Assessment Support for Disabled Students: DDSS Guidance during Covid 19 

DDSS representative at a student fair

Some students may require further support with the change to remote forms of assessment due to the Covid 19 pandemic. This guidance has been produced by the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service (DDSS). For more information and guidance in supporting disabled students, please visit their webpages:

DDSS Pages

DDSS conducted a survey with disabled students at the end of the last academic year, to find out what their experiences had been with digital teaching and assessment. DDSS developed further guidelines based on this work.

Recommendations for assessment

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Advantages of remote assessment for disabled students

Assistive technology

As students are expected to use their own computers, individuals may have access to their own assistive technology - e.g. voice-to-text software, screenreading software, ergonomic equipment, screen magnification software.

Inclusive time periods

Longer submission times (e.g. 24 or 48 hours) are likely to include sufficient time for students who would usually have extra time or rest breaks - so this should be considered at the design stage, along with ways of communicating this to disabled students (see Accessible Online Assessment below).

Environment

As students will be using their own devices in their own study space, it is likely that this will avoid regular issues such as anxiety about large exam halls, maintaining a low profile when taking rest breaks, or concern that their own assistive software (e.g. dictation software) may distract others.

You can find out more about what disabled students valued about remote assessment in the DDSS report:

What went well?

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Challenges of remote assessment for disabled students

As students are working at a distance they may not have easy access to support - e.g. from an invigilator - if they encounter problems. Technology-related issues may limit the effectiveness of assistive technology.

You can find out more about the challenges disabled students faced with remote assessment in the DDSS report:

What were the challenges?

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Supporting students with pre-identified exam adjustments

Many disabled students have specific exam support requirements, and access to exam adjustments (e.g. extra time, rest breaks) in formal exams. Where DDSS have referred a student for exam adjustments, these will have been detailed in a memo which will have been shared with both the central Exams Team and the Exams Officers in the departments the student is undertaking modules in during the year the referral was made.

Departments should consider how disabled students’ exam support requirements will be replicated/accounted for when online assessment is set.

Some adjustments are unlikely to require additional work to implement when exams move online – e.g.

  • a disabled student’s requirement to ‘use a PC’ or for ‘individual exam accommodation’ in exams is likely to be met by the alternative way in which the assessment is being conducted. In other instances, disabled students’ support requirements will require more careful consideration, though – for example in the case of adjustments to the time allowed for an exam.
  • if students are given similar amounts of time to complete remote exams as they would be in an standard invigilated exam, disabled students who have exam arrangements in place which relate to time (i.e. extra time and/or rest breaks) should be permitted to access these adjustments.
  • if students are permitted 24 hours or more of working time to complete an exam – during which time they are expected to take breaks, sleep, etc – and they are given a clear sense of what they should produce for submission (e.g. a 2000 word essay), time-related exam adjustments may no longer be necessary to ensure that disabled students are not disadvantaged as a generous time allowance has been factored in for all candidates.

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Principles and guidance for accessible remote assessment

Wherever possible design issues should be addressed in the initial course design phase. Please refer to the University’s guidance on digital accessibility.

Assessment Design

  • The layout of all online material should be clear and consistent, with easily identifiable links.
  • Navigation using keystrokes and the mouse should be straightforward.
  • If students are using assistive software teachers should establish that the online environment is compatible with this software. More information can be found here.
  • Always use plain English: The question should be testing knowledge as opposed to the student’s ability to decode the non subject-specific language.
  • If online discussion is involved/required, please be aware that some students (e.g. those with Specific Learning. Difficulties, autism spectrum conditions or those with mental health issues) may have difficulties in expressing themselves in a public forum.
  • Filmed assessments. If a student is not able to film themselves or comfortable doing so, a Powerpoint presentation with an audio voiceover should be considered as an alternative, as this may well meet the assessment criteria. A recorded presentation may also be considered.
Assessment Support
  • It would be beneficial to make all students aware of the short cut keys and for teachers to test any new material put into the course to make sure it can be accessed in this way.
  • An introductory or practice session when students are using an remote assessment method for the first time would also be beneficial.
  • Students who have been recommended ‘yellow stickers’ by DDSS (Disability & Dyslexia Support Service) should be able to indicate this when submitting assignments.
    • Note: The ‘stickers’ are intended only to promote constructive feedback, not affect marking. Please refer to the staff guidance on this and there is also some student guidance available about the yellow stickers.
  • Length of exam. If longer periods of time are being proposed - e.g. 24 or 48 hours - extra time for disabled students may not be required. If so, it should be made clear that this is Inclusive Practice - e.g. "Students are expected to write no more than 1500 words when answering the set question. We anticipate that this task should take students approximately 2 hours to complete. As the time taken to complete the task does not form part of the assessment criteria, and to take into consideration of students with additional needs all students will be given 24 hours to complete the assessment task".
  • Support workers. Students who usually require support workers (e.g. a reader or a scribe) for exams should be offered alternatives including screen-reading software, dictation software, or extra time. This can be discussed with DDSS.

Further recommendations can be found in the DDSS report:

Further recommendations

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Guidance for students

Students may be able to make simple changes on their own devices to increase accessibility. See Abilitynet for more information.

Students who are concerned about the compatibility of their own assistive software with the format of the online assessment should contact the Digital Learning Team.

Students who are concerned as to how their usual arrangements will translate to online assessment should contact their department in their first instance. More complex issues should be directed to DDSS.

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Further information

Useful links