To address this challenge, the Law Society has expanded the supports available to all students, including significant upgrades to the Law School, which now allow for easier access and use of the facilities for all, regardless of age, size, ability or disability.
In recent years, the new ‘academic street’ provided easier access for wheelchair users, while upgrades to the Green Hall and Vanilla Café entrances added easy-open, wider doors and accessible toilet facilities.
Now, the Law School’s main lecture theatre is undergoing a complete renovation. The current seating has been replaced by wider, ergonomic seating – seat width has been increased to 90mm, while leg clearance goes from 80mm to 130mm.
A mix of side foldaway writing tables (52 in total) and drop-down writing tables (198) are being installed to facilitate easy use by both left and right-handed users. In addition, it will now be possible to remove the front row of seating to easily convert it into a wheelchair accessible area, whenever required. The hearing loop assistance unit is also being modernised for those with hearing difficulties.
Students who require adapted chairs and tables will benefit from standing desk adaptors and adjustable seating.
The Law School’s Student Development Service (SDS) supports the educational, social, and emotional development of trainee solicitors. As part of its remit, it provides disability support services.
The needs of the student population are varied, and the supports are tailored to each student. No one size fits all, and a variety of suites of services are available, based on student requests. In the past two years, the numbers registering with SDS have increased substantially, while the numbers applying for adapted exam requirements have doubled.
The Law School’s support for students with visual impairments includes access to course manuals in readable PDF format. The Society has developed course materials that allow students to use adaptive technology, such as ‘Job Access With Speech’ software. This provides speech and Braille output for the most popular computer applications on PCs, while apps for tablets can narrate written material.
Law School staff have worked hard to find solutions to the limitations posed by technology, for example, the reading of old handwritten deeds of title. In exams, students with visual impairments are supplied with the exam paper in electronic format, in their own room, and are given additional time, if required. With these supports, a small but growing number of students with visual impairments have completed their education with the Law Society and joined the Roll of Solicitors.
In the past year, students who have found it difficult to take notes due to dysgraphia, dyspraxia, or dyslexia have been able to take advantage of the LiveScribe smartpen. This allows them to combine written notes with snippets of audio in an integrated note-taking system. The device is supplied free of charge to qualifying students, thanks to funding by the Law Society and HEA disability grant supports. Use of the device is subject to data protection provisions, but it has been well received by students.
Trainees who have conditions that affect their reading can also benefit from a Law Society link-up with the National Council of the Blind (NCBI). Under this scheme, the student gains access to the NCBI’s vast library of online and audio books free of charge (the Law Society covers the fee), which are emailed directly to their device. The student applies via the SDS, which certifies that the student qualifies for the service.
Continuity of service
By the time students arrive at Blackhall Place, they have already travelled the long academic path through second and third-level education, possibly already having had access to assistive technology.
Where a student has already used a particular type of assisted technology, for example, Read and Write Gold or Dragon software, the SDS works in collaboration with IT to ensure continuity of service for the student.
Exams are a necessary part of the assessment process. Trainees with disabilities are supplied with the resources they need to allow them to properly showcase their knowledge and skills, and to ensure that their disability does not have an impact on exam performance. Such resources include readers, scribes, extra time, and a quiet room. All adaptations are applied for through the SDS adapted exam arrangements application process.
SDS works with the student and the Law School exams office to ensure that the student has what he or she needs.