NEADS Conference 2004 - Right On!
Sue Jackson is an instructor in Disability Supports at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, which is the largest art and design educational institution in Europe. Her role includes offering academic and emotional support to students with disabilities, including mental health difficulties. Sue’s previous experiences include being head of a hospital school for students with severe emotional challenges.
Just Coming Through the Door is Hard
In the United Kingdom, there have been recent legislative changes affecting the rights of students with disabilities in higher education, which makes this a key time to effect improvements, both in providing supports and in the institutional culture for students with disabilities. This presentation focuses on case studies, which report on students’ perceptions of the difficulties they have faced in higher education. Sue Jackson will offer an analysis of these case studies, provide insights into systemic barriers in post-secondary schools and identify ways to make institutions of higher learning more “disability friendly.”
Sue Jackson is an instructor in Disability Supports at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, the largest art and design educational institution in Europe. In the United Kingdom, recent legislative changes and strong government policies have opened up universities to groups that have traditionally been excluded. The present time is key to effecting improvements, both in the provision of supports and in the institutional culture for students with disabilities.
Jackson’s special interest is students with mental health difficulties. She wants to ensure that their right to education is respected and that they are not disadvantaged by their disability. They position themselves within a social model of disabilities, focusing on how institutions need to change and adapt to minimize institutional barriers. The focus is on structural and cultural change within the universities, including changes in teaching methods.
The purpose of the Disability Discrimination Act [DDA (2002)] was to give disabled people access to learning opportunities. “Disabled” includes visual, hearing, mental health, and learning difficulties. The DDA gave colleges and local education authorities new legal responsibilities: disabled students could no longer be treated less favourably on account of their disability. For example, discriminating against disabled applicants is unlawful, and websites must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Traditionally, higher education in the United Kingdom was elitist. “Widening participation” is another word for inclusion. It is a key tenet of Labour Government policy and ties in with the social inclusion project. The project is not just about increasing numbers; it is also about reaching disadvantaged groups in the United Kingdom. Because the issue is primarily one of social class, doors are opened for more progress on disability issues.
Jackson presented several case studies of people with mental health difficulties. For example, “student Dan” was experiencing depression. Dan could be both verbally and physically aggressive. Dan had not disclosed his mental health difficulties to staff, because he was concerned about the stigma. Jackson was able to empower Dan to disclose his ability so that reasonable adjustments could be made. Jackson also reminded staff that they could not treat Dan less favourably. The staff continued to be concerned about this student, and about the amount of extra time needed to work with him.
Jackson offered a number of suggestions for helping students with mental health difficulties overcome barriers to higher education. She suggested staff training, raising awareness, and threat of legislation; adapting the curriculum and providing emotional and study support.
Jackson said that one in three students may have a mental health difficulty during university in the United Kingdom (in the general population, the number is one person in four). Students often feel isolated and friendless.
Jackson offers small support groups and pastoral care. Student feedback has been positive and Jackson shared comments from students that she has assisted: “I am glad to have been able to tell the truth to one person at the London College of Communication.” “I appreciate all the assistance you have given me to date, and it is reassuring to know that there is help at LCC should I ever need it.”
In closing, Jackson asked any participants who were interested in mental health topics to please introduce themselves to her.