Identifying Student Requirements and Making Reasonable Adjustments
The support requirements for students with disability should be established soon after enrolment to ensure, as far as possible, that the student is able to complete the course. Students should be advised that delay in making their requirements known may result in services not being available on time. Depending on the situation, notification of the lecturer may be sufficient, but it may be necessary to notify the disability adviser or administration. Notification of disability is usually required if students seek reasonable adjustments to their educational program. Once the implications of the student's disability have been clarified you can discuss any adjustments to the course design or delivery that may be required.
The DDA Disability Standards for Education allow for detailed assessment that might include an independent expert assessment in order to determine what adjustments are necessary for a student. Students are generally required to demonstrate or supply certification of the functional implications of their disability (rather than the details of the disability itself) to inform the provision of support services and adjustments. This can then inform the development of a Learning Action Plan or similar tool.
The post-secondary institution should implement procedures to ensure that:
- documentation is sought only when needed
- verification processes are equitable
- student privacy is protected
- relevant information is subsequently disseminated (with student permission) to staff who need it; this assists in ensuring students are not required to repeat the verification process.
If there is an indication that a student may have a disability that is impacting on their studies, there may be the requirement to undertake reasonable adjustments. Reasonable adjustments refer to a “measure or action taken to assist a student with disability to participate in education and training on the same basis as other students”1. An adjustment is considered reasonable if it achieves this purpose while taking into account student's learning needs and balancing the interests of all parties affected including those of the student with disability, the education provider, staff and other students. The Disability Discrimination Act (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. An adjustment is reasonable if it balances the interests of all parties affected.2
Reasonable adjustments can encompass a range of areas including the physical environment, teaching delivery and format, utilisation of assistance equipment and reduction of study load. They are based on reducing the impact of the student’s disability on their studies. Examples of adjustments include:
- provision of information or course materials in accessible format, e.g. a text book in in braille
- changes in teaching practices, e.g. wearing an FM microphone to enable a student to hear lectures
- supply of specialised equipment or services, e.g. a notetaker for a student who cannot write
- changes in lecture schedules and arrangements, e.g. relocating classes to an accessible venue
- changes to course design, e.g. substituting an assessment task
- modifications to physical environment, e.g. installing lever taps, building ramps, installing a lift
- modifications to computer equipment in the library
Reasonable Adjustments and Assessments
Reasonable adjustments in the context of assessments should be made flexibly, as the result of negotiation between the teaching staff, disability service staff and the student, and in consideration of the following:
- The impact the disability on the assessment
- The nature of the assessment task, including the skills and abilities required
- The nature of the course or subject; what skills and knowledge does the particular subject demand and in what ways does the student’s disability impact on their capacity to demonstrate them?
- The student’s usual work methods which should be available during assessment activities
The aim is to ensure that there no other reasonable adjustments that would be less disruptive and intrusive and no less beneficial for the student. As a result, what constitutes "reasonable" varies on a case by case basis and the balance is sometimes difficult to strike. Alternative assessment minimises the impact of students’ disabilities on their performance and allows the marker to see beyond the disability to the student’s knowledge and skills. It is designed to place students with disability on a more equal footing, and not to give them any kind of advantage. These alternative assessment approaches are often more effective when they are offered to the whole class rather than just the student with disability, possibly as a "smorgasbord" from which the student is required to choose say three:
- oral presentations or viva voce exams
- additional assignments and coursework
- dot-point assignments marked for content rather than for structure
- multiple-choice questions
- practical demonstrations or production of models or displays
- class presentations or role plays
- alternative or supplementary assignments such as taped interviews, slide presentations, photographic essays or hand-made models
- a combination of any of the above
Alternative assessment should aim to simultaneously respect the student’s learning needs, defend academic integrity, and promote equity and consistency for all. 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.
What if a student is not be able to meet the core course requirements?
Students should be given as much information as possible to enable them to make an informed decision about whether they can undertake a course with or without reasonable adjustments. Ensure that the core requirements are are clearly stated. This makes it easier to determine the reasonableness of any requests for adjustments that may be required.
The academic standards of the unit/course should not be lowered in order to accommodate the needs of any student but there is a requirement to be flexible in relation to the way in which it is delivered or assessed. The Disability Standards for Education requires institutions to take reasonable steps to enable the student with disability to participate in education on the same basis as a student without disability. An adjustment is reasonable if it balances the interests of all parties affected.
After reasonable adjustments have been negotiated a student and/or teaching staff/disability practitioners may believe the student will be unable to participate successfully in a course due to the impact of their disability. In this situation, teaching staff should consult with disability practitioners so that the student can be advised of these concerns and may decide not to enrol in the course as a result. If the student decides to continue with the enrolment in this context, they may fail the course as a result of being unable to meet the course requirements, despite the provision of ‘reasonable adjustments’. The student may be able to complete an alternative course of study more appropriate to their abilities. Your organisation's disability service can assist in making this assessment.
What if I believe a student will not be able to be registered or employed?
It is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) for a post secondary education provider to refuse to admit a person to a course on the basis that the person is unlikely or unable to gain work because of their disability. A qualification may lawfully be withheld if the person’s disability means that inherent requirements of the profession or trade cannot be met3, but educational authorities are not permitted to pre-empt this. If the student’s enrolment raises legitimate safety concerns, the institutions policies may prevent the student from enrolling on that basis. Remember, it must be demonstrated that there has been have consultation with the student, all possible adjustments have been considered and expert assistance in coming to a decision has been sought.
Because of your knowledge of the profession you may be aware of limitations of opportunities for students with disability. It may be useful to discuss this with them and provide information that can help them make an informed decision about their future. The disability service may also assist the student to meet their career goals, and may know of other students with disability working in their chosen field illustrating the professional versatility and diversity of people with disability. If a student undertaking studies in a health field has an impairment (includes physical, mental and substance abuse or dependency) that affects or is likely to affect their ability to practice, there may be legal requirements regarding reporting and/or facilitating the safe practice of the student; it is best to undertake discussions with the Disability Services, faculty, registration body and student regarding this.
1 Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) 2013. Student Diversity. Accessed on 12 November 2014. Sourced from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/studentdiversity/students-with-disability
2 Commonwealth of Australia (2005). Australian Government Factsheet 2: Disability Standards for Education 2005. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Retrieved from https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/dse-fact-sheet-2-dse.pdf
3 Commonwealth of Australia (2006). Disability Standards for Education 2005 Plus Guidance Notes. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Retrieved from https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/disability_standards_for_education_2005_plus_guidance_notes.pdf (Refer to Section 19 of the DDA Act)