Supporting disabled learners: what is 'reasonable'?

Universities are required to make reasonable adjustments to enable learners to participate and engage with all aspects of their courses, but what does 'reasonable' really mean in this context?

Checklist tick blocks demonstrating progression through the CSP reps' checklist

There is an expectation that universities should work with learners to look at individual circumstances, assess for things that might be a barrier and provide support or make changes, unless it’s unreasonable to do so. 

Reasonable adjustments are changes made to remove or reduce barriers which disadvantage disabled people. For example: 

  • making changes to the physical education environment and facilities eg addition of features such as handrails; ramps instead of stairs or widening doorways.  
  • changing someone's working arrangements eg flexible working, creating regular rest breaks or building in time for note writing.  
  • finding a different way to do something (provision, criterion or practice) eg. Providing notes in advance of lectures or offering recordings of lectures to enable learners to watch again; attendance in online vs in person for parts of the course.   
  • providing equipment, services or support eg access to text to speech software, or specific seating to make seminars accessible or someone who can use sign language.   

Reasonable adjustments are specific to an individual person and their needs, and they can cover any area of physiotherapy education including practice-based learning experiences. Some disabled people might not need or want adjustments, although this might change over time. 

An adjustment is not reasonable if it will impose a disproportionate burden on your university, course provider or practice-based learning setting. What this usually means in practice is that if the first choice of support is not practicable, alternative adjustments should be made instead.

There is no set definition of what is considered reasonable within the Equality Act and context is an important consideration.  

If an organisation such as a university or practice-based setting does not implement reasonable adjustments in a timely manner, it could be categorised as disability discrimination. How long adjustments will take depends on available resources and the type of adjustments needed.

For example, if you need an adjustment to the study arrangements this can be done almost immediately, but if you require physical changes to the premises this could take weeks.  
Even so, it may be a good idea for universities to provide a response to any initial requests within a certain timescale (such as 14 days) and to ensure regular updates are provided if the adjustments are likely to take some time. This means that learners and universities will be kept informed and be aware if reasonable adjustments are not being addressed.   

Universities only need to go so far as is 'reasonable' when making adjustments. Factors that can help decide what is reasonable include: 

  • how practical they are 
  • the universities size and resources 
  • costs and disruption 
  • the effect on other workers/learners 
  • the availability of external support 

How to access support 

Working with the specific course’s accessibility tutor could be a starting point. Alternatively, the university’s learner support services will be able to give advice and support in working with course tutors.

They may also give access to assessments to help come up with a specific plan to meet a learner’s individual needs. 

Last reviewed: