The Disability Standards for Education are subordinate legislation to the DDA and education providers must comply with them. They aim to clarify the legal obligations in relation to education. If an education provider acts in accordance with the standards, they are deemed to have complied with the Act.
However, the measures may not cover all eventualities and compliance with them may not be sufficient to prevent discrimination. Compliance with the measures is not required if legal obligation can be met in other ways.
What do the Standards include?
The Standards are divided into five sections:
- Curriculum Development, Accreditation and Delivery
- Student Support Services
- Elimination of Harassment and Victimisation
and are accompanied by Guidance Notes which are intended to assist in interpreting them.
The Standards cover:
- rights of students in relation to education and training
- responsibilities of education providers
- measures which if implemented will be evidence of compliance and provide a defence against litigation.
The effect of the Standards is to give students with disabilities and prospective students with disabilities the right to education and training opportunities on the same basis as students without disabilities. This includes the right to comparable access to services and facilities and the right to participate in education and training unimpeded by discrimination, including stereotyped beliefs about the abilities and choices of students with disabilities.
What do the Standards require
The DDA through the Disability Standards for Education requires institutions to take reasonable steps to enable the student with a disability to participate in education on the same basis as a student without a disability, and specifically to ensure that:
- curriculum, teaching materials and assessment and certification requirements for the course or program are appropriate to the needs of the student and accessible to him or her
- course delivery modes and learning activities (including those not occurring in a classroom) take account of the learning capacities and needs of the student and are sufficiently flexible for the student to be able to participate
- where a course includes an activity in which the student cannot participate, an alternative activity is offered that provides an equivalent experience within the context of the overall aims of the course
- study materials are available in an appropriate format for the student and the student is not disadvantaged by the time taken for any conversion that is required
- teaching strategies are adjusted to meet the learning needs of the student and address any disadvantage in the student’s learning that results from his or her disability. This includes the provision of additional support or the development of disability-specific skills
- assessment procedures are adapted to enable the student to demonstrate the knowledge, skills or competencies being assessed.
Universities are also required to take reasonable steps to ensure that a student with disability is able to participate and use facilities and services on the same basis as a student without disability.
What is a "Reasonable Adjustment"
An adjustment is reasonable if it balances the interests of all parties affected so in assessing whether a particular adjustment is reasonable consideration should be given to:
- the student’s disability and his/her views
- the effect of the adjustment on the student, including effect on his/her ability to achieve learning outcomes, participate in courses or programs and achieve independence
- the effect of the proposed adjustment on anyone else affected, including the education provider, staff and other students and
- the costs and benefits of making the adjustment.
As a result, what constitutes "reasonable" varies on a case by case basis and the balance is sometimes difficult to strike. However, it is clear that education providers are not required to lower academic standards or disregard the needs staff or other students. In more complex cases discussion with the disability service will be useful. It may be useful to examine previous judgements in relation to the DDA.
The Standards also require universities to develop and implement strategies and programs to prevent harassment or victimisation of students with disability. Specifically, universities must:
- enable a prospective student to seek admission to, and enrol in, the university without undue difficulty
- make information that addresses the needs of students with disabilities accessible to them in a range of formats - within a reasonable time frame and in a way that enables them to make informed choices about course selection and progression
- consult with the student, review her/his course in the light of this information and implement any reasonable adjustments required. (In making adjustments, universities should maintain the integrity of the course and assessment requirements and processes)
- provide additional support to the student and, where necessary, assist him or her to achieve intended learning outcomes
- inform staff and students about the obligation not to harass or victimise students with disabilities, take appropriate action if harassment or victimisation occurs and provide complaint mechanisms for students
- ensure that staff are aware of the specialised services available and are able to assist the student to access such services
- provide specialised services for the student, where necessary, including collaborative arrangements with specialised service providers
- provide any necessary specialised equipment to support the student in participating in the course or program
- provide appropriately trained support staff, such as interpreters, note-takers and aides, to ensure equitable access to education.
Report released on the Review of the Disability Standards for Education
In August 2012 the final report of the Review of the Disability Standards for Education was released by the Hon Jacinta Collins, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations. The report is based on analysis of 200 submissions and meetings with around 150 stakeholders representing 80 organisations. The Review found that although the Standards provide a good framework for enabling students to access and participate in education, more work needs to be done to ensure the Standards are implemented effectively. The report makes14 recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Standards.
Government's Response to the report on the Review of the Disability Standards for Education
The Australian Government's Response to the report was released simultaneously. In its response the Australian Government welcomed the findings of the report and committed to working collaboratively with state and territory governments and education providers to address the report's findings. In its response the Government says that while it, "supports in principle a number of the recommendations relating to revising the Standards, any decisions about changes to the Standards will be deferred until after the outcomes of the project to consolidate Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws are clear."