March 2009

Symposium on Inclusive teaching and learning in third level


Students with disabilities are doing very well in third level and are going on to good careers in all areas.  There are now over 3, 800 students with disabilities in  third level and this number is set to increase as every year more and more disabled students and those with specific learning disabilities are succeeding in state examinations.

Third level welcomes students with disabilities and all colleges now have well developed disability support services offering the student additional supports such as assistive technology, study support, personal assistants etc funded through the NAO fund for students with disabilities.

But, and there is always a but, it is important particularly in the current financial climate, that the main activity in college, learning in lecturers, tutorials, laboratories etc., is accessible to those non traditional students who need to learn differently and that all staff understand how to make their lectures friendly to disabled students.

Yes, it can be daunting for a professional who has hundreds of students and suddenly has to include a blind student or a deaf student in their class.  What do they do?  How do they do it?   But the positive thing to remember is that disabled students learn like all other students, and often a simple adjustment to how a lecture is delivered can make all the difference.  Where appropriate a  simple task like putting notes on line before or after the lecture can ensure the blind or deaf student can fully engage with the learning and does not loose out, what is more it is good for all students.

This symposium is about mainstream teaching and learning practices that work for all students and work equally well for students with disabilities.  From a students perspective the most important factor is the attitude of the tutors and staff, understanding of their needs and a willingness to try something different.

We invite you to a take part in this interactive day and help us to produce a charter on inclusive practice that we hope can be used across the sector to learn more about this area.

Ann Heelan

Executive Director

UPDATED: If you’re interested in attending, just email ahead AT You can also see the invite here (pdf) (word)

In a sporadic series of posts  I’ve focused in on some access issues – admittedly only scraping the surface.

Accessible blogs and documents, next up presentations/ training. Specifically – powerpoints. Slide presentations of some form have been around for ages – and I know there’s others out there who can talk about the history of this better than I can, but that’s not the point. At some point slide presentations moved from being images to accompany talks to being the stars of talks. And that’s a big problem when you’re trying to be accessible. Poor powerpoint/ presentation skills will always undermine the message you’re trying to get across – for everyone who is a witness to it. And this has been explored and written about many many times. I just want to add a few reasons to re-evaluate your use of powerpoint especially in terms of your delivery, and hopefully give you an insight into the experiences of some audiences.

  • If most of your content is written on the powerpoint, people have to read it as well as listen to you. That’s difficult if you’re trying to lip read, follow a sign interpreter, (eyes can’t be in two places at once) are dyslexic, blind or visually impaired.
  • If your speech is reliant on visual images – think about the possibility that there are blind or visually impaired people in your audience. I’m not talking about situations where images are aids – but where they are a key part of your presentation.
  • Your powerpoint should act as a guide – this can be really helpful to people who may struggle to follow your talk. those with hearing impairments, ADD. It shouldn’t be your speech. You may as well walk out of the room at that point. If it is your speech – read it word for word.
  • If you email a powerpoint – most screen readers and other assistive technologies will struggle with it. Better to create a set of notes.
  • If you create a set of notes to go with your presentation (which is only a guide) it will mean no one has to try and scribble down your every word while trying to listen to you. Helps everyone.
  • Don’t talk to your presentation. No one can hear you when you talk to a wall behind you.
  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them it. Then tell them what you told them. The old line, but it makes it much easier to pick up where you are if you miss something – especially if you’re deaf, blind, or have any learning difficulties.

Powerpoints are used more and more these days, and I think it’s very easy to be careless with them. Most of what I’ve mentioned here is general good practice anyway – but I hope it’s given you a different perspective and some more reasons on why these things are good practices.

Read this article

Then watch this slideshow

(or the other way round – either way, do both :))

Continuing on the issue of  making things accessible, one problem I frequently get asked about, and struggle with myself,  is making documents (eg job descriptions, information sheets, notes, application forms etc) accessible. It’s one of the bigger barriers out there for students/ employees with disabilities, espeically when it has to be dealt with on a day to day basis in work or studying.

Without even touching the area of training delivery and powerpoints (a whole other kettle of fish) , just foccussing on documents I’d just like to give this site a plug. NUIM have produced one of the simplest guides to accessible documents I know of. Yes, it’s aimed at students. Does that mean it’s irrelevant outside of college – definitely not! Popular when people find out about it, more often than not, people don’t know it exists. So, whatever you do, wherever you are, have a read, try and take on board some of the points enclosed and know that you are following best practice when you do. It’s not hard, and it’ll be of more benefit to more people than you can possibly imagine.