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Case Study – Psychology and Motor / Manual Dexterity Difficulties

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The following case studies were taken from: IPDPS – Improving Provision for Disabled Psychology Students project, HEFCE Strand Two Project, Universities of York, Middlesex and Aston, (information extracted and accessed October 2006).


Case A


Audrey’s repetitive strain injury (RSI) influenced her decision to study psychology, as she had experienced inequality and wanted to better understand it. Before embarking on her undergraduate studies, Audrey did her best to sort out ways of coping with anticipated difficulties she might incur, as she felt that her impairment would impact on her experience of studying psychology.

Psychology and administrative staff at her first university were very willing and equipped to help her throughout her degree. Course notes and other materials were provided in written form, and spiral-bound to reduce the need to hold them open. For examinations, she was able to use her computer with speech recognition software at home, with an assigned invigilator. Unfortunately, Audrey found that some of the software packages used in psychology were difficult to access as they were not compatible with her speech recognition software: “SPSS was a complete nightmare”. However, she overcame this by letting other students do the computer work during SPSS classes, and at home her husband would help with IT-related matters.

Audrey chose the university she wanted to study for her MSc on the basis of its course content, expecting that this second university would be able to accommodate her needs. She had contacted the university before applying for a place on the course, and was given no reason to believe that she would encounter such problems. As with her undergraduate university, the psychology departmental staff helped in any way they could: “the psychology departments at my universities have been nothing but supportive to me throughout my time there, on occasions to the extreme and beyond my expectations”. In contrast to her undergraduate experience, however, she was forced to continually fight against the institution’s administrative staff to obtain appropriate adjustments to which she was entitled, especially regarding assessment and time allocation.

Audrey already had all the equipment and software needed (which she had purchased herself), and was used to using speech recognition software, therefore all she needed was a quiet room, her computer and an invigilator. However, the university registry found it difficult to accept her doing exams in this way. Audrey felt that the adjustments they were willing to make were on their terms and not what was best suited for her: “I guess this was probably because they did not fully understand the impact of RSI on my studies, and did not bother to ask me more about it”. She found it far more difficult to negotiate her way through the system than she had ever expected. Moreover, she felt that they thought she was trying to cheat because she wanted and needed to use her own computer: “They were more concerned that I might possibly use the computer to cheat in an exam than the fact that I needed to use it because of my disability”.

In addition, Audrey recalls an incident when she had to stop in the middle of an exam as the room allocated was too big and therefore echoes occurred which caused difficulties with the speech recognition software: “I could be assertive and ask for another room, but perhaps a younger student might have felt intimidated… the problem shouldn’t have arisen in the first place”. Within the psychology department, Audrey encountered few problems, although some lecturers did not distribute handouts until the end of lectures. However, she worked around this by taping her lectures.


Case B


John is a third year student with psoriatic arthropathy, which affects his manual dexterity due to swollen and painful arthritic joints. After passing his A-level in Human Biology John chose to do a science foundation course which led him to study for his degree. His progressive problems with manual dexterity impacted on his course selection: “I found practical courses increasingly more difficult”.

John has often studied in isolation and found that managing chronic fatigue and endless assessments (e.g., from the DHSS, for his disability living allowance) led to depression and panic attacks. He found that not being able to write, compounded by financial difficulties and the length of time taken to be issued with specialised computer equipment, led to depression.

However, once given the specialised computer equipment he was able to continue with his studies and feel more involved. One of the positive aspects of studying psychology for John has been the sense of achievement he has gained. This has led to improved confidence and self-esteem through a sense of belonging and security at his university.

Beneficial actions taken by psychology lecturers and tutors in relation to his condition include being allowed extra time for the submission of assignments. Since John experiences chronic fatigue, on some days he needs to sleep; study is not possible despite having deadlines to meet.


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