Supporting students with disability

The Disability Resource Centre can provide you, as a staff member, with information and support on a range of issues related to working with students with disability.

For example, Disability Liaison Officers can help you with information, advice and support on:

Practical strategies for minimising the impacts of disability for your students, in the classroom and on field trips and placements

There are many things you can do as a staff member to reduce the impacts of disability for your students. The following paragraphs on reasonable adjustments and communication will give you good insights.

Field trips and placements can often bring new accessibility issues and needs for further arrangements. Here are a few actions you can take as a staff member when it comes to field trips and placements:

  • Make students aware of off-campus activities as early as possible, so students with disability can plan ahead if they need to arrange for an academic support worker or assistive technology.
  • Encourage and provide opportunities for students to discuss any concerns they may have.
  • Consider any accessibility issues at off-campus locations and make students aware of any possible issues.
  • Make sure assessment criteria and expectations are clear in relation to placements.
  • Where you are aware of a student's disability-related needs, consult with them in finding an appropriate placement and work with them to consider any necessary adjustments (e.g. altered work hours, assistive technology, issues with physical access).
  • In some circumstances a student may choose not to disclose their disability to the provider. Be aware of a student's privacy in relation to the information you give to a placement provider. Contact the DRC for advice.

Implementing reasonable adjustments for a particular student's study

'Adjustments' are actions that will assist a student with disability to overcome the impacts of their disability. The adjustments might be modifications to the physical environment, course design, equipment or teaching practice or materials.

Assessing whether adjustments are 'reasonable' is about balancing such things as the student's disability, views and needs, the effects of the adjustment (e.g. on other students) and the cost of making the adjustment. Many adjustments require minimal effort and have little impact on others. Some are more complex.

Reasonable adjustments also need to be made to assessments and examinations. Alternative assessment arrangements must be made between you and the student.

If a student feels that adjustments that are reasonable have not been made, they are entitled to make a complaint of discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act. If the Disability Resource Centre or a student has proposed an adjustment that you feel compromises the course academic standards or is otherwise not reasonable, seek advice from the Disability Resource Centre.

Working and communicating with students with disability

Some students may feel uncomfortable about telling you that they have a disability that is impacting on their studies. Some may not be aware that services and supports are available. You can assist by giving students frequent opportunities to talk about the likely impact of disability and their needs, in private and with confidence.

For example, you could mention in the first class that there is a disability service available, and that students can feel free to come and talk with you about disability-related needs. If you think a student might have disability that is affecting their studies, you could initiate a conversation by asking them how they are going and whether there is anything that could be done to enable them to complete the course.

General communication tips:
  • If a student wants to discuss their needs with you, make a time and arrange to meet where you will not be interrupted and can talk in private.
  • Respect privacy and autonomy. Remember that you do not necessarily need to know the name of the disability; you need to know the impact on the student's study.
  • Stay within your role and capabilities; you are not their counselor or doctor. Refer the student to the Disability Resource Centre to access services, or to other support services if appropriate.
  • Don't be afraid to refer to the person's disability. If you are worried about how to do this or what terminology to use, ask them what they prefer.
  • Keep notes of what arrangements have been negotiated, and consider confirming them in an email so that you and the student are 'on the same page'.

Inclusive teaching and assessment strategies that can benefit all students

The more inclusive our teaching, the less adjustments are needed. Inclusive teaching practices increase our flexibility to accommodate a range of student needs, and this means fewer special adjustments will need to be made for a particular student. Universities are not required to lower the academic standards of their courses, and students must be able to satisfy the inherent requirements of a course.

If you think a student may benefit from disability services and supports, ask them to contact us.

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