How inclusive is the on-line learning environment for people with disabillities?

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Enablement and inclusivity in HEIs for people with disabilities is of vital importance as an institutional and societal standard. While reasonable adjustment measures are common practice in the classroom, the impact of the movement of teaching and learning activities to the on-line environment, as both supportive of standard teaching and as blended and distance learning delivery, is neglected. Little research has explored the impact of this shift to the online environment for people with disabilities, and there is limited guidance on best practice for inclusivity on-line.

This project was designed to explore the student perspective on engaging in the Abertay University virtual learning environment (VLE). The aim was to assess current strengths, weaknesses, and challenges with a view to developing a set of guidelines for pre-emptive inclusion of students with disabilities at Abertay and use this to promote the Abertay inclusivity strategy in the HE field. The objective of this study was to carry out four focus groups with students who identified as having a disability, including health, learning and physical conditions. The topics discussed included preparation for engagement in the VLE, challenges to learning in the VLE as a result of disabilities, and barriers and benefits of the VLE in enabling learning and progression.

Thematic analysis of the focus group transcripts, using the Ward team-based methodology of creative consensus (Schielke, et al, 2009), provided an illustration of the student experience, areas of strength, and potential development, with a ground-up approach to accommodating student needs. This analysis was enhanced by inviting students with disabilities to provide a verification of the results. Key themes emerged in the areas of i) a reliance on personal and sometimes unique skill sets to engage in on-line learning; ii) that on-line provision can compensate for non-standard learning styles and poor attendance resulting from disabilities, but that iii) the essential nature to the learning journey of the tutor-student relationship, and student identity, should not be neglected. This paper will illustrate the complexities and challenges presented by on-line engagement using case-studies of students who have a range of engagement styles which should be accommodated during course design.

Following analysis and in the light of results, authors undertook a period of rationalization with current legislation (Equality Act, 2010), Abertay practice, and feasibility in conjunction with the student services disabilities team resulting in a set of guidelines for staff and illustrative training vignettes which will be shared. Overall this supports an anticipatory approach to the development of on-line and blended learning programmes to take account of the needs of all students. The nature and breadth of disabilities is also highlighted as a major impacting factor on guideline development.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2017
Event3rd International Enhancement in Higher Education Conference: Inspiring excellence - transforming the student experience - Radisson Blu Hotel, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Jun 20178 Jun 2017
Conference number: 3


Conference3rd International Enhancement in Higher Education Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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