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Case Study – Social Work and Auditory Difficulties

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Case Study 1

Source: Taylor, G. (2002). “Case Study 4: Improving Access for Deaf and Disabled Students – A Strategic Approach.” Faculty of Health & Community Studies, De Montfort University IN Herrington, M. & Simpson, D. (eds). (2002). “Making Reasonable Adjustments for Disabled Students in Higher Education: Staff Development Materials: Case Studies and Exercises.” University of Nottingham.

Process and Feelings of Staff

The experience of staff in the Faculty of Health and Community Studies at De Montfort University is probably typical, in that the few deaf people who become part of the student group are usually isolated. Whilst individual responses to the needs of such students can be arranged, the presence of deaf students is discontinuous in faculties and therefore the lessons learned by staff tend to be only for that student at that time, and do not impact upon the overall delivery of programmes. On courses, such as social work, which are underpinned by an anti-discriminatory practice value base, this culminates in feelings of dissatisfaction on the part of both students and staff.

Designing a Way Forward

Research at De Montfort University (Taylor 1996) highlighted the structural nature of the barriers facing deaf students in further and higher education. It is logical therefore, that any solution must also be structural. One way of addressing this is a Preparing for Study Programme, an initiative being developed, within the Faculty of Health & Community Studies, as part of the MAS project funded by Leonardo da Vinci II. In the first instance this will be preparation for entry to the BA Hon’s Applied Social Studies (including the Diploma in Social Work) programme, but could be adapted for entry to a range of university programmes. It is essentially an on-line model for the identification and acquisition of study skills, and the teaching of foundation skills in subject areas (social work).

The Preparation for Study programmes is being developed so that it is fully accessible to deaf and disabled students. Instead of adapting a currently available programme to make it accessible, or developing one specifically for deaf and/or disabled students, this will be designed to meet the needs of deaf and disabled students but will be open to all students. This link with a mainstream university programme is essential. One of the clear conclusions of the work undertaken for the Leonardo I phase of this project, 1998-99, is that “special” programmes are vulnerable to financial cuts and marginalisation unless they are firmly embedded into the structure of the institution.

Furthermore, evidence from research into Access Courses (Taylor & Palfreman-Kay 2000) and the conclusions from the Leonardo I project indicate the need for a preparation programme “for deaf and disabled students pitched at a different level to either Access or University Foundation Programmes”. The failure of the former to meet the needs of deaf and disabled students indicates the need for preparation work to be located within a university rather than a college of further education.

Transition to HE

We will pay particular attention to the “transition” period from further to higher education. One initiative already taken has been to establish a working relationship with the Derby College for Deaf People, which has the experience of providing training programmes for deaf students drawn from many parts of the UK, and the facilities to be able to act as an access point for the Preparing for Study programme. Another early development is to employ a deaf person as a part-time community development worker. This enables us to work directly with community groups and colleagues in this field, promoting the Preparing for Study programme, and developing an effective approach to marketing and recruitment.

Practical Issues

The Preparing for Study programme will be delivered on-line, and this is both an advantage in terms of accessibility and a disadvantage in terms of the challenges is presents.

A review of on-line study skills programmes highlights both generic and specifically targeted approaches. The majority of the more generic sites are versions of the National Key Skills Framework offered through different universities. These sites, such as that at De Montfort University, are adapted to suit local need and fit within the university menu of programmes.

There are some study skills programmes that are designed specifically for deaf students, but they are mostly for classroom based teaching rather than on-line. A significant local initiative is the work being undertaken on study skills by Derby College for Deaf People (DCDP) which has a long-standing experience of providing further education programmes to deaf students and a developing expertise in study skills strategies.

Following this review of on-line study skills it was decided to focus attention upon the National Key Skills Framework as being most likely to provide a progressive and adaptable model for this project. The Key Skills approach is one that is embedded not only in the mainstream structure of De Montfort University, but also in the mainstream structure of the entire Further and Higher Education sector in the UK, and it is therefore consistent with the methodological approach of the project.

A search for on-line social work and social care programmes reveals that, at the time of writing, there are no accredited social work or social care programmes available in the UK using a solely on-line delivery method. There are a few on-line programmes within the social work/social care field which relate to specific courses at individual universities. These often make extensive use of the Internet as a source of teaching materials, but are usually designed for use in the classroom, with Internet support. Furthermore, they are mostly for first year undergraduates rather than for the pre-undergraduate level which is the focus of the MAS project.

Following this review the UK partners group decided to focus attention on the development of a new Introduction to Social Work module. There are some clear benefits to such an approach:

  • Content can be specifically designed as inclusive from the outset rather than adapt already existing material
  • The forthcoming major changes in the field of social work education will be reflected in the material developed for the module
  • In-house development is more likely to instil a sense of ownership in the staff responsible for delivering the module, giving a greater sense of ’embeddedness’
  • Links with mainstream university programmes will be much more straightforward and have a greater structural impact

The question of mode of delivery is another challenge that we face. Virtual Learning Environments, such as WebCT, are market leaders in this field. Another approach would be to build a dedicated website for the teaching materials and resources and use First Class (or similar) to manage the communications and tutorial support. Any decision will need to wait until we are clearer about content, and have been able to subject the various approaches to testing by deaf and disabled people.

Outcomes and Future Developments

The project is currently in development and the outcomes to date can already be seen in the closer working relationships between the university and local user-based organisational and colleges of further education, as well as the direct and significant input of deaf and disabled people in the development of a university programme. This is a steep learning curve for all concerned, and as the Disability Discrimination Act 2002 impacts directly upon further and higher education, this inclusive approach could provide a model for future inclusive working practices.

Case Study 2

Source: Sapey, B. et al. (2004). “Access to Practice: Overcoming the Barriers to Practice Learning for Disabled Social Work Students.” SWAP LTSN.

E has severe hearing loss which means that she requires her teachers to wear a transmitter and microphone, and to face her so she can lip read. She went on placement to a children and families team where her role was in mediation with families. Her practice teacher contacted her early and found out what type of equipment and assistance she would need. She arranged for one of the interviewing rooms to be fitted with a loop system and for a suitable telephone to be installed.

Although the practice teacher fed-back to E that there were some important parts of the discussions she had with families that appeared to be affected by her not hearing all that was being said, this was done in a way to help E learn and by the end of the 16 weeks, she had proved herself a competent and productive social worker.

The amount of imagination needed to make this placement work was really quite minimal, but without it E would very likely have failed. She successfully dealt with several situations where there were children potentially at risk and did not pose a threat, rather she was a productive part of the team effort to reduce and remove that risk.

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