To investigate the effectiveness of the Professional Planning programme for students with disabilities on professional nursing and midwifery programme

Principal Investigator

Declan Treanor, Disability Service Director, Disability Service, Trinty College Dublin.


Research Aim

The aim of this research is to investigate the effectiveness of the professional planning programme for students with disabilities in professional nursing and midwifery programmes.

The objectives of this research are to:

  1. Explore the professional planning programme for students with disabilities on professional nursing & midwifery courses and determine work-based reasonable accommodations that are required to enable students to actively participate in professional courses.
  2. Test the professional placement planning process in the workplace and review issues arising for students, Practice Educators, and Disability & Unilink Staff.
  3. Explore the organisational, practical, and procedural barriers to support and attitudes toward reasonable accommodations that emerge in the course of this study.
  4. Review ‘Disclosure of Disability’ pathways in the practice education environment from the perspective of the student and the Practice Educators.
  5. Utilize the findings to adapt and develop the model of support, structures, and systems for students with disabilities on placement considering the needs of all stakeholders are met.



The number of students with disabilities accessing Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), including professional courses has increased substantially internationally. Supporting disabled students on professional placement and identifying fit-for-purpose clinical reasonable accommodations is identified as the next frontier for the Disability Service nationally and internationally. Disability Service providers in Universities in the provision of academic reasonable accommodations have developed significant expertise and experience but little significant developments have evolved in the professional placement arena (Andre and Manson, 2004). Ethical conflicts arise between disclosure of disability and fitness to practice for disabled students and equality legislation that governs Universities that firmly support the inclusion of this student cohort. Lack of awareness of the needs of disabled students along with cultural and psychological barriers within professions leads to inconsistent support systems ultimately leading to a negative experience for some disabled students.

As part of the evolving disability service provision in Trinity College Dublin, a needs assessment programme for students with disabilities on professional courses has been developed with placement planning to support students to develop self-management strategies and managing their disability whilst still performing and meeting the core competencies as a student on professional placement.  The programme involves student engagement at a number of levels, needs assessment (with Disability Officer), self-assessment for placement disability issues (with Occupational Therapist – up to 3 meetings), and formal placement planning stage (with Disability Officer, the School and work placement educator). The final stage is a review of placement reasonable accommodations with the Occupational Therapist at stages throughout placement and in advance of the next placement.

The aim of the programme is to develop a structured format in which the Disability Officer, the OT, and the Student can work collaboratively within a transformational framework to develop self-management strategies that can contribute to their effective disability management in the workplace.  The purpose of this research study is to evaluate the effectiveness of this programme for students attending the Disability & Unilink Service using a three-pronged approach to investigate the effectiveness from the perspectives of the student, the Disability Officer/Occupational Therapists, and the Placement Educators.

Research approach

A tri-pronged approach was taken to the research involving three separate strands; firstly, a strand related to answering student-related research questions, secondly, a strand related to answering the professional educator placement staff-related research questions and thirdly a strand related to answering the Disability Service staff (including Occupational Therapists) research questions.  The student strand involved the use of a convergent parallel mixed methods (Creswell, 2013) approach to gathering data through the use of qualitative and quantitative methods.  A qualitative design was used to gather data from the Disability Officers and Occupational Therapists within the Disability Service and Practice Educators, to inform the development of the programme.   A pragmatic approach was chosen to explore if the programme was of benefit to the individual within the real-world context of the college environment in which the service is based.  Consistent with this pragmatic approach, a mixed methods design was selected to address the research problems.

Disability Service Strategy 2009-2014 phase alignment: Phase 2 & 3
Level of research: Ph.D. in Occupational Therapy
Supervisor: Dr. Siobhan Mac Cobb
Stage of research: Year one, 2013-2014