support Officers are responsible for:

  • sharing adjustments received from Disability Services with all relevant staff within their Academic School, including all teaching staff and visiting lecturers
  • providing a point of contact within the School for disabled students and applicants to discuss the core requirements of the School’s programmes as early as possible to ensure that adjustments are identified and made known to relevant staff and to enable disabled applicants to make informed choices
  • enabling disabled students to discuss any emerging needs and identifying appropriate courses of action to address these in liaison with Disability Services
  • raising awareness of their role with disabled students in their Academic School

5.7    Academic Schools are responsible for:

  • advising all applicants who disclose a disability (on applications handled by the School) of the availability of support from Disability Services and encouraged to contact Disability Services at the earliest opportunity should they anticipate the need for disability-related support with their studies;
  • providing repeated opportunities for students to disclose a disability, particularly at key points in the Academic Year e.g. prior to field trips, work placements or exams;
  • implementing and monitoring individual adjustments, including the provision of adjustments for disabled students in class/departmental examinations;
  • advising Disability Services of any difficulties with implementation of adjustments;
  • identifying and implementing anticipatory reasonable adjustments;
  • developing and delivering inclusive teaching and assessment practices (including accessible e-learning materials) and designing modules and programmes in line with Disability Service’s ‘Teachability’ guidance (see 6.2);
  • liaising, where appropriate, with external professional bodies to clarify the core competence standards and any fitness to practice requirements of the School’s modules and programmes;
  • obtaining and responding to feedback from disabled students in their School, monitoring the impact of adjustments and reporting on the School’s response.

5.8    Admissions and Student Recruitment Service (ASRS) are responsible for ensuring that all applicants who disclose a disability (on applications handled by ASRS) are advised of the availability of support from Disability Services and encouraged to contact Disability Services at the earliest opportunity should they anticipate the need for disability-related support with their studies.

5.9    Examinations Office is responsible for:

  • ensuring the provision of identified adjustments for disabled students in degree examinations, including separate accommodation and alternative formats of examination papers;
  • maintaining the security of the examination process;
  • ensuring the provision of separate invigilation, particularly for students using support workers e.g. scribes;
  • preparing and circulating accessible examination timetables in a timely and data protection compliant manner that detail individual disabled students’ adjustments.

5.10  University’s IT Service (UoD IT) and the Examinations Office are responsible for ensuring the provision of IT adjustments for degree exams, including access to sufficient secure computers, assistive technology and ergonomic adaptations. UoD IT can also support the provision of such adjustments for class/departmental exams. Further details on the Disability Services webpages.

5.11  These procedures will be kept under review and modified where necessary in response to feedback from disabled students and any internal reorganisation of responsibilities.

6.      Related Guidance and Resources

6.1    An extensive range of guidance and web-based resources on the provision of reasonable adjustments and inclusive teaching and assessment practices (including inclusive e-learning and e-assessment resources) are available via the Disability Services webpages.

6.2    Key policies and guidance for staff are highlighted on the Disability support for staff webpage.

This includes specific Disability Services’ guidance on:

  • allowing students to record lectures
  • handling disability disclosure
  • assessing the accessibility of programmes/modules for approval or review purposes
  • arranging work placements for disabled students
  • undertaking inclusive risk assessments
  • marking the work of students with dyslexia

6.3    These resources are regularly updated to reflect changes in legal requirements and good practice in the sector. Staff are therefore advised to check Disability Services’ website on a regular basis and to share any examples of good practice through School forums, the Disability Support Officer network.

6.4    The University’s Web Accessibility Service and Alternative Formats Service offer expert advice and support on designing accessible teaching and other materials.

Appendix 1 - Examples of Reasonable Adjustments/ Inclusive Teaching Practice

1.      Anticipatory Adjustments to Teaching and Assessment

1.1    Anticipatory or inclusive adjustments are those which anticipate the general requirements of students with diverse needs, including those with disabilities. Such anticipatory adjustments to established teaching and assessment practices are not only a legal requirement (under the Equality Act) to meet the needs of disabled students but can also benefit the learning of all students. They also reduce the need for individual adjustments and may therefore be more time and cost effective in the long term.

         Lecturers and other teaching staff are therefore encouraged to consider the following examples of inclusive practice. These are not intended to be exhaustive and staff are directed to the extensive resources on this subject available via Disability Services’ website (see 6.1).

1.2    Teaching practice:

All students will benefit from lecturers:

  • facing the students when speaking;
  • using the microphone where available;
  • previewing the content of the lecture and relating it to earlier material covered;
  • making it clear what students are expected to be able to do or know at the end of the lecture;
  • reinforcing information in a variety of ways and providing time for consolidation;
  • summarising the main points of a class and providing lecture outlines;
  • repeating students' questions clearly for other students to hear;
  • providing specific guidance on essential and recommended reading in advance;
  • providing glossaries of technical terms;
  • giving instructions regarding class organisation or assessment requirements in an accessible electronic format as well as orally;
  • using a variety of teaching methods and teaching aids;
  • arranging classes in accessible locations;
  • allowing students to record lectures, in line with University policy on recording lectures

1.3    Learning materials:

All students will benefit from lecturers:

  • distributing copies of any handouts, overhead transparencies or PowerPoint slides, in advance of the class through the University’s VLE so that students can customise before the lecture (e.g. to their preferred font size) and annotate during the lecture;
  • ensuring all teaching materials are accessible, including web-based and e-learning materials, in line with the University’s Web Accessibility Policy and good practice guidance (see 6.1);
  • designing handouts and other written materials in line with clear print guidance.

1.4    Assessment practice:

All students will benefit from lecturers:

  • avoiding assessments which rely on students rote learning and recalling large quantities of information;
  • offering the opportunity to receive feedback orally as well as in writing;
  • making assessment requirements as explicit as is reasonable, with transparent but concise assessment and marking criteria;
  • ensuring the examination duration is sufficient for students to read through their work and take rest breaks from writing (of at least 5 minutes in the hour);
  • using a variety of assessment methods;
  • ensuring all assessments are accessible, including those that are delivered on-line

2.      Individual adjustments to teaching and assessment

2.1    The following are examples of adjustments that, on the basis of an individual needs assessment, may be considered reasonable. They include adjustments concerning access to learning resources and activities, additional learning and teaching support and revisions to assessment arrangements. These are not intended to be exhaustive and other adjustments will be necessary to meet disabled students’ individual needs.

2.2    Access to learning resources and activities:

Reasonable adjustments to learning resources and activities may include:

  • ensuring the timetabling and room scheduling process takes into account the mobility impairment of individual students;
  • enabling students to meet with staff in an accessible location when staff offices are inaccessible to disabled individuals;
  • providing extended library loan facilities where identified by Disability Services;
  • arranging work placements in line with Disability Services’ guidance (see 6.2).

2.3    Additional support for learning and teaching:

Reasonable adjustments to learning and teaching may include:

  • allowing personal assistants, signers, note-takers, carers, guide or hearing dogs into classes, to be seated in a position that allows them to undertake their role in support of the disabled student;
  • providing teaching materials in advance of classes in an accessible electronic format (for the student to customise to their own needs) or, where reasonable, in a format requested by the student (e.g. specific paper colour, font type or size);
  • wearing a microphone/radio aid for those students who have hearing difficulties;
  • allowing classes to be recorded in line with University policy and, where recording is justifiably not possible, providing additional support, such as more extensive notes, to ensure disabled students are not disadvantaged.

2.4    Assessment arrangements:

Reasonable adjustments to assessment arrangements may include:

  • allowing additional time to complete the assessment (typically 25% extra);
  • providing papers in alternative formats such as large print, audio or Braille;
  • allowing use of coloured overlays;
  • providing assistive technology such as a computer with screen reading software;
  • providing ergonomic adaptations such as height-adjustable chairs/tables and alternative keyboards/mice;
  • providing rest breaks and the facility to move around during the assessment;
  • providing separate venues and invigilation;
  • providing personal assistance in the form of a signer, reader or scribe;
  • allowing the use of stickers to identify the work as that of a student with dyslexia;
  • allowing access to food, drink or medication during the assessment;
  • enabling access to accessible toilet facilities.

Appendix 2 – Competence Standards

Extract from the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Technical Guidance on Further and Higher Education (2012), 7.33 – 7.38, p97-99.

What is a competence standard?

7.33   The Act defines a ‘competence standard’ as an academic, medical, or other standard applied for the purpose of determining whether or not a person has a particular level of competence or ability.

7.34   Education providers are likely to impose various requirements and conditions in respect of courses. However, any such requirement or condition only amounts to a competence standard if its purpose is to demonstrate a particular level of a relevant competence or ability such as a requirement that a person has a particular level of relevant knowledge of a subject.

Example: The admissions criteria for a course in choreography include a requirement to demonstrate ‘a high level of physical fitness’. The course itself, however, is predominately theory-based and does not involve any strenuous physical activity. This is unlikely to be a competence standard.

Example: The requirement for students studying for a law degree to demonstrate a particular standard of knowledge of certain areas of law in order to obtain the degree is a competence standard.

7.35   On the other hand, a condition that a person can, for example, do something within a certain period of time will not be a competence standard if it does not determine a particular level of competence or ability.

Example: A requirement that a person completes a test in a certain time period is not a competence standard unless the competence being tested is the ability to do something within a limited time period.

Competence standards and assessment process

7.36   Sometimes the process of assessing whether a competence standard has been achieved is inextricably linked to the standard itself. The passing of an assessment may be conditional upon having a practical skill or ability which must be demonstrated by completing a practical test. Therefore, in relatively rare circumstances, the ability to take the test may itself amount to a competence standard.

Example: An assessment for a practical course in car maintenance cannot be done solely as a written test, because the purpose of the test is to ascertain whether someone can complete car repairs.

What is the significance of this distinction?

7.37   A provision, criterion or practice does not include the application of a competence standard. Therefore the duty to make reasonable adjustments does not include a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the application of a competence standard.

7.38   Although there is no duty to make reasonable adjustments to the application of a competence standard, such a duty does apply to the process by which competence is assessed. So although an education provider has no duty to alter a competence standard, it needs to consider whether or not a reasonable adjustment could be made to some aspect of the process by which it assesses a competence standard.

Example: When assessing the competence standard of a person’s ability to read French it would be a reasonable adjustment to provide a visually impaired student with text in large font (if that was the adjustment the student required).

Example: A law student has severe arthritis in her hands. When assessing her level of knowledge, it might be a reasonable adjustment to provide an oral exam or viva instead of a timed handwritten exam. However, there may be an overlap between a competence standard and any process by which an individual is assessed against that standard.

Example: A woman taking a written test for a qualification in office administration asks the education provider for extra time for the test because she has dyslexia. This is likely to be a reasonable adjustment for the education provider to make. She also asks if she can leave out the questions asking her to write a business letter and to précis a document, because she feels that these questions would substantially disadvantage her because of her dyslexia. The education provider would not have to make this adjustment because these questions are there to determine her competence at writing and précising, so are part of the competence standard being tested.

Further information

Further information on competence standards is available from the Equality Challenge Unit

Corporate information category Academic standards, Disability support