Case Study – Social Work and Mobility Difficulties

Two case studies about barriers to practice placements and how these were overcome.

Case Study A

This information was taken from: Sapey, B. et al. (2004). "Access to Practice: Overcoming the Barriers to Practice Learning for Disabled Social Work Students." SWAP LTSN.

H was in the second year of her postgraduate DipSW course. She wanted to work with older people and a placement was arranged at a hospital for older people with mental health problems. When the practice teacher was told that H had spina bifida, she became very concerned about her ability to get around the hospital buildings and the risks that some of the stairs and obstructions in corridors would pose to her. She did not think the hospital was a suitable environment for a disabled person to work in.

The placements coordinator in the HEI felt that this was an excuse but with placements being such a scarce resource she dare not confront the practice teacher head on. Instead she made it clear that H had not experienced too much difficulty in the University environment which was also quite badly designed and encouraged the practice teacher to talk with H about her concerns.

The practice teacher, to her credit, did this and soon found that H was quite capable of ensuring her own safety. H was offered the placement and passed it very well.

This case illustrates the concerns practice teachers may have, and how honest and frank discussions can lead to positive outcomes. There is a difference between the assumptions that non-disabled professionals make about disabled people’s abilities and the reality of those situations. The concern for the health and safety of a student is an essential part of any placement, but assessing such risks must actively involve the student. In most cases the additional work involved to ensure the good health and safety of a disabled student will be minimal.


Case Study B

This information was taken from (information accessed and extracted September 2008)

Jane was a second year social work student with a number of serious medical conditions which meant that she had complex health needs. These conditions resulted in mobility and posture difficulties, back pain and chronic fatigue. She had managed her health conditions for many years and was confident in her ability to successfully complete her placement provided some adjustments were made. Her health status fluctuated at times and was exacerbated by stress. She was undertaking her second placement with a social services team, co-coordinating services for adults. Several different issues regarding Jane’s learning support needs in practice were identified.

Jane disclosed her health conditions to the practice agency prior to the placement commencing and identified a number of possible adjustments she felt would be of benefit to her. She was anxious that if she became unwell and needed to go into hospital she might either have to re-take her placement or even fail it. She had experienced a recent fall that had resulted in a broken collar bone. She needed to maintain an appropriate posture to minimize the pain and was concerned about suitable seating at her workstation.

Adjustments negotiated

Adjustments were discussed and agreed with Jane at an initial interview with the disability support service. These adjustments were discussed with the academic department and then the practice agency by the disability support service to ensure that they did not compromise any academic and/or professional standards:

  • Jane visited her practice assessor/teacher before the placement so she could ensure the accessibility of the office as well as examine the seating at her workstation. 
  • An extra half day off a week in conjunction with a half day study leave each week provided Jane with a break in her working week to prevent fatigue. This extended the placement by approximately 2-3 weeks. This was feasible as Jane had no further teaching to attend after the placement. 
  • A later start and earlier finish in her working day when appropriate were agreed with the practice assessor/teacher 
  • It was agreed that Jane could take time off as necessary for hospital appointments. Jane acknowledged the importance of planning her visits to service users around such appointments.
  • Suitable seating was provided by the agency (i.e. an operator’s chair with arms) to prevent exacerbation of Jane’s back and shoulder difficulties and pain.
  • Jane agreed to be responsible for communicating any additional needs or concerns to the practice assessor/teacher.
  • The adjustments were reviewed at the end of the third week of the placement by the practice assessor/teacher and Jane. The university department’s disability tutor also agreed to contact both Jane and the practice assessor/teacher at this time to see if any further adjustments were needed. All the agreed adjustments were formalised in a letter to the practice assessor/teacher and the department placement co-coordinator by Jane in conjunction with a member of staff from the disability support service.


Jane successfully completed all learning outcomes for the placement and met the required national occupational standards. The weekly break in her working week enabled her to manage her health condition and, whilst she did become very tired at times during the placement, she did not need to take time off because of ill-health. Jane did need to take some time off for scheduled hospital appointments. She realised the importance of planning her visits around such appointments and with the support of her practice assessor/teacher scheduled her workload accordingly.


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