Examples of good practice

We have started to collect examples of good practice in the support of disabled students across the University. The examples below show:

  • how anticipatory steps can be made to buildings to more effectively accommodate disabled students, as well as other student groups.
  • how the design of IT systems can improve welfare support provision.
  • how colleges support transition to University for disabled people for whom this poses an increased challenge.
  • how colleges can support students with eating disorders and make college dining more inclusive.

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Inclusive welfare provision, Worcester College

Colleges have highly developed welfare support in place for students, often involving a large team (Dean, Junior Deans, Welfare Officer, Disability Coordinator), as well as college doctors, chaplains and peer supporters as part of a wider network. There is a challenge to provide joined up welfare support to students within this team environment, whilst also respecting student confidentiality.

The Worcester welfare team identified a problem that they had no consistent and effective way of sharing information between them about their work with students. This made it hard to reliably (OR ‘guarantee the ability to…’) identify a pattern of need/concerning patterns of behaviour relating to individual students (and therefore where they were likely to require targeted support), or the student body as a whole.

The welfare database was created by the IT team in Worcester College for its welfare team. It is part of the larger Worcester student database that also draws information from SITs.

It now provides a single place for the welfare team to make a record of all the incidents they respond to and their interactions with students. (Incidents are unplanned call-outs to difficult/crisis situations; interactions are planned meetings between the welfare team and students.) Each incident or interaction is summarised and can be labelled for follow-up, which provides the basis for the welfare team’s weekly team meeting where tasks are allocated to team members, and group discussion about student cases takes place. Each member of the team can see at a glance what the most recent incidents and interactions have been, as well as all those marked for follow-up, to inform their work.

Each student has a page on the database, with a photograph, a list of the instances when they have accessed college welfare support, as well as additional information from SITs, such as whether they have a Student Support Plan, whether they are registered with the college doctor, etc. This means that if a student was involved in more than one incident over a period of time, there is a definite system whereby this can be identified, and the student effectively supported.

There is also has a reporting tool which allows the college to identify spikes in incidents and interactions overall. In in first year the database was used, the team identified a consistent surge in incidents around the time of college bops, and these were often linked to alcohol. They were able to respond by taking proactive steps to tackle this issue. Adjustments were made to pricing in the college bar, and to how bop nights were manned. Turning Point also came in to talk to students about responsible alcohol use.

Data security: at the beginning of their course, every student is asked to sign a permission form which allows their welfare information to be stored on the database, with access restricted to the welfare team only.

The database is accessible only from the college network using a welfare team log-in, which means that copies of student information cannot be compromised through theft of personal devices, etc. Communications within the team about individual student cases now less frequently takes place via email, as information is shared on the database.

This tool clearly provides benefits to all students, by ensuring effective information sharing to support safeguarding and monitoring of student welfare. However, it is also likely to bring particular benefits for those suffering from mental health disabilities, such as anxiety and depression. An effective information system increases the chances that issues with individual students can be identified at an earlier stage, and appropriate action taken.

Support with transition to University for students with autism at University College

University College provides an enhanced orientation for new students on the autism spectrum. Offer-holders are invited for an overnight, individual familiarisation visit in March each year. The student is sent a detailed itinerary for the day. A student guide gives a tour of the college and the offer-holder meets with their Disability Coordinator in the college. This also provides an opportunity to talk through what the student can expect from the social side of University life, and what support is available for this. In the afternoon, the student visits the department where they talk with the departmental disability coordinator and receive a tour of the department.

The benefits for students with autism are:

  • Enables them to gain a clear idea of what living in college will be like well ahead of their first term, without the added pressures associated with interviews and freshers’ week;
  • If the student experiences sensory overload, the visit takes place outside term time so they can become comfortable with the new environment in a way which will limits anxiety for them.

The familiarisation visit has since been extended to students with chronic anxiety who experience similar benefits from this orientation, designed to be low-stakes and low-stress.

In September, depending on their individual needs, students with autism will receive an ‘introduction to college’ guide. The document is personally tailored to each student, depending on their requirements and needs.

The guide may contain:

  • Photographs of the key people the student will encounter in the college (their subject tutors, disability coordinator).
  • A glossary of common Oxford terminology (e.g. Michaelmas, matriculation, collections).
  • A visual and text description of the college locations they will most frequently visit (JCR, Department, laundry room – further locations could be included if helpful).
  • Descriptions of new events they will encounter in their first year (e.g. matriculation, collections, college bops, end of year exams), so they can read this section as they approach each of these events for the first time.
  • A timetable for their first term, as well as a suggested daily timetable.

Further information

Transition to University for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum, Tara Sims, School of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University

Eating disorders are sometimes triggered or exacerbated by a major change, such as arriving at university, when routine around food and meal times are subject to change.

St Anne’s College has taken a number of steps to ensure all those students who have an eating disorder, or other disabilities which can make the dining hall inaccessible, are fully supported by the college.

There are a range of things that can be done to make students feel more comfortable and to develop processes to help manage their condition. This must always be subject to and in accordance with a recovery plan agreed with a health professional. For example, a student with anorexia at St. Anne’s College was supported so that they felt able to use the dining hall. A meeting was held with the chef to discuss the student’s needs, and a plan of action agreed. Minor Adjustments were made to the dishes according to the specifications agreed with the student. The same process was used for a student with OCD who had specific needs relating to the presentation of food. Providing minor adjustments enables these students to take an active part in the social life of the hall and to access a balanced diet.

By considering adaptations to better suit the student’s needs, consistent with advice from medical professionals, their condition can be managed more effectively. These students also needed the option of preparing their own meals privately. St Anne’s has adapted two rooms to include a small kitchenette, and also has a small number of student flats with kitchens. Shared kitchens can present difficulties for some students with eating disorders, as they may be uncomfortable preparing food in front of others. However, communal eating and food preparation can be an important part of managing/recovering from an eating disorder, and what is appropriate will differ for each person, and over time.

Special provision has been made at St Anne’s on formal hall nights for some students, so that the student can signal to the kitchen that no further food or alcohol is needed in a discreet way by turning a glass upside down or by placing the knife and fork in a cross pattern. This enables students to take part in the social aspect of the evening, while feeling more comfortable about the amount of food and drinks being accepted (for example being able to discreetly decline dessert).

Students with other impairments may find a college dining hall inaccessible. Those with sensory difficulties may find a noisy or crowded dining hall triggers sensory overload. Students with chronic conditions may find it difficult to attend meals when they feel unwell. Therefore the following arrangements may be appropriate:

  • access to private kitchen facilities;
  • a microwave or fridge in the student’s room;
  • meals are brought to the student’s room or to a quieter communal eating space.

Further information

If you are concerned that a student is unwell and they may be exhibiting symptoms of an eating disorder, you should encourage them to visit their college nurse or GP, and alert the college welfare team.

If a student discloses an eating disorder to you, again encourage them to seek medical help and make a referral to the University’s Counselling Service with their consent.

Beat,the Eating Disorders Association, offers a range of support for those with eating disorders, and also training and resources for those supporting someone with an eating disorder.

Beat is also keen work with students and staff within universities to improve support for those with eating disorders and there are a range of ways to get involved.

Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, has an eating disorder discussion group at the University of Oxford. They have developed an eating disorder student factsheet.

There are self-help resources available on the University’s student welfare pages, see the section on Eating Distress.

Having a quiet space with a couch or a bed, which may double as a first aid room, within a department can bring benefits for all staff and students. In addition to use by those feeling unwell or needing first aid, it can be used by mothers to feed their babies, pregnant women, or by those with disabilities. For example, those with chronic medical conditions that cause fatigue, may benefit from the opportunity to rest between lectures, or a student with autism, who experiences sensory overload, can treat the room as a refuge from stimuli.

The Saïd Business School has a first aid room with a bed, sofa and first aid kit. It is in a quiet area, accessible by a lift. It has a changing table and a fridge to store expressed milk. In addition, it has a fridge for medication, and a monitor to which lectures can be livestreamed. It also has a first aid kit, crutches, a wheelchair, and spare bedding. There is an emergency button on the wall which alerts reception if pressed.

The room can be signed out at reception by anyone who feels they need it. The room is accessed by the use of a security code. A sign on the door makes it clear whether the room is in use.

It is a small space but offers a range of uses for people of different needs and is well used.

Welfare rooms are flexible spaces that benefit all students by offering a private, restful space for a wide range of purposes.

Those considering adding a welfare room in their department should try to ensure that:

  • it is located in a quiet area;
  • it is accessible for those with a mobility impairment, including having enough space to manoeuvre a wheelchair;
  • there is furniture that can be used to lie down;
  • there is a security code on the door and a sign so that the room can be marked ‘in use’;
  • the light is adjustable/there is a choice between artificial and natural light for those with sensitivities to light.

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