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 Reasonable Accommodation and Professional Placement (RAPP) project is a joint research project between AHEAD and DAWN and supported by the HEA.  

The research is being undertaken following the identification, by AHEAD and DAWN, of 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.

AHEAD research highlights that student with disabilities are significantly underrepresented on higher education courses in the fields of ‘Health and Welfare’ and ‘Education’.  While many professional bodies in these fields have commitments to equality and diversity within their professional standards, staff in higher education and placement provision have expressed concerns about adjusting assessment of competence/learning outcomes within these standards.   

There are many ways to contribute to or get involved in this research. Please see further down the page how you can get involved.  

If you have any questions or would like more information please don’t hesitate to contact the project research officer.

What's Happening Now in the Project?

Staff Consultation Workshops

RAPP - Join Our Staff Consultation Workshops Poster

 Professional Body Consultations


The research team is keen to speak to representatives of professional bodies. Professional bodies have a significant role in the setting, management and oversight of professional competency standards as part of professional placements that disabled students undertake whilst in further and higher education. 

So far, the project has seen significant engagement with many of the professional bodies from across the teaching, nursing and medical professions. These contributions have been extremely valuable and will act to inform the development of guidelines on reasonable accommodations in professional placements. 

Are you involved in a professional body and want to hear more about the project or would like to get involved, then please email the Project Lead Barbara.  

 Student Voice


Hearing the Student Voice is central to the RAPP project. Students will be involved from beginning to the end of the project and USI (Union of Students’ in Ireland) have a representative on the main project steering committee. This committee oversees the RAPP project. Thus, ensuring that the student voice is included in all the main decisions. 

Student Interviews and Focus Groups

The first phase of the research heard what disabled students had to say. From July to September 2021 current students or graduates with a disability in Further and Higher Education were interviewed about their experiences of engaging with professional placements and reasonable accommodations. Participants made a huge contribution to the research and were open and honest about their experiences. The valuable insights and lived experience shared by participants will go forward to developing a set of guidelines, and to informing the next phase of the research. 

I want to get involved

Although we are no longer accepting student participants from Higher Education. We would really like to hear from disabled students in Further Education who have completed professional work placements. 

Further Education Students can click on this Registration Form to get involved in the RAPP project.

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. 

 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

 Project Aims & Method



  • 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 research will focus on four subject-based professional areas:

  •     Teaching (Primary & Secondary)
  •     Nursing (Midwifery, General, Mental Health)
  •     Other Health Professions (Medicine, Occupational Therapy, Dietetics, Pharmacy)
  •     Further Education (Professional Disciplines)

The Project has a four phased qualitative research design aimed at hearing the voice of key stakeholders engaged in professional placement and reasonable accommodation in Further and Higher Education.

Consultation Phases

  • Hearing the Student Voice - Complete
  • Staff Consultation Workshops - Seeking Participants Now

Investigative Research Interviewing

  • Professional Bodies - Seeking Participants 
  • Quality Management and other Stakeholder Feedback - Seeking Participants

A Steering Group has been established to oversee the project. This is led by AHEAD and DAWN (Disability Advisors Working Network), with representation from USI, faculty members from health and education and national stakeholder representatives. 


Stakeholder Feedback

The final phase of the research will take place in the first quarter of 2022. Following the data collection, a set of draft guidelines will be produced. These guidelines will be brought forward to the Steering Committee and the Student Voice participants, HEA Quality Managers and other stakeholders for feedback.  

Additional updates will be added to this page 

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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