As defined by the Equality Act, people with long term, or recurring mental health conditions are considered "disabled". Although this may not be a word that resonates with you as a student with a mental health condition, it does mean that you are protected by legislation.
Legal Definition of Disability Under the Equality Act 2010
A webpage outlining the Equality Act 2010 legislation with regard to disability.
Models of disability
Although there are multiple models of disability the predominant models are the Medical Model (where the disability lies with the person, looking at what is "wrong" with them) and the Social Model (which states people are disabled by the barriers in society and focuses on how to remove these barriers). You can find out more with an easy Google search. At UMHAN, we advocate for the social model of disability.
Most universities also use the social model of disability, although this is at odds with requirements to provide medical evidence to access adjustments. It is also true that mental health conditions are often treated differently to physical health conditions, despite being covered by the same legislation.
A key part of the Equality Act is the duty to provide "reasonable adjustments" for disabled people, to remove barriers to participation and ensure equal access to education (and other aspects of daily life). The Act also allows disabled people to be treated "more favourably" in certain circumstances.
The duty to provide reasonable adjustments also extends to adjustments to policies and processes and favours a flexible approach. It is important to ensure that policies, such as Fitness to Study do not inadvertently discriminate against students with mental health conditions for example, by requiring a different standard of evidence or "compliance" to return to study. All policies and processes are covered, including those covering student support delivery.
Although adjustments should be individualised, some examples of reasonable adjustments for students with mental health conditions are:
- adjustments to assessment deadlines
- rest breaks in exams
- extra time in exams
- alternative assessments
- adjustments to presentations or group work
- additional tutorial support
- additional or more flexible counselling sessions
- Specialist Mental Health Mentoring
- adjustments to placement requirements, e.g. location, department, timeframe
- provision of a quiet space
- adjustments to attendance criteria
- preferential accommodation choice
- designated seating in exams
Understanding adjustments: supporting staff and students who are experiencing mental health difficulties This document by the Equality Challenge Unit draws on best practice, providing examples and data for use in education settings.