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Visual Impairment & STEM

Lead Institution: University of Bath
Collaborating with: University of Southampton, Plymouth University, Royal Agricultural College, Loughborough University, London School of Economics

Project Outputs > Disability Practitioner Event - 'Are we doing it right?'

In order to optimise the process of transition to higher education for learners with VI, a collaborative approach across education, local government, charity and other sectors was sought by the project through a Disability Practitioner Event (Are we doing it right?) held at the University of Bath on 21st September 2012. This event built on the success of the Inspiring Students with a Visual Impairment event held earlier in the year, also at Bath.

Are we doing it right? pooled together higher education students and staff with VI alongside: staff with experience of working with students with VI; teachers; representatives from Sensory Support Services; the RNIB; and JISC TechDis. 


Agenda for the Day

The day opened with two talks by:

  • Dr Derek Naysmith (trustee of the British Computer Association of the Blind) who gave an overview of the key findings of his Science Accessibility Survey
  • Alastair Irving (Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford) and Robin Williams (College of Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter) then gave a talk on 'Progressing to HE mathematics - sharing of experience'

Attendees spent the remainder of the day in two group workshops:

  1. Exploring barriers by sharing experience
  2. Drafting a framework to assist learners and their teachers to plan for higher education


Outputs from the event - A Framework for Transition & Key Recommendations

Outputs from the event are captured in the reports downloadable below (please note: the Word version of the report is accessible by screenreader).

Essentially, the event resulted in a framework for guiding and optimising the process of transition to higher education for students with VI across 5 phases of the student journey (pre-application, pre-entry, transition, later years and career planning).

Alongside the framework are 12 recommendations to support practitioners in their roles:

  1. The various methods of accessing and producing accessible STEM content and of locating expertise in this area should be documented in a centralised resource. This information should be appropriate to different roles and levels and associated training resources may be required. 
  2. Access to role models including graduates and students with VI currently studying STEM subjects should be facilitated.
  3. Learners for whom it is appropriate should have the opportunity to learn Braille and the Braille mathematics code up to GCSE level.
  4. Self-advocacy, self-determination and communication skills and the skills required to locate and use information to make choices need to be actively promoted during earlier experiences of STEM study.
  5. Students should be encouraged to be flexible and taught to take multiple approaches when working in STEM subjects, starting during sixth form.
  6. Institutions should audit STEM courses to quantify the skills and technologies which are required at each level. This information should be used by needs assessors to enable a sound DSA assessment process.
  7. Academic departments should be encouraged to form a pre-entry working partnership with applicants and their school or college. Students should be ‘up and running’ before they reach university in their chosen methods of working with STEM content. Needs assessors should be involved in this partnership to ensure a sound DSA assessment process.
  8. Institutions should ensure that they proactively hold all lecture notes in STEM subjects in formats which can be used to create suitable alternative formats.
  9. A national database of mathematically fluent support staff able, for instance, to advise on the production of LaTeX resources should be compiled.
  10. There is an on-going necessity for improvements to technology. The STEM community should communicate clearly the need for such tools and investment from the public sector may be required.
  11. Publishers and providers of STEM materials (e.g. books and journals) should store the source format e.g. LaTeX and make this available on request. Institutions should consider how the education sector may put pressure on publishers to provide STEM content in accessible formats.
  12. HE professionals should be aware of issues around progression and transition to higher education for students with VI and proactively communicate with schools regarding these. Positive information should be exchanged by collaboratively developing and delivering aspiration raising activities, workshops and summer schools for students with VI, their parents and teachers. 

Event outputs - framework & recommendations (Word version)

Event outputs - framework & recommendations (pdf version)

Staff involved

EA Draffan
Project lead, University of Southampton

Judith Waterfield
Project lead, Plymouth University

Iryna Withington
University of Bath

John Conway
Royal Agricultural College

Sharron Sturgess
Loughborough University

Simon Hayhoe
London School of Economics