Using a Computer Aided Test to Raise Awareness of Disability Issues Amongst University Teaching Staff

Using a Computer Aided Test to Raise Awareness of Disability Issues Amongst University Teaching Staff

John Gray (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK), Gill Harrison (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK), Andrea Gorra (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK) and Jakki Sheridan-Ross (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-183-2.ch004

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Universities in Europe and the United States have an increasing number of students with disabilities enrolling in them (HESA, 2008; U.S. Department of Education, 2006). For a variety of reasons, including the association of computers with the provision of many kinds of aids to accessibility, Computer Science is a popular choice among these students (Francioni and Smith, 2005). The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization adopted the Convention against Discrimination in Education in 1960 (UNESCO, 1960). At present, European legislation against disability discrimination, with the exception of the UK, only exists in the employment field in the form of the Employment Directive 2000/78/EC, which aims to establish a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (EDF, 2007). Even though this Directive addresses the vocational training of disabled citizens, there is no European legislation specifically addressing disability discrimination in the Higher Education section. In the UK and the United States, legislation such as the UK Disability Discrimination Act (HMSO, 1995), the UK Special Educational Needs and Disabilities act (HMSO, 2001), and the American Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) lay upon universities the duty to consider and provide for the needs of disabled students in their teaching. Against this legislative background, staff teaching in Higher Education institutions need to be aware of the needs of disabled students and how best to accommodate them.

Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds Met), like the vast majority of UK HE institutions, has a strong student facing Disability Services team that is highly successful in helping those students who identify themselves as requiring support due to their disabilities. The information made available to staff and students through this team is focused on explaining the form and nature of that support together with providing wider information and links that may prove helpful to disabled students. These include information about disability resource areas, alternative assessment arrangements, dyslexia tuition and IT support. This information is disseminated to the university staff through presentations and other staff development activities and information sessions; unfortunately, as is noted later, there is intense competition for the time and attention of academics and it is difficult to ensure that this information reaches them effectively.

The development of the computer aided assessment tool for disability awareness is one facet of the Leeds Met approach to raising the awareness of its staff in the field of supporting and developing all of its students. A key element of this tool is the inclusion of information and links to good practice regarding the range of impairments simulated together with links to wider information on the impairments and access to specific online tests that enable participants to evaluate their own status. Several participants have become aware of personal difficulties, for example colour blindness, through engaging with these tests. Initial trials of the test have indicated its usefulness and potential for the future. One important effect has been the increased interest and enthusiasm towards learning about disability issues, exemplified by the request for further specialised training sessions. There are plans to extend the range of impairments included in the simulations together with the addition of text to speech examples.

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