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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training

Disability Practitioner in Tertiary Education

Welcome to the Opening All Options pages for disability practitioners. The information provided in the following sections are a compilation of updated information from the previous version of Opening all Options, along with information and guidance notes gathered through consultation with disability practitioners working across post-secondary education. The information provided also reflects the voice of students who have specific learning disability (SLD) who are, or have, studied at the post-secondary level.

One of the strongest messages that Disability Practitioners share is that while students presenting with indicators of SLD is one of the fastest growing cohorts of students accessing disability services; specific knowledge and understanding of SLD and its many profiles -  by practitioners who are new to the education context, is often non-existent or minimal. Australia has been very slow to recognise SLD and people with an SLD are often not included or supported through disability services outside of education. It is therefore expected that even the most experienced disability practitioner who is new to the education context, will feel like a novice when they begin to encounter the complexities associated with supporting students with SLD. In saying this, students with SLD also tell us that one of the most important factors to their retention, engagement and success in education, is developing a strong and productive working relationship with a disability practitioner who is open to learning about the lived experience of specific learning disability in the context of education and learning.

Opening all Options has been redeveloped to assist disability practitioners to:

  • Develop a sound understanding of Specific Learning Disability,
  • Recognise and assess for indicators of Specific Learning Disability,
  • Make appropriate referral for formal assessment of Specific Learning Disability,
  • Ensure formal assessments include personalised and useful recommendations that harness the students learning strengths and reduce barriers impacted by learning difficulties
  • Make connections between specific profiles of SLD and the academic difficulties that can present in the education context,
  • Work with the student and educators to determine effective and sustainable reasonable adjustments that align with student strengths while also maintaining the course integrity,
  • Support students to develop academic and learning strategies that promote independence,
  • Support students to explore and use Assistive Technologies where appropriate
  • Recognise and seek out the practice knowledge that exists across the post-secondary education disability networks,
  • Recognise the lived experience of students with SLD and harness the student’s knowledge of what works for them to build understanding and interventions.

The disability practitioner has a core purpose of assisting students who experience disability, to access, fully participate in and succeed within their chosen area of study in tertiary education. In line with this responsibility the disability practitioners across TAFE’s and Universities in Australia are acutely aware of the disability legislation that frames their role within tertiary education, with particular emphasis to the Disability Discrimination Act 2002 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (subordinate legislation and subject to the objects of the Act).

The legislative aspect of the disability practitioners role is twofold, first is to ensure, as far as practicable, that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law in the area of education and training as the rest of the community. Second to ensure that no practices of the education provider positions the institution in jeopardy of breaching their legislative requirements and obligations. An education provider complies with their legislative obligations if they follow an established process (outlined within the Education Standards 2005) of consulting with all students with a disability, assessing and determining whether reasonable adjustments are required to facilitate access on the same basis as students without a disability, identifying and implementing the determined reasonable adjustment and reviewing and repeating this process continually as the needs of the students change over time.