This annual report was produced in May 2010 and covers the academic session from July 2008 to August 2009.

Thank you very much for your help. I would also like to thank you now, although 18 months late, for all the support you gave me throughout my time studying at Edinburgh. I never fully appreciated the work that everyone in the Disability Office did for me, as well as for many other students. You really were the most efficient department I encountered during my time at Edinburgh and I think that I took your support for granted.

Undergraduate Student

1. Enhancing the student experience

The Disability Office supports the key University strategic themes of enhancing our student experience and promoting equality and diversity. The Disability Office works to mainstream disability equality.

We support students with impairments to fulfil their academic potential. We also work with academics and other colleagues to support them to create an accessible learning and teaching environment.

The Disability Office currently has 12 core staff (8.87 full time equivalent) working across the whole of the University. The service also employs over 50 Student Support Assistants.

We support students by:

  • Arranging pre-application visits.
  • Assessing assistive technology needs.
  • Liaising over building adaptations.
  • Matching students with student support assistants, e.g. note-takers.
  • Negotiating specific exam arrangements.
  • Helping students apply for study-related funding for specific equipment and personal assistance.
  • Producing an individual Learning Profile, detailing specific adjustments and support.

Both students and staff work on improving provision, such as:

  • Proposing priorities for building upgrades.
  • Developing guidance for staff and students on mental health and other health matters.
  • Mainstreaming assistive technology across University computing facilities.
  • Influencing accessible teaching and assessment practices.

2. Key Achievements

The University’s second Disability Equality Scheme 2009 (a statutory requirement as part of the Disability Equality Duty of the Disability Discrimination Act) was published. The Scheme reviews the University’s achievements so far and our action plan for the future until 2012.

Student satisfaction with our service remains consistently high, with 86% of supported students satisfied or very satisfied. As a result of student feedback, staff took part in customer care training and we revised our appointment and drop-in system.

The Mental Health Mentoring service received recurrent University funding in recognition of the 12% increase in numbers of students disclosing significant mental health problems. This enables us to appoint a permanent part-time mentor.

An ongoing programme of staff development continued across the University, which included training to Heads of Schools, Directors of Studies, Information Services, Student Support Assistants and input to new staff induction and to the Professional Certificate in Teaching. Sessions on Competence Standards and supporting students on placements and study abroad were delivered in addition to deaf awareness training, dyslexia training and sessions for Accommodation staff on supporting students with Asperger’s Syndrome.

The Disability Office continues to provide an informal advice service to disabled members of staff, offering initial screening for specific learning difficulties, and discussion of adjustments which may enable more effective working for staff.

The Disability Office supports disabled students attending Edinburgh College of Art (eca), working effectively with key staff from eca. Other specific service level agreements are in place with the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC).

The Disability Committee set up a new sub-group - the Accessible Information sub-group - to promote and disseminate guidance on making information as accessible as possible.

The Disability Office and Student Counselling updated the guidance for staff on “Helping Distressed Students”.

To minimise risk, the two main databases which underpin our student support functions, will be transferred to and supported by Information Services.

An internal project group is overhauling the Kelso database - a key tool for our Advisors to prepare students’ Learning Profiles.

The Disability Office’s charging policy for Disabled Students Allowance Needs Assessments was reviewed and updated, resulting in additional income generation.

Discussions are ongoing and progress made on the move to the Main Library in 2011.

3. Key Indicators and Trends

University-wide Statistics2005-062006-072007-082008-09
Number of students disclosing disability1,4441,5831,6461,917
Percentage of student population disclosing disability5.71%6.43%6.55%7.11%
Number of students disclosing mental health problems466070106
Number of students disclosing autistic spectrum disorder17182124
Disability Office Service Quality Indicators2005-062006-072007-082008-09
Number of enquiries received from students3,4284,5585,7616910
Number of enquiries received from staff and others3,4414,8574,7246291
Unique visitors to Disability Office website53,70071,20073,74559,682
Number of needs assessments carried out131177304222
Number of students supported through Disabled Students’ Allowance543562512585
Number of students supported through the University’s Disabled Student Support Fund148176131193
Number of students using student support assistants (note takers, proof readers etc.)166176221217
Number of Learning Profiles produced (new/total)516/952364/697 (decrease due to impact of radium database)366/681469/855
Items of equipment loaned91116138129

4. Key Issues and Challenges

Some of the main challenges the wider University faces face are outlined in the action plan of the 2009 Disability Equality Scheme (see page 15).

The University has consistently improved its overall response and support to disabled people over the years. However, there is still a long way to go. Our main challenge now is to promote and support mainstreaming inclusive provision. The Teachability tool provides guidance on accessibility and inclusion in a range of higher educational contexts This project needs to be re-energised and embedded.

Staff turnover in the Disability Office was almost 50% in 2008-09, and included the retirement of the previous Director in June 2009. The new Director took up post in August 2009 and a new Assistant Director (Disability) was appointed in December 2009.

We have grappled with significant levels of staff absence against a backdrop of increasing student numbers - and a growing number of students with complex support needs, particularly students with mental health issues. This had a considerable impact on advisory time as well as strains on staff. It reduced our capacity to deliver the level of staff development we wish to undertake - and our capacity to develop collaborative dialogue with academic and other colleagues.

The Disability Office, with Student Counselling and Careers, will move into the Main Library building in 2011. Significant senior management time and input is essential to ensure that the move ensures a more effective and efficient service for students.

Additional challenges for Student Disability Services include:

  • Supporting an ever increasing cohort of students disclosing an impairment - 2084 disabled students attending the University of Edinburgh in academic year 2009 -10.
  • Supporting an increasing number of students with complex mental health issues and those on the autistic spectrum, including those with Asperger’s Syndrome.
  • Managing a significant increase in the number of Needs Assessments for Disabled Students Allowance carried out by the Advisors. Changes to the process for English students now means that additional time has to be spent with each student, carrying out the assessment.
  • Working with academic and support group colleagues to ensure that course adjustments recommended for individual students by the Disability Office are implemented.
  • Increasing dialogue with academic members of staff on the nature and reasons for adjustments and refining the wording and purpose of adjustments to ensure that appropriate support is provided.
  • Ensuring students who receive assistive software and equipment are appropriately trained in their use. Around two-thirds of students supported by the Disability Office use such equipment and are regularly trained in the use of mind mapping and voice recognition software.
  • Working collaboratively with other services such as Student Counselling and Accommodation to support students with long term and enduring mental health problems.
  • Ensuring that a consistent support service continues for disabled members of staff through collaborative work with Human Resources and Occupational Health.
  • Ensuring that the service maintains a cohesive approach, in line with the introduction of the new Equality Act, effective from October 2010.
  • Promoting disability equality and mainstreaming using the Teachability toolkit, across the institution with its large number of staff.

Challenges - the Specific Learning Difficulties dyslexia assessment process

5. Student Profile

Number of students declaring a disability (undergraduate and post graduate)

Number of students declaring a disability (undergraduate and post graduate) showing an increase in numbers over time

Disabled students as a percentage of student population

Disabled students as a percentage of student population showing an increase in disabled students
Breakdown of disabled student numbers according to School - College of Science and Engineering
SchoolTotalSpLDVisualHearingMobilityASDMHUnseenMultOther% Total Students
Biological Sciences1377923914233137.1%
Engineering and Electronics1408531622281127.3%
S&E General Degree or Visiting Student10910.5%
College of Science and Engineering6193611213301820103174532.2%
Breakdown of disabled student numbers according to School - College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
SchoolTotalSpLDVisualHearingMobilityASDMHUnseenMultOther% Total Students
Medicine (SCSCH, SMCM)844045621264.4%
Biomedical Sciences26151121511.4%
Veterinary Studies6941111615133.6%
College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine1799626813413109.4%
Breakdown of disabled student numbers according to School - College of Humanities and Social Sciences
SchoolTotalSpLDVisualHearingMobilityASDMHUnseenMultOther% Total Students
Arts, Culture and Environment111651241421585.6%
Health in Social Science36161212231.9%
History, Classics and Archaeology1235556110259126.4%
Literatures, Languages and Cultures11843621311227776.2%
Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences1084445314198115.6%
Social and Political Studies149811581329487.8%
Moray House School of Education18710015111847599.8%
Management School and Economics944316515174124.9%
HSS General Degree or Visiting Student482014154582.5%
College of Humanities and Social Sciences1119525222967883235569458.3%
Breakdown of disabled student numbers according to School - Total for all schools
Total for all schools191798236481052611637976149
Percentage students by impairment51.2%1.9%2.5%5.5%1.4%6.1%19.8%4.0%7.8%

Case study - the student with Asperger’s Syndrome

6. Other Activities

Committees and sub groups

Disability Office staff are actively involved in committee work at several levels, contributing to the Student Affairs Forum, Equality and Diversity Committee and Management Board, the overarching Teachability Group, and the Disability Equality Scheme Implementation Group. The service supports the Disability Committee and its sub-groups - some key developments are listed below.

Disability Committee

  • New Convenor, Graeme Trousedale, appointed.
  • Remit and priorities of the committee revisited to enhance its advisory and influencing role.

Specific Learning Difficulties Sub-Group

  • Initiated dialogue on appropriate adjustments within the School context.
  • Clarifying the use of coursework stickers to staff and students - review of sticker use underway.

Mental Health Sub-Group

  • Worked with EUSA (Edinburgh University Students' Association) and Student Counselling on EUSA mental health programme.
  • Staff development sessions delivered to Directors of Studies and Student Support Officers.

Technology Sub-Group

  • Purchased range of ergonomic mice and keyboards for distribution in open access labs
  • Upgraded software on My Reader CCTV (closed-circuit television) in 3 locations

Access and Facilities Sub-Group

  • Continues to monitor and promote access to buildings through Estates and Buildings new build and refurbishment programmes for educational and public buildings.
  • Impact assessments carried out on all new building projects.
  • Accessible Information sub-group
  • Established to promote and develop guidance about services on accessible information across the University.


Teachability is a key framework in use across the University to support academic members of staff to create a more inclusive curriculum.

Each College is approaching the process in a different way. In the College of Humanities and Social Sciences each School looks at each theme (e.g. assessment, placements, lectures and tutorials, placements, e-learning) at the same time to produce a complete picture. 8 of the 10 Schools have produced reports which have been commented on by the University’s overarching Teachability group. CHSS held a seminar to share good practice in June 2009. Moray House School of Education produced the most recent audit in December 2009.

The College of Science and Engineering looks at one theme per year across the whole College and reports to its College Teaching and Learning Teaching Committee. The first theme in 2006-07 was ‘assessment’, while in 2007-08 it concentrated on ‘creating accessible course or programme design and structure’.

Use of the Teachability framework varies and the Disability Office is keen to look at ways to increase buy-in to and implementation of the process.

7. Monitoring and Feedback

Each spring, disabled students are invited to complete one of two service evaluation questionnaires: one for those who have used the Disability Office, and one for those who have not. In 2008 - 09 results were reasonably consistent in terms of the level of satisfaction with the service (86% were very satisfied or satisfied, an increase of 1% since 2007-08). 87% of respondents thought that the Disability Office had contributed positively to their experience at the University - no change from the previous year.

The questionnaire asked students to rate the level of importance and satisfaction for key Disability Office services that they used. A summary of the top rankings is given below for 2008-09 and the previous two years:

2008-2009 Evaluation - Importance and Satisfaction of services
Three most important servicesThree services with least satisfaction
Exam Arrangements Links with Accommodation Services
Finding Personal AssistantsPhysical access
Assessment of SpLDLiaison with other staff
2007-2008 Evaluation - Importance and Satisfaction of services
Three most important servicesThree services with least satisfaction
Physical AccessPhysical Access
Exam ArrangementsFire Evacuation
Assessment of Specific Leaning Difficulties Study Skills Advice
2006-2007 Evaluation - Importance and Satisfaction of services
Three most important servicesThree services with least satisfaction
Exam arrangementsFire evacuation procedures
DSA ApplicationPhysical access
Assessment of Specific Learning Difficulties Study skills advice

Although physical access is a University wide responsibility rather than a Disability Office service, it is included in the yearly questionnaire because it is so critical to attendance for some students.

With regard to complaint handling, 64% of students said that they had no opinion or were neutral, 33% said that complaints were handled constructively, with only 4% of students unhappy with the handling of their complaints.

3% of those assigned a Learning Profile stated they had not receive the recommended adjustments, while a further 3% didn’t know if they had or had not. The remaining 94% all received at least some of their adjustments with the majority of students (53%) receiving all adjustments in all applicable courses.

Equally important is the feedback from disabled students who have not used our services. The non-user survey aimed to find why students with a declared disability had not used the service. While the top reason appears to be that they did not need the service, 38% of those responding also stated other reasons for not using it, mainly that they were “unsure of support “or had “no information”.

While many students do not require support, there is clearly work to be done in improving the availability of information about our services and in ensuring academic staff are proactive in referring students to the Disability Office. The Disability Office supports around 70% of students who disclose a disability, and so further work is required to ensure that the remaining students are aware of the support available to them should they need it.

Case study - Collaborative working from the start

8. Legislation and the Wider Framework

The University’s second Disability Equality Scheme produced in 2009 set out the following revised key priorities for action over 3 years (please also see the full Scheme and Action Plan on the Disability office website):

  1. Continue to enhance and embed our approach to supporting disabled staff through policy and good practice, avoiding disability discrimination.
  2. Ensure that all disabled students receive the necessary support to enable them to fully access and participate in their course of study.
  3. Maintain infrastructure and corresponding development to make the University estate accessible.
  4. Continue to work towards a University-wide culture where staff and students receive improved and necessary support for any mental health issues.
  5. Continue to work towards an inclusive environment for disabled students.
  6. Increase accessibility of public facing websites and web-based applications.
  7. Work towards a University-wide policy of using only fully accessible buildings for major events.
  8. Ensure that disability equality is embedded in key policy and practice developments.

An implementation group co-convened by the Vice Principal for Equality and Diversity and the Director of the Disability Office coordinates progress toward achieving these priorities.

The Equality Act was passed in April 2010 and will lead to the production of a Single Equality Scheme, encompassing all the equality strands, in 2011.

9. Future Plans and Progress in 2009-10

A strategic planning process has been initiated by the new Director, with the aim of creating a Disability Office vision, mission and objectives which will support our planning and operational delivery.

It is clear that delivering effective student support with a small core staff group and a wide remit operating in the context of current budgetary constraints, will be a major challenge.

It is key to our purpose and reputation that we plan effectively and deliver in key areas.

Mainstreaming and Promoting Inclusive Teaching

The Disability Office will continue to review and implement recommendations from School and College Teachability audits, and will advise on and promote course redesigns which promote more accessible and inclusive teaching methods

Advisory staff will conduct a further full review of the wording and purpose of reasonable adjustments, as detailed in students’ Learning Profiles. These were reviewed in August 2009, leading to a reduction in the number of adjustments. The format of the communication of adjustments was clarified and well received by Coordinators of Adjustments. Continuing dialogue will take place with academic members of staff.

Annual Reports on the Disability Equality Scheme will be produced, showing progress made so far and setting out additional plans to meeting the public sector duties.

Ongoing work will try to de-stigmatise the declaration of mental health problems among students, and the disclosure of disability among staff

Staff Development

The Disability Office staff will continue to deliver a range of staff development sessions as part of an annual programme, targeting priority areas, within the scope of our limited resources. We will continue to provide sessions on request from subject areas.

Collaborative Working

Work will continue with Student Recruitment & Admissions and College admissions teams to increase the number of disabled students disclosing disabilities, and to promote the support available to students.

The Disability Office team will continue to service and support the Disability Committee and its sub?groups on mental health, specific learning difficulties, access and facilities, technology and accessible information.

The Disability Office and the Student Counselling Service will continue to work closely on the development and management of the Mental Health Mentor service and on our response to students in crisis situations.

Senior Disability Office staff will continue to represent the University on key fora, such as the Scottish Government Disabled Students Stakeholders Group (DSSG).

Improvements to Disability Office services

The Disability Office website is being transferred to the Polopoly platform and will be in keeping with the University “house style”. It is being updated and rewritten to ensure that it is easier to navigate and find key information. It will be tested by disabled students to ensure accessibility.

The Disability Office intranet will be revised and updated, in line with office guidelines and procedures, to ensure more effective and streamlined internal functions.

Appendix A: Disability Office Relationships

Disability Office Relationships
AreaRelationship & Example Activities
Student Counselling ServiceJointly delivering the mental health mentoring service to students. Preparing and running several mental health awareness workshops for Directors of Studies, and contributing to the Disability Committee
EUSAActive contributor to Disability Committee and its sub-groups
Accommodation ServicesArranging more suitable accommodation for students with specific requirements, and contributing to the Disability Committee
Academic AffairsAdvising on policy and handling student complaints
Student Recruitment and Admissions/International OfficeWorking together on Widening Participation, establishing procedures for international/visiting students, and contributing to the Disability Committee
RegistryPutting in place examination arrangements for students, handling applications to the Hardship Fund, and contributing to the Disability Committee
Health ServiceLiaising with GPs for advice, and contributing to the Disability Committee
Careers ServiceContributes data to the Disability Equality Scheme Annual Report on the first destinations for graduating disabled students, and contributing to the Disability Committee
ChaplaincyStudents are referred both from and to the Chaplaincy for advice, and contributes to the Disability Committee
Information ServicesContributing to the IS Disability Advisory Group, advising on best practice and actions required to improve accessibility. Working to embed accessibility into project planning and review processes, and contributing to the Disability Committee
College OfficesStreamlining the adjustment process through consultation with Colleges
Coordinators of AdjustmentsDiscussing suitability of adjustments with each School's context, and working on establishing monitoring systems to ensure students have the opportunity to give feedback.
Academic staffFrequently discussing suitability and implementation of adjustments for students. Academic staff also contribute to the Disability Committee and its subgroups, and are involved with Teachability reviews.
Centre for Teaching, Learning and AssessmentContributing to Postgraduate Certificate in University Teaching, Directors of Studies inductions, and guidance documents. Jointly delivering study skills service to disabled students.

Appendix B: Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) Impairment Categories

For statistical reasons, disabled students can disclose a disability on their UCAS forms using one of 10 codes, which are briefly expanded on below.

NB The codes have been amended for 2010 entry, in line with current legislation.

The categories below apply to 2008-09.

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) Impairment Categories
SpLDSpecific Learning Difficulties - a wide spectrum of difficulties (e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia) which relate to reading or writing text, processing information, organisation and coordination
VisualVisual Impairment - including blindness, partial sight, colour blindness
Hearing Hearing Impairment - including deafness, partial hearing, tinnitus
MobilityMobility Impairment - can include muscular impairments, difficulties controlling balance, wheelchair users
ASDAutistic Spectrum Disorder - usually involves difficulties in social interaction, social communication and social imagination
MHMental Health Problems - examples include depression, anxiety, phobias and eating disorders
UnseenUnseen/Hidden Disability - such as diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, epilepsy or HIV
MultMultiple Disabilities - a person who is impaired in several ways
OtherOther Disability - another type of impairment which the above categories do not cover

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