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Case Study – General Business and Management and Mobility Difficulties

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Three case studies of managers with disabilites affecting mobility. Although not specific higher education settings, these case studies address issues relating to mobility and management in general. Case study D is about a student who is a wheelchair user and has hydrocephalus.

 

Case A

This information has been extracted from: Being in Management as a Disabled Person, The ADP Employment Series: http://www.adp.org.uk/downloads/Being%20in%20Management.pdf

Alice Maynard Lupton has been the Disability Strategy Manager at Railtrack for a year and she is an electric wheelchair user.

“My brief is to develop and implement a strategy to make the rail network accessible to disabled people. I build links in the industry, and with local authorities and disability organisations, to achieve this.

I took a degree at York University. I went straight from this into a graduate trainee programme. Becoming a manager was a natural career progression. All subsequent training was ‘on the job’ until I felt that I was not making progress in my career. I decided to take an MBA. I had to leave my job in order to do this. The company I worked for when I left to take my MBA was not paying me at similar rates to my peers, and that was one reason for my decision to leave.

I am trying to get more personal assistance for the substantial amount of travel I need to do in my job. There seems to be a reluctance to talk to me about these issues, and to use PACT (now Disability Service Team) provision. I have limited physical energy and functionality, and management allows me to achieve without having to ‘do it all myself’. I need a job requiring more brain than body power, and management enables me to have this. There are issues about being taken seriously, which is a disadvantage. Being a woman, and looking younger than my age has added to this. People view me through a filter of stereotypes, rather than engaging with what and who I am.

There’s also the equivalent problem of my own internalised oppression, and this can cause me to believe that I am less effective than everyone else. That’s why I chase after qualifications – to prove my abilities. I often have to make myself compare myself objectively with my peers to see that I am as good as, if not better than, they are in many respects. My advice to a disabled person who wants to become a manager is learn to evaluate yourself realistically. Take every opportunity for self-development, and project yourself. ‘Blow your own trumpet’ at work – especially difficult for women – because nobody else will. Give others credit where it’s due. That’s good management, and it will free them up to give you credit when it’s due to you.”

 

Case B

This information has been extracted from: Being in Management as a Disabled Person, The ADP Employment Series: http://www.adp.org.uk/downloads/Being%20in%20Management.pdf

Douglas is a Wheelchair user.  Douglas Campbell has been the Executive Director of the Disabled Drivers’ Association for three years.

“We have eight staff. I have responsibility for committee servicing, member servicing and virtually everything else. I got fed up with running my own business and the uncertainty of income. I’d been a member of the Disabled Drivers Association for 20 something years. I thought, “why not get paid to do what you like doing?” I drifted into management. I had no formal training other than the odd half day refresher courses. At the moment, I am doing the Open University Business Course for Professional and Voluntary Sector Management, to give me some skills on paper.

I like the job most of the time, and it gives me a regular income. There are advantages with working with only disabled people. I don’t think that there are any particular disability management qualities. Being the manager, you have a bit more flexibility, but not in terms of being able to pace yourself on a bad day. Many managers work horrendous hours. I find it extremely difficult to be equal with an able bodied person in the same job, in terms of having the same stamina. I have to stay overnight somewhere, whereas someone else may drive back and get home at one o’clock in the morning. You’ll only become a manager if you could have done it without a disability. You’ve got to have the same skills, the same drive, the same abilities. You’ve got to have the will to learn the job and get the skills needed – that needn’t necessarily mean you have to be academic. I think a manager needs to understand the job that his colleagues do.”

 

Case C

This information has been extracted from: Being in Management as a Disabled Person, The ADP Employment Series: http://www.adp.org.uk/downloads/Being%20in%20Management.pdf

Harjinder Singh has been the Information Technology (IT) Manager for Bradford Careers for over three years. He is a wheel chair user and with cerebal palsy.

“I became IT manager because the organisation needed somebody with the technical ability to oversee the IT services. I look after our computer network and telecommunications. I started at DIAL as a computer operator, then I got the job as an advisory supervisor at Centrepoint. Eventually I became the manager of Centrepoint. When I was seconded to the Careers Service they had to make adjustments because where we were based was inaccessible. I was based somewhere else at first. Even now we have some occasions where it’s impossible to do the job. We try to get work with more control from this room rather than visiting inaccessible places. There are always things I won’t be able to do because of my impairment. I don’t use any adaptations – the adjustments are in terms of how you relate to other people. I do have a mobile telephone, originally through Access to Work, but now it’s owned by the company.

I have a degree. I have no formal qualifications in terms of becoming a manager. I spent a year in the voluntary sector with DIAL and other disability organisations. That was a good plan. If you’ve got no job and for years you sit at home it’s not ideal for anybody, even the non-disabled. You have to accept you never walk into a job. I learnt a lot about IT and about managerial tasks. It means taking your chances and making a go of it. You’ve got to want to do it.

Management is one way you can prove you’ve achieved something. You can make changes in how other people think. You rarely have the chance to make life better for others. That’s one of the key advantages in becoming a manager, saying this is how I think it should be done and making the changes. You have to have that ability to compromise on your principals. When I went to the Careers Service I could have said I won’t accept that – working in another location for an organisation. I struggled on, and now the Careers Service is a more open place. You’re making it easier for yourself and other people to get into the building. There’s always relations within the team with regard to good management and poor management and how you interact with those. That can have its advantages and disadvantages. If you don’t handle it properly it becomes a major problem. Stick to your guns. If you want to become a manager, go for it. It’s hard, but nothing in life is going to be easy anyway. If you want to become a manager, nothing stops you as a disabled person from doing that. Obviously there are structural or technical problems. And in an organisation that’s never had a disabled person, you can get attitude problems. All those can be overcome. There is a big high becoming a manager it’s how you manage all those lows.

 

Case D

This information has been extracted from http://dart.lboro.ac.uk/Joanna.htm (information accessed and extracted September 2008)

This case study focuses on the experience of Joanna, a first year full-time student in the Department of Business Studies at an urban campus-based university. It was developed on the basis of an extensive interview with Joanna and her support worker. As well as detailing Joanna’s experiences, the Case Study incorporates perspectives provided by Joanna’s support worker. NOTE: Joanna has consented to her name being used in the Case Study. To safeguard the anonymity of her support worker she will be referred to as SW throughout this Case Study.

Introduction

Joanna is a full-time student who is just completing the first year of a BA in Business Studies and Human Resources. At the start of the next academic year she intends to change her degree to a BA Honours in Human Resources (HR) because of a particular interest she has developed in the subject area following study and visits to several HR departments.

Joanna was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. The Spina Bifida has left Joanna paralysed from the waist down and a wheelchair user; the hydrocephalus (water on the brain) means Joanna has a shunt in the right side of her brain and a valve in her heart. If pressure builds up causing headaches, Joanna is able to press the valve, relieving the pressure. Because of the Hydrocephalus, Joanna has difficulty with maths, including working with figures, spatial awareness and drawing graphs. Joanna lives at home with her parents and travels to campus for her lectures by taxi. Whilst on campus she has a support worker with her at all times to help her get to classes and make use of library facilities.

The Student’s Experience

Learning and Teaching Experience

Joanna has encountered several barriers in learning situations since starting at university. Certain modules (such as economics, IT and data analysis) that have involved numerical work have as anticipated been very difficult for her. Joanna also has to be constantly aware of access to different learning environments such as classrooms, lecture theatres and libraries. Access issues include lifts to classrooms situated above the ground floor, the height of desks, width of doors etc..

Lectures

Joanna has occasionally encountered the access issues previously described. During lectures, Joanna prefers to sit at the front because it makes her feel more involved in the lesson, while being closer to the door ensures an easier exit in case of fire.

Generally, Joanna feels it is important that lecturers are not only aware of students’ disabilities, but the specific impact the disabilities can have on individuals. This could be achieved if students and lecturers could meet in private at the start of term so that the student can explain to the lecturer about their disability and how it will impact on their studies. This would lead to greater understanding for the lecturer and negate the likelihood of unforeseen problems cropping up later in the year. For Joanna, being able to hold this conversation in private, rather than in front of her fellow students, is the key.

Group Work

In group work, Joanna has faced several difficulties. On a practical level, she has to make sure that group work away from the main classroom is planned for a location accessible to her – something she occasionally has to remind her fellow group members about. In addition, Joanna does not feel comfortable about disclosing her Hydrocephalus to other students and so if calculations are involved she asks another group member to carry out that piece of work. She prefers to say “I don’t like numbers, can somebody else do that” than explain her disability and ask someone to help her with the number work. Joanna says she would only mention her disability if she had to.

Class Discussions

Joanna tends to keep quiet during class discussions as she doesn’t like talking in front of large groups of people preferring discussions on a one to one basis. Although Joanna feels this is mainly down to her personality she admits it could also have something to do with her disability.

Accessing online and paper-based resources

Using the recommended reading lists for modules, Joanna searches for books in the library using IT facilities. Once she has located a book, if unable to reach the shelf, Joana will ask her support worker or one of the library staff to get the book for her. However, because of the height of Joanna’s wheelchair she is not able to browse the upper shelves and pick up alternative books that aren’t suggested by tutors – potentially missing out on other beneficial reading. When carrying out research Joanna prefers to use the Internet because this enables her to do all the searching and locating of information independently.

Work Placements

To date, Joanna hasn’t had to undertake any work placements for her degree. If such a situation arises in future Joanna says she would have to check out the accessibility of potential organisations in advance. For example, making sure toilets and lifts are accessible and emergency evacuation procedures are in place. In terms of disclosing her disability, Joanna wouldn’t disclose her Hydrocephalus and difficulty with numerical work straight away. She would only disclose if a trusting relationship has been established with a colleague/ manager, and only then, if a problem arises.

Assessment / Examinations

Joanna has encountered some difficulties with examinations mainly due to the Hydrocephalus affecting her ability to carry out numerical work and also her memory. Joanna receives extra time for examinations, which she rarely uses. She does not use any enabling technology within an exam setting.

Joanna prefers coursework as this gives her the time to plan, step by step the work that needs to be done and also sort out any problems as and when they arise. Joanna uses a laptop with voice recognition software that allows her to dictate her assignments and then have them read back to her. The voice recognition software was allocated to Joanna through a Needs Assessment carried out by the University Disability Services prior to the start of Joanna’s degree – the funding for the software came from the Disabled Students Allowance. Once completed, a member of Joanna’s family helps her with proof reading her coursework as Joanna finds proof reading difficult.

In terms of meeting deadlines, Joanna does not have any real problems because work assignments are given out well in advance of the due date. If work was due back in at short notice this would be more problematic for Joanna, as it wouldn’t allow her time to plan.

Impact on Learning and Academic Progress

Throughout her time in education, Joanna and her parents have adopted a strategy of staying ‘one step ahead’. This, combined with thorough planning, has meant that being a wheelchair user has not impacted significantly on Joanna’s learning and academic progress. The only exception that Joanna cites is not being able to browse books on higher shelves in the library and so potentially missing out on wider reading.

Arguably, the Hydrocephalus (which is unseen and often not disclosed by Joanna) has had a more significant impact. Particular modules involving numerical work cause Joanna the most difficulties. On one such occasion, unable to communicate effectively with her lecturer, Joanna had to proactively approach a different lecturer to get the help and support she needed. The new lecturer met with Joanna on a one to one basis and went through the processes stage by stage, allowing Joanna to ask questions and gain an understanding of the subject. Being able to meet on a one to one basis was hugely beneficial for Joanna in terms of understanding. However, the fact that this help was not forthcoming from the initial lecturer, and that Joanna had to proactively seek a solution herself, meant Joanna experienced unnecessary difficulty prior to completing this particular module.

Other practices adopted by the university that Joanna has found useful include lecturers giving out bulleted handouts to accompany modules, instead of dictating all information. The handouts enable all students to take brief notes at the same time as listening and so this practice is beneficial to disabled and non disabled students alike. In addition Joanna receives module guides and reading lists at the start of each module, showing her week by week, topics to be covered. This enables Joanna to plan ahead and let her support worker know times and dates when she will need assistance and when she will need to get books from the library in advance of lessons.

Joanna has found the ongoing support from the University’s Disability Support Office very helpful. However she feels that internal communication between faculties within the university could have been better. On one occasion the lifts, which Joanna relies on, broke down. Rather than Joanna being informed, she found herself having to let everyone know – her support worker, the disability office, security etc.. Improved internal communications could have saved her a lot of time and unnecessary difficulties.

Joanna is very independent and likes to do things herself. Although this has helped Joanna succeed, she is also aware that sometimes she may be missing out on support that could be beneficial (e.g. making use of the subject librarian).

Support Worker’s Perspective

Joanna has a support worker (SW). SW’s role involves helping Joanna throughout her academic day. This involves such things as helping her to get from place to place or finding relevant books in the library. SW has developed a close working relationship with Joanna and believes Joanna’s strong independent streak has developed from the way she has always had to fight to be accepted into mainstream education.

With respect to learning and teaching issues, SW echoes many of the points made by Joanna. In addition to these she identifies some further difficulties Joanna experiences. For instance, as well as not being able to browse books in the library, Joanna initially avoided the library completely because the difficulty she experienced in getting through the turnstile made her feel “very conspicuous”.

SW also feels that Joanna would have benefited from more support from academic staff. SW and Joanna are not aware that Joanna has a personal tutor which means Joanna has had to make difficult decisions about choosing modules involving numerical work without the support and advice of her academic tutors. As a result Joanna has tended to avoid such modules, arguably at a detriment to her education. In addition, the lack of a personal tutor means Joanna has had to convey all information regarding her disability to a number of individual departments, which Joanna and the SW have found very frustrating. SW also thinks Joanna needs more understanding from lecturers. For instance, in class discussions Joanna remains silent because she doesn’t like to stand out. With better understanding, lecturers would try harder to draw Joanna in.

In terms of assessment, SW believes more joined-up thinking between course leaders is needed. Joanna’s experience of exams in relation to this has been variable. Sometimes, the preparation is excellent, Joanna is brought into the room a few minutes beforehand with clear access to a strategically allocated desk and with consultation as to whether she is comfortable. While at other times, there has been no preparation at all, initially Joanna is left at the back of the queue outside and then has great difficulty accessing narrow aisles and getting passed settled students to find a vacant place. Attention is drawn to Joanna and the SW when they have to ask for a more strategically appropriate place. Students have to move and the problem is solved but unnecessary and unwelcome attention is drawn to Joanna and the SW when the examination itself is stressful enough for the both of them. SW and Joanna agree that having a dedicated centre, where disabled students can take their exams, may work. However, this would require arrangements to be discussed with disabled students in advance.

Finally, SW believes Joanna has missed out on the social side of Higher Education because of her disability. For instance the Student Union bar is up a flight of stairs which means Joanna can not meet people there for a drink and a chat and get to know other students better. Also, if outside seminars and meetings are arranged, the venues are often inaccessible for wheelchair users. So in these respects, Joanna is prevented from enjoying the wider HE experience.

Conclusions/Recommendations 

A number of good practice points emerge from this case study.

Tutors with students who experience mobility difficulties might wish to consider the following:

  • Do not assume that all students with mobility difficulties have the same needs. 
  • Do not assume that if a student’s disability is ‘obvious’ (e.g. they use a wheelchair) that he / she may not be disabled in other ways. He / she may have another ‘unseen’ disability that impacts on their study 
  • Make time to talk to disabled students in private to find out how the disability affects them, and what sort of support they may need 
  • When speaking to prospective disabled students, make sure they are also in touch with the university disability office. By contacting the disability office early, Joanna was able to ensure her study support needs were met right from the beginning 
  •  If arranging an out of hours seminar, make sure it is held in an accessible venue 
  •  Be aware that disabled students may have more difficulty in forming social networks. Try to ensure students take part in group work / class discussions so that they get to know their fellow students. 
  • Talk with other lecturers or course leaders: it may be that a uniform strategy can be put in place for a student, which both serves to meet their needs, as well as helping individual academics with the responsibility for teaching. A simple process, along the lines of emailing actions required by academics involved in teaching a particular disabled student prior to the term, on key issues, could provide useful guidance.

In terms of more specific learning and teaching issues, academic tutors might consider the following actions:

  • Hand out module guides at the start of each module. Detailing weekly activities will help disabled students to plan ahead e.g. gets books in advance / arrange support etc.
  • Hand out notes to accompany lectures. This means students will be able to concentrate on the subject in hand rather than desperately trying to keep up
  • Be aware that some disabled students are lacking in confidence and do not like to draw attention to themselves. Try to ensure they are always drawn into class discussions
  • When planning group work / meetings with students, consider accessibility / location of class rooms / offices.
  • If asking students to carry out research in the library, be aware that some students with mobility difficulties may not be able to browse the shelves. Therefore make sure that students are made aware of resources available to help them e.g. subject librarian, electronic library catalogue
  • Be aware that it can take disabled students longer to do coursework than non-disabled students. Give students assignments well in advance of the final deadline to allow them sufficient time to plan and carry out the work needed
  • When it comes to exam time, make sure disabled students are involved with discussions about exam facilities and arrangements. Ensure all course tutors are aware of the disabled students’ exam requirements so that the provision of support can be consistent from module exam to module exam.
  • A certain amount of sensitivity may be needed when doing group work. Leaving students to split up into their own groups may leave certain disabled students, lacking social confidence, in a vulnerable position. Overcoming this issue is admittedly not easy, and there are no straightforward answers, but it is something which you may wish to pre-empt in classroom and group work situations. You may choose, for example, to put students into groups yourself using a method that does not single out the disabled student (e.g. go around the class allocating students numbers from one to four to create four groups etc. The method splits up cliques, while offering no special treatment to the disabled student, nor does it bring any particular attention to the disabled student. This is in contrast to splitting groups by their location in the classroom, which maintains cliques, or allowing students to choose their own groups.)

In the final analysis, this case study highlights the need for tutors to form trusting working relationships with disabled students. Even though some of Joanna’s difficulties were caused by her non disclosure of hydrocephalus, a supportive tutor would have enabled her to make better decisions about overcoming the difficulties in a proactive, supportive environment. There would also have been benefits for the tutor in terms of increased understanding and awareness of issues faced by students with mobility difficulties, which potentially could benefit future disabled students.

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