A wide range of health conditions may impact on students’ learning, assessment performance, and class attendance. These conditions include epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, kidney disorders, cystic fibrosis, cancer, hepatitis, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and HIV/AIDS. While some of these conditions are lifelong, others, such as CFS, will be unpredictable and episodic.
These conditions may be related to other disabilities: students with neurological diseases may also have mobility and/or vision impairment; students with epilepsy may have damage to the part of the brain which affects speech. Some conditions will diminish balance and coordination, or cause severe headaches, backache, joint pains, blurred vision, weakness or numbness in limbs, and breathlessness triggered by stress.
Students receiving treatment for cancer may have long and debilitating periods of nausea and fatigue. Respiratory and cardiac diseases may affect mobility and impair the strength, speed, endurance, coordination and dexterity necessary for writing and for manipulating equipment. Symptoms may vary in severity over quite short periods of time. Some health conditions are progressively degenerative; the course of others is highly unpredictable.
Impact of Chronic Health Conditions
The impact of a chronic health condition on learning will vary according to the disability. Students may be affected in the following ways:
- Some conditions leave students vulnerable to a wide range of infections and viruses, and frequent absenteeism owing to hospitalisation and/or medication changes may be the first indication teaching staff have of the existence of a health condition.
- There may be striking inconsistencies in performance. Some students may have difficulty persisting with tasks, especially when physical discomfort is an issue. There may be intolerance to extremes of heat or light and to some chemicals.
- Some medications may result in lethargy and concentration difficulties. This may mean that students do not participate actively in tutorial discussions. Participation may also be affected when energy levels are low and in those whose speech is affected by the disability.
- Mood swings and depression may be associated with chronic health conditions.
- Students may sometimes exhibit extreme anxiety, particularly if there is a history of unexpected ‘episodes’ in public.
- Some students will have had gaps in their educational experience as a result of periods.
Disability Practitioner Strategies
In addition to the teaching and assessment strategies, there are a range of services and equipment that are commonly facilitated by Disability Practitioners as reasonable adjustments for students with chronic health conditions.
- The provision of recorded lectures or a notetaker.
- Access to peer lecture notes
- Access to Student Access Study Centre
- Arranging the specific scheduling of tutorial allocations
- Informing Academic staff that students may at times be accompanied by support persons
- Access to Assistive Technology, such as speech recognition software
- Access to Assistive Technology or scribe in examinations
- Examination timetable to allow for adequate time between exams and are scheduled for times that maximise student’s energy levels due to health condition, that is morning or afternoon exams
- Provision for moving around in class and examinations, for example stretching, lying on floor
- Provision for additional toilet breaks during examinations
As a disability practitioner it may be helpful to be aware of inclusive teaching and assessment strategies that can assist all students. ADCET has identified some specific strategies that may be useful for students with Health Condition. Health Conditions Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Strategies