AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.

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Reasonable Accommodations & Professional Placements Project

The HEA is funding AHEAD to carry out the Reasonable Accommodations and Professional Placements (RAPP) Project, and AHEAD will undertake this in co-operation with the Disability Advisors Working Network (DAWN).

DAWN and AHEAD have collectively identified serious issues arising for students with disabilities undertaking courses/programmes featuring professional placements which have competence standards set by national professional bodies, in terms of accessing appropriate reasonable accommodations to demonstrate their competency. These issues are particularly prevalent in health/medical and teaching courses where students are often going in to a placement environment where there may be unfounded fears of risk to student/patient safety raised when students with disabilities are preparing for placement.

While many professional bodies in these fields have commitments to equality and diversity within their professional standards, AHEAD research highlights that students with disabilities are significantly underrepresented on courses in the fields of ‘Health and Welfare’ and ‘Education’. 

 Project Aims

  • To research and review barriers and examples of good practice to allow students with disabilities to achieve course competency standards in an appropriate manner.
  • To provide national guidance supported by the HEA and, if possible relevant Professional Bodies, to provide clarity on the application of reasonable accommodations in national competency-based courses. It is anticipated guidance will include examples of good practice and case studies.


The Project will take a consultative approach. A core Steering Group is being set up, led by AHEAD and DAWN, with representation from USI, faculty members from health and education and national stakeholder representatives. Up to 4 core Steering Group meetings will take place during the life of the project, with the final meeting in March 2022 to consider the final draft guidance before presentation to the HEA.

A minimum of four subject-based consultation groups will be formed focusing on:

  • Teaching
  • Nursing and midwifery
  • Professions allied to medicine
  • Related FET courses/pathways

Additionally, a student and recent graduates with disabilities consultation group will be formed. Consultation with these groups will guide the research and inform the development of the guidance.

 Project Team

The Project will be led for AHEAD by Barbara Waters who will be supported by RAPP Project Research Officer Dr. Vivian Rath.


RAPP Project Lead - Barbara Waters

Headshot of Barbara Waters in black and white with decorative elements to match the page banner.Barbara Waters is the Project Lead on the Reasonable Accommodations, Professional Placements (RAPP) Project, Barbara was Chief Executive of Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, UK. 1996- 2010. Barbara represented Skill nationally on policy issues in education and disability related to post 16 education, training and employment. Since 2010 Barbara has worked as a researcher on further and higher education and disability. She was part of the LINK European network concerned with disabled students in higher education and has undertaken research on competence standards and learning outcomes in higher education for the Equality Challenge Unit, UK, published in 2015, looking particularly at Nursing, Teaching, .Foreign Languages and STEM subjects. She was the evaluator of the Erasmus + programme on Universal Design for Learning completed in October 2016, and rapporteur for AHEAD Ireland in the MappED access programme with the Erasmus Student Network in 2017. Currently she is the editor of the peer to peer Journal for AHEAD Ireland. She has an MA in Business and Public Sector Strategy and received an honorary doctorate from the Open University, UK.

Barbara is supported in the project by Dr. Vivian Rath as RAPP Project Research Officer.

Contact Barbara

RAPP Project Research Officer – Dr Vivian Rath

Headshot of Vivian Rath in black and white with decorative elements to match the page banner.Vivian completed his Ph.D in Trinity College Dublin on the social engagement experiences of disabled students in higher education in Ireland. Prior to that he obtained a master’s in management from UCD Smurfit Business School where he researched the employment of graduates with disabilities. He is a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Disability Advisory Committee and acted as rapporteur for the IHREC reasonable accommodation in practice conference. He is an appointee to the National Disability Stakeholders Group. Vivian has worked in higher education for over ten years and is an adjunct teaching fellow in Trinity College Dublin where he lectures on disability and human rights. He received a TCD Equality Champion Award for his work promoting equality and diversity with the institution. He has extensive experience of empowering disabled people to access their right to education and employment opportunities.

Twitter: @RathVivian




Contact Vivian


RAPP project planning started in April 2021 and it is anticipated that the project will run until March 2022.

 Get Involved


How you can participate?

Over the coming months we will be hearing from different stakeholders involved in the professional placement process, including students, graduates, placement coordinators, higher and further education staff and many more.

If you are interested in participating in the research please refer to one of the below:


Disabled Student or Graduate

If you are a disabled student or graduate, have completed or attempted to complete a professional placement whilst on a higher or further education course and are interested in sharing your experiences please complete our Registration Form by clicking here.

Further Education Students can click on this Registration Form

Some examples of a professional work placement courses might include: Nursing/Midwifery Courses, Early Childhood Care, Pre-Teaching, Animal Care, Social Care/Work, Veterinary, Pharmacy Assistant, Horticulture. The work placement must have been an essential assessed or examined part of the course and was graded.

We want to hear from disabled students or disabled graduates of Further Education.

Higher Education Students

We are no longer accepting registrations from higher education students or graduates. But if you are really interested in contributing you can email Vivian Rath by clicking here.


What Happens if I participate in the Research?

If you are eligible to participate you will be asked to take part in a focus group about your professional placement experiences. The focus group will last approximately 50-90 minutes. If you cannot participate in a focus group we can discuss other ways you can participate including interviews or a survey. If you require any reasonable accommodations to enable you to fully engage with the research please don’t hesitate to tell us about them. It is important to us that your voice is heard.

Any information or data you share during this research will be treated sensitively and confidentially and, if published, the data will not be identifiably linked to any individual. Your participation is entirely voluntary and even if you agree to participate now you may withdraw at any time during the study.

If you have any questions please contact Vivian by clicking here.



AHEAD - Funded by the HEA

The core funding received by AHEAD for its higher education activities is provided by the Higher Education Authority.

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