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Adult Learning and Disabilities

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 |
Adult Learning Disabilities Learning

Adult learning provides people with opportunities to advance themselves in their careers, gain new skills and meet new people, and should be open to everyone, whatever their abilities or disabilities. Many colleges offer courses that are suitable for people with disabilities, as well as being able to provide a range of different types of support to make learning easier and more enjoyable, and a much more satisfying and rewarding experience, for both the disabled student and his or her fellow students.

Getting on the Course

It all begins with finding a college and a course. When applying for courses, whether they are full- or part-time, don’t forget to talk with the tutors and other members of staff at the college beforehand, to check that they have the facilities or can make the necessary changes. It’s also a good idea to make sure that they know as much as possible about the type of disability (especially if it is a less common one) and any specific support needs. It’s also important to make sure that the tutors, or the college support team, assess all students with disabilities individually – people with seemingly similar disabilities may need very different levels and types of help.

For some people with disabilities, distance learning may be a more convenient alternative, working online and by email, but this could be quite isolating. Often, with quite basic adaptations, many people with disabilities can be an active member of a course or group, which will help them feel more part of the college community.


Students with different kinds of disabilities will need different kinds of support:

Support for Students with Physical Disabilities

Learning support for people with physical disabilities can include computer adaptations such as special keyboards, trackballs rather than computer mice, software that helps with text input, or adjustable chairs and desks. Some people may need note takers during lectures.

Support for Students with Hearing Impairment

Learning support for people with a hearing impairment (people who are deaf or hard of hearing) can include British sign language (BSL) interpreters, as well as note takers during classes. For hearing aid users, it’s a good idea to see if the college has an induction loop system, which transmits sound directly to hearing aids.

Support for Students with Visual Impairment

Learning support for people with a visual impairment (people who are blind or partially sighted) can include help in lectures and tutorials for note taking and reading. Tutors may be able to provide course materials in large print or Braille, or in an electronic or audio format. There are also gadgets and pieces of software that can help. These range from simple things like magnifying glasses and good quality lighting, to electronic gadgets like voice recorders for lectures, scanners that recognise and read text, adapted keyboards, and Braille embossers and displays. Visually impaired students who use computers can find additional software useful, such as screen magnifiers, screen readers (to convert text into speech) and voice recognition software (to convert speech into text).

Support for Students with Dyslexia

People with dyslexia may find it easier to work on a computer rather than writing longhand, and may be allowed to use a computer in an exam. Screen readers and voice recognition software may help as well.

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