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Ensuring equality of opportunity for all

Physiotherapy education has received an equal opportunities boost with the launch of new guidance designed to help meet the needs of disabled students. Rael Martell reports

New CSP guidance aims to ensure physiotherapy students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers have equality of opportunity when undertaking clinical placements.

The guidance states that clinical educators must be well versed in equality issues and aware of disabled students' requirements, regardless of whether a forthcoming student intake is known to include a student with a disability.

'It is not acceptable to wait until a disabled student arrives on a course or clinical placement before adjustments and changes in practice are considered and implemented,' it says.

Largely written by two physiotherapy lecturers who work for the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), the guidance emphasises that all information must be available in accessible formats, 'avoiding the need to have "special" procedures in place for disabled enquirers'.

Educators must also be aware of the barriers facing disabled students and the reticence they may feel about disclosing their disabilities to academic staff, according to the document. 

And it adds that students must be key players in negotiating specific adjustments necessary to ensure they receive the full benefits of their clinical placements.

Co-author Karen Atkinson, a member of CSP Council and manager of the RNIB physiotherapy resource centre, told Frontline: 'It is important that people have an open and non-judgmental attitude towards students with disabilities and are open to discussion with them. This needs to be embedded in staff development.

'The guidance is also about awareness-raising generally. Although the focus of the guidance is on students, a lot of the principles can be applied more generally.'

Jane Owen Hutchinson, the RNIB's physiotherapy support services manager, said that while the guidance targets clinical educators, it is relevant to the 'whole membership of the CSP'.

'There is a considerable need for clinical staff to become familiar with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and legislation relating to disabled students.'

She said the DDA had implications for clinical educators who have disabled staff. The CSP guidance provides an overview of the act and related legislation and includes specific information for staff in academic settings, staff in clinical settings and for students.

It would be useful for students to read the guidance so they had an idea of their rights and responsibilities in helping staff to meet their requirements, Jane said.

She went on to explain that treating disabled and non-disabled students equally does not equate to treating them identically, but ensuring that they have the same opportunities.

A preview of the guidance appeared in Frontline on November 19, 2003. CSP Guidance - Supporting disabled physiotherapy students on clinical placement can be downloaded from the CSP website: www.csp.org.uk/membergroups/managers/publications.cfm?id=332

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