Tagged: higher education

Current Issues: New article on DSAs in Disability and Society

I have a new ‘Current Issues’ paper on cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowances, published this week (4th July 2014) by the Journal of Disability and Society.

Reference: Lewthwaite, Sarah (2014) ‘Current issues: Government cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowances must be resisted‘ Disability and Society. 4th July 2014.

The paper highlights issues around proposed cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowances and places them within a conceptual frame, focussing particularly on the relationship between Disabled Students’ Allowances, disclosure and how disability is defined in UK higher education. The article identifies how disabled peoples’ access to higher education will be endangered by cuts. In addition, research suggests that if DSAs are cut, the impetus to disclose disability will be reduced; as a result many disabled students within higher education could become invisible within academic statistics, damaging the validity of equality statistics. The article then draws on evidence to discuss the knock-on implications for the allocation of resources and satisfaction metrics. Finally, the article focusses on the ways in which DSAs shape how disability is defined (that is: who is consider disabled and who is considered non-disabled) in English higher education, and how government cuts will result in a redefinition that compromises both social and medical models of disability. Conceptually, cuts are observed to express Government’s regulation of disabled students as an enaction of biopower. I conclude that there is a risk with the proposed cuts, some disabled students will themselves be cut; excluded from higher education or rendered invisible within it.

The journal of Disability and Society is not an open-access journal. However, as the author, I have a limited number of copies (50) of the article that I can allocate freely. If you are working in this area, or involved in advocacy or consultation on cuts to DSAs, and cannot access the journal, please get in touch for your copy and I will be please to supply a copy. I will give preference to advocates and non-academic readers, so please let me know if you fall into either (or both) of these categories.

Finally; I’d like to highlight the value of ‘Current Issues’ and similar sections in academic journals for academics and researchers working in ‘live’ subject areas, particularly via open access journals. For my purposes, I pitched the paper to Disability and Society as the journal is a central to Disability Studies in the UK (and elsewhere). Disability and Society have a fast-track review process that means a ‘current issues’ article can be submitted, reviewed, amended and put through final copy process within 6-8 weeks for online publication. Full guidance on writing for this section is available on the journal website. My paper is short by journal standards (around 2,000 words) but much longer than many news or blog articles. As an academic publication, more conceptual and theoretical angles can be brought to bear upon the subject than other venues might allow. Many other journals have similar ‘current issues’ sections, and if you are wanting to disseminate your work or analysis these definitely bear consideration.

As ever, any comments are very welcome.

Cuts to grant funding for disabled students will put their studies at risk

Today the Guardian published my evidenced-based take on proposed cuts to Disabled Students Allowances. 

Image of article on cuts to disability grants on Guardian website
Image of article on cuts to disability grants on Guardian website

On April 6th 2014, the minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, announced sweeping cuts and changes to Disabled Students’ Allowances in England. These cuts threaten disabled and dyslexic students’ studies.

I strongly advise all UK readers to petition these cuts and contact you MPs to ensure a parliamentary debate and Equality Impact Assessment before any changes to DSAs are made.

Universalising Design @ Open University

On February 21st 2014 I’ll be presenting and the third in a series of ESRC seminars considering “Designing inclusive environments: shaping transitions from theory into practice” at the Open University in Milton Keynes. This ESRC seminar focusses on deepening understandings of Universal Design, as part of the European “Universalism: Universal design and equitable access to the built environment” project, convened and led by Rob Imrie at Goldsmiths College, London, and Rachel Luck at the OU. This seminar focuses on “Translational practices and the operationality of universal design”.

My presentation will focus putting practice into theory, with a focus on hierarchies of impairment and the application of web accessibility standards in practice in UK higher education. Other presenters include Bill Gaver, Mark Rouncefiled, Simon Holland, Guy Dewsberry, Dean Cowan and Jamie Brooker. The full schedule is available on the Universalising Design website.

2nd Edition of e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education out 18th August

e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education front cover
e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education front cover

A new edition of e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility, Research and Practice by Jane Seale (@janeseale, Professor of Inclusive Education at the University of Exeter) is out in paperback later this month. This seminal text was first published in 2006 and, given our fast-changing digital and educational landscape, this fully revised edition is a welcome development.

E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education supplied part of the foundation for my research into disabled students’ experiences of social media when I began my PhD – so I’m delighted that the accessible, internet-enabled research methods I developed for my doctoral work feature in the new edition as a best-practice case study.

The publishers have released the following summary:

Most people working within the higher education sector understand the importance of making e-learning accessible to students with disabilities, yet it is not always clear exactly how this should be accomplished. E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education evaluates current accessibility practice and critiques the extent to which ‘best’ practices can be confidently identified and disseminated. This second edition has been fully updated and includes a focus on research that seeks to give ‘voice’ to disabled students in a way that provides an indispensable insight into their relationship with technologies and the institutions in which they study. Examining the social, educational, and political background behind making online learning accessible in higher and further education, E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education considers the roles and perspectives of the key stake-holders involved in e-learning: lecturers, professors, instructional designers, learning technologists, student support services, staff developers, and senior managers and administrators.

Reviews are available via the Routledge site from Dr Simon Ball (@simonjball), Senior Advisor at the UK’s higher education advisory service Jisc TechDis, Dr, Alan Foley, Associate Professor of Instructional Technology at Syracuse University and Dr. Robert A. Stodden, Director and Professor, Center on Disability Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa. 

e-Learning and Disability in Higher Education is released on the 18th of August; By all accounts this will make essential reading for university professionals in e-learning, student support and related fields.

Author’s Draft: Difference on Display Review

Difference on Display Front Cover
The front cover of ‘Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society’. Audio description of the artwork depicted and other artworks from the exhibition is available to download via the DaDaFest webpages.

Back in October my review of Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society was published in the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies.

In my blog post introducing the review I promised to share a link to an open access author’s draft. This draft is now available via my publication page on academia.edu.

If you’d like more information about the pros and cons of using and deploying author’s drafts and more detailed analysis on open access publishing and repositories from an academic and institutional perspective I highly recommend reading/following Brian Kelly’s UK Web Focus blog.  His thoughts on the benefits and costs of institutional repositories for example, are both detailed and comprehensive.

Heartbreaking Works of Staggering Genius: Babies in Higher Education

Attentive readers will have noticed very little activity here at Slewth Press over the past few months and with good reason. I recently completed a significant 9 month project 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Yes, I’ve had a baby!  I began maternity leave at the end of December and Joseph was born in the new year.  Myself and Mr Slewth are delighted.

There is huge ongoing debate over parenting, gender and discrepancies in career progress in higher education at present. This blog is not a baby blog (there are many excellent academic online reads to be had in this area already), however, on this occasion, I would like to indulge my reflections on one topic: tots and publication.

With parenthood come a raft of new experiences and identities. Not to mention physical, emotional, logistical and practical considerations that for women begin long before birth. However, for academics, particular issues loom large.

UK universities are currently in the thrall of preparations for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014. This government activity is used to determine where substantial research funding should be allocated. In short the REF assesses published output and acts accordingly. Not all academics’ work will be ‘returned’ for this assessment by their institutions, but universities will perform a census of their academics publications. Academics are required to have four items of published ‘output’ (books, articles, papers, chapters) to submit in 2014. These works are ranked on the following scale:

  • Unclassified: Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.
  • One star: Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • Two star: Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significancy and rigour.
  • Three star: Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
  • Four star: Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

In short, if you are a ‘four star’ academic, you are officially a big deal.

Why is this important? As jobs.ac.uk observes:

If you are currently at the start of your career and looking for a permanent job … if you have any strong publications … you are more likely to be hired during this period because you will be able to offer something to your new department’s submission.

Importantly, a strong REF return also sets a precedent for future returns in the minds of employers. The effect is cumulative.

How does this relate to babies?

The REF is controversial in the UK. Debate focusses on the nature of Impact (a central criterion based on ‘reach’ and ‘significance’), the role of Open Access journals (which often lack the impact status of established journals, despite being more widely read), an implicit ranking of journal papers over books, and so on. Controversy also gathers around particular dispensations. Firstly, if you recently completed your PhD, as an Early Career Researcher you will only be required to return two publications. Secondly, if you have undertaken maternity (or paternity) leave, your baby is ‘worth’ one academic publication (which fails to account for the physical stresses of antenatal experience).  An academic who has taken maternity leave need only (at present) return 3 publications out of the mandated 4. Valuing a baby as a -1 publication (of unknown rigour) seems to me to miss a trick. A baby is clearly a work of Staggering Genius. Show me a baby that isn’t ‘world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour’! However, as a none publication, it is unclear whether an infant is valued as equivalent to a high quality omission, or lower rated publication. Without some sort of positive recognition the issue remains that any academic CV that lacks publications (due to maternity, paternity, ill health, disability or any other protected context) will look deficient to recruiters, whilst the disclosure of the above remain a moot point in terms of combatting implicit or explicit discrimination.

In any event, I, for one, intend to take my baby out of the bottom drawer and place him on the top shelf.

Some interesting reflections on this area include:

If you have any comments or links to recommend I’d love to hear them. Please post below.

Student Experiences of Disability and Social Networks in Higher Education

There has been a blogging hiatus here at Lewthwaite Industries, but perhaps with the best reasons. In May I submitted my corrections and in June I joined the pass list, submitting hardbound copies of my thesis in June (with thanks to the excellent Print Quarter in West Bridgford). In July I will be graduating and receiving my PhD. Whilst this has been taking place I’ve been working with Nottingham’s Human Factors Research Group, contributing to the MyUI project, a European project dedicated to developing adaptive interfaces for older users. I’ve also been developing publications from my thesis along with further research options on disability and social networks – but more on both of these developments later.  Perhaps most importantly, it’s time to introduce my thesis: “Disability 2.0: Student dis/Connections: a study of student experiences of disability and social networks on campus in higher education”. Here’s the abstract, a slightly expanded version is included on my ‘research’ pages above:

For many young people, social networks are an essential part of their student experience. Using a Foucauldian perspective, this qualitative study explores the networked experiences of disabled students to examine how dis/ability difference is ascribed and negotiated within social networks. Data comprises 34 internet-enabled interviews with 18 participants from three English universities. Accessible field methods recognise participant preferences and circumstances. Data is analysed using discourse analysis, with an attention to context framed by activity theory. Disabled students’ networked experiences are found to be complex and diverse. For a proportion, the network shifts the boundaries of disability, creating non-disabled subjectivities. For these students, the network represents the opportunity to mobilise new ways of being, building social capital and mitigating impairment.

Other participants experience the network as punitive and disabling. Disability is socio-technically ascribed by the social networking site and the networked public. Each inducts norms that constitute disability as a visible, deviant and deficit identity. In the highly normative conditions of the network, where every action is open to scrutiny, impairment is subjected to an unequal gaze that produces disabled subjectivities. For some students with unseen impairments, a social experience of disability is inducted for the first time. As a result, students deploy diverse strategies to retain control and resist deviant status. Self-surveillance, self-discipline and self-advocacy are evoked, each involving numerous social, cognitive and technological tactics for self-determination, including disconnection. I conclude that networks function both as Technologies of the Self and as Technologies of Power. For some disabled students, the network supports ‘normal’ status. For others, it must be resisted as a form of social domination.

Importantly, in each instance, the network propels students towards disciplinary techniques that mask diversity, rendering disability and the possibility of disability invisible. Consequently, disability is both produced and suppressed by the network.

I have a huge list of people to thank for insight and support over the course of my doctoral study – I also have a substantial bibliography (although I’m sure this can only get larger). Danah Boyd already maintains a substantial bibliography of social networking research, and there are significant accessibility reading lists freely available through several institutions – however, I will be developing a ‘disability’ and ‘network’ specific library here at 32 Days over the coming weeks, as this is a literature I’ve received a lot of requests about and I’m sure it will serve other researchers developing the field. I’m currently looking into the best ways to share my work whilst observing copyright obligations for the publications I have in train. Once again, more on that later.

In Memoriam: On the closure of SKILL, the UKs National Bureau for Students with Disabilities

I’ve written this post as part of Blogging Against Disablism Day, an annual event hosted by the Goldfish. Be sure to check out other contributions via her excellent blog.  This post is about the closure of Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities in the UK, the only pan-disability organisation dedicated to promoting equality for disabled people in education, training and employment.  Approximately two weeks ago the following message was posted to their website:

It is with great sadness that Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities announces that it has ceased operating. Following a period of financial difficulty, Skill’s Board of Trustees has decided that it is no longer viable to keep the charity open. The Chair of Skills’ Board of Trustees, Peter Little OBE said “This is sad day for all of us. We had recently appointed an outstanding new Chief Executive and agreed a clear strategy to reduce our costs and turn around our finances, but in the end time was against us” […] It is hoped that others may step in to fill the gap this has left in the support available.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011
Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011

Does this constitute a suitable topic for Blogging Against Disablism? Well, read on. Unfortunately, I believe this loss will result in a kind of structural disablism rising unchecked.  In the first place, I had hoped that this closure would elicit some coverage in national Education media, but it appears, to me at least, that current news frenzy dedicated to rises in tuition fees and wider issues of university funding have foreclosed on any coverage of this significant loss to the sector as a whole, and disabled students in particular. And this is a significant loss.

I was not aware of the financial difficulties facing Skill, and I have had few dealings with them directly. In these dealings, however, I have had a privileged view into some of the work they undertook – work that is extremely important – but receives little publicity.  In my PhD thesis I identify Skill’s role consulting on the redefinition of UCAS and HESA’s much disputed disability codes – the cornerstone of the self assessment process that all students face when applying to Higher Education Institutions. In this consultation, they represented disabled students views, in a way no one else, seemingly, can.  But this is by no means the most important work they’ve done.  A recent response to government consultation, an evidence submission on The future funding for Higher Education is more typical of their output and their website  continues to host a myriad of important documents for students and educators.

It is the loss of their expert advisors and staff that is the most worrying development, however, especially within a climate of cuts that are disproportionately hitting disabled people and students across the country.  It is not simply that disabled students are members of both these groups. As the number of disabled students in higher education has grown under the auspices of equality legislation, a serious and unanticipated threat to disabled students’ participation has manifested in the administrative incompetence of the Student Loans Company.

On the 5th of February 2010, the BBC reported that:

Almost 12,500 disabled students in England are still waiting for grants to pay for specialist equipment, figures from the Student Loans Company show.

Disabled students wait for specialist equipment grants (BBC)

Since then, the SLCs failure to process 209,000 student’s grants and loans in autumn 2010, left half of all applicants waiting weeks, and in some cases, months for financial assistance.  This had a direct and disproportionate impact on disabled students, threatening study and subsistence. As the Guardian reports:

At one point last year [2010], 87% of the 4 million calls to the SLC were going unanswered. Disabled students were disproportionately affected, with three-quarters of the 17,000 disabled students who applied for loans failing to receive them three months into the start of term. (Guardian).

Horrifyingly, with a view to the this academic year (beginning September 2011), the same Guardian article reports that the Student Loans Company Faces Ongoing Risk.  The authors note that in 2010 the Student Loans Companry was only responsible for processing the applications of new students. From this year the SLC will be responsible for applications for grants and loans from all students in England. The system was previously administered by local authorities.

In this context, the loss of any disability advocacy seems perilous.  Who will step in to fill the gap?

***update*** As of the 6th July 2011 the Disability Alliance has adopted Skill’s critical services for Disabled Students. Their Skill web space is under construction

Thoughts and comments are very welcome, as always.

30 Days of Academia: Your Guide to Routledge in April 2011

Over the course of April, Routledge are giving free open access to all Education journals, with no academic subscription or institutional affiliation necessary and no strings attached.  The Routledge stable includes some mighty journals for those involved in Technology, Disability and Education, including Disability and Society, the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research and Studies in Higher Education. Together, these journals and their peers offer access to hundreds of pieces of groundbreaking research.

To celebrate, from Friday April 1st onwards, I will introduce and link a selection of papers that have been hugely influential in developing and challenging my thinking on disability, technology and education. This curated compilation represents a guided tour of some of Routledge’s ‘Greatest Hits’, to inform readers outside universities (in particular, techies, geeks, accessibility professionals, and others) and, I hope, help open up and apply disability theory and digital inclusion research for debate amongst new audiences. The list will also have relevance for scholars and academics in the field, and those whose universities do not currently subscribe to these journals (for example, my own institution, the University of Nottingham, does not supply access to the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, I have my associate lectureship at Sheffield Hallam to thank for this particular literature hack!).

So, over the course of April I invite you to join me as I introduce each paper. You can subscribe to the blog to receive an alert via RSS feed or email when each post goes live, or simply drop by in over the course of the month and see what my suggested bibliography has to offer. If you are considering compiling a similar list in conjunction with Routledge’s Education free-for-all, be sure to signpost below. Comments and suggestions are welcome!