Field Work

Students with disabilities need access to fieldwork experiences that are part of coursework or program requirements. Educators who require fieldwork experiences need to make sure that fieldwork sites, supplementary materials, and assignments are accessible to students with a range of hearing, visual, health, mobility, psychiatric, and learning impairments.

Fieldwork experiences may pose several challenges for students with disabilities. For example, transportation to the site, as well as access to the fieldwork site or building may be problematic for a student with a mobility impairment. A student who is blind may need orientation to a new environment prior to the fieldwork experience. Likewise, a student with a health impairment may have difficulty with a full-time schedule or fieldwork locations that involve travel or overnight stays.

Appropriate fieldwork accommodations for students with disabilities vary based on student needs, the fieldwork site, and the fieldwork requirements.

Some individuals with disabilities will need the same accommodations at a fieldwork site that they use to complete academic work. For example, a student who is blind will need Braille, audiotapes, or an adapted computer system to access printed material associated with fieldwork. For other students, new responsibilities and environments create new challenges and potential barriers. It is important that instructors are flexible when planning fieldwork assignments. They can also invite students with disabilities to discuss their needs early in the semester, quarter, or program of study to help with timely fieldwork placements or the development of appropriate alternatives or substitutions.

Cooperative efforts between the student, instructor, and support services can help to assure that fieldwork experiences are successful. Examples of fieldwork accommodations that apply to students with a variety of disabilities include:

  • Fieldwork sites in accessible locations.
  • Accessible transportation to and from the fieldwork location.
  • Extended time to complete fieldwork assignments.
  • Flexible attendance requirements.
  • Orientation to the fieldwork site for students with visual impairments.
  • Group fieldwork activities.
  • Printed material in large print, in Braille, and/or on audiotape.
  • Sign Language interpreters.
  • Access to computer hardware and software with adaptive technology.

Check Your Understanding

Consider the following example. A student who uses a wheelchair for mobility needs to collect water samples during a biology field trip. It requires hiking forest trails that are not accessible to the student. What accommodations would be appropriate for this student? Choose a response.

  1. Waive the field trip requirement.
  2. Allow him to complete an alternative assignment.
  3. Change the fieldwork site to a more accessible location.
  4. Change the fieldwork assignment.
  5. Have the student work with a partner to collect the field samples.

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Waive the field trip requirement.
    This would not be an appropriate choice as the student would likely miss essential coursework and requirements due to his inability to participate.
  2. Allow him to complete an alternative assignment.
    An alternative assignment would be appropriate if the site cannot be made accessible to the student. It is important to keep the main goals and objectives of the course in mind when deciding on substitutions. For example, in this case, is the sample collection just as important as the analysis, or is the analysis the priority?
  3. Change the fieldwork site to a more accessible location.
    You could make sure a site is accessible to all students before you select it as a fieldwork site. By designing your course for students with a wide range of abilities and disabilities in mind, the need for assignment substitutions or accommodations may be reduced or eliminated.
  4. Change the fieldwork assignment
    You are not required to alter your course or course requirements for a student with a disability. When planning your course, however, you may want to consider if the requirements could be met in a different location or with a different assignment with little or no accessibility issues, keeping in mind principles of universal design of instruction.
  5. Have the student work with a partner to collect the field samples.
    This would be an appropriate choice as long as the student with a disability remains an active participant in the process and does not miss key course content or requirements.

Fieldwork accommodations vary based on the needs of each individual, the conditions related to a fieldwork site, and the learning requirements. For additional information on specific disabilities and academic accommodations that may be applicable in fieldwork activities, see the following sections of the AccessSTEM website:

Questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices can be found in the searchable AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.