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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training

Reasonable Adjustments and Specific Learning Disability

What are Reasonable Adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are designed to enable students to achieve their maximum potential within a framework of academic standards. According to the Disability Standards for Education (2005) a Reasonable Adjustment is a measure (or group of measures) implemented by an education provider to assist a student with a disability to apply, enrol and participate in a course or program on the same basis as a student without a disability. Reasonable adjustments also apply to ensuring students with a disability can participate in and utilise the facilities and services of the institution on the same basis as a person without a disability. Reasonable adjustments are regularly reviewed and adapted to meet the changing needs for participation across subject areas of a course.

What makes the adjustment reasonable?

An adjustment is reasonable if it balances the interests of all parties affected. To determine reasonableness the following are considered:

  • The students disability
  • The views of the student on what is required
  • The effect the adjustment will have on the students participation, outcomes and independence
  • The effect the adjustment will have on others, including academic staff and other students.

The role of experts in determining reasonable adjustments.

The Disability Standards for Education acknowledge that expert assessment is often required to guide the process of determining ‘reasonable adjustments’ – this is especially important in the area of specific learning disability as each person’s learning profile is unique to them. To standardise the type of reasonable adjustments provided to students with specific learning disabilities would result in some students benefiting and others being further excluded from participation.

Expert assessment to guide the implementation of reasonable adjustments is also imperative given learning difficulties are not always the result of neurological deficit and can instead be the result of difficult environment and life situations. Students who have gaps in foundation education can advance their academic abilities through bridging programs and / or foundation literacy courses, whereas students with specific learning disabilities will experience their learning difficulties across their lifespan.

Maintaining Academic Integrity

In determining a reasonable adjustment it is essential that the academic integrity of the course is maintained. This means that any adaptations made to the course, course content and assessment procedures in the process of accommodating a student’s learning differences, cannot water down the required academic and / or practical learning to be demonstrated by the student. When determining reasonable adjustments the process must include input from academics or teachers who understand the inherent requirements of the course.

Reasonable Adjustments for Specific Learning Disabilities

Reasonable adjustments that are typically seen on educational assessments for students with a diagnosed SLD include one or more of the following:

  • Additional time to complete exams and / or multiple choice exams.
  • Reader and / or a scribe in exams or use of Assistive Technology in an exam environment.
  • Leniency on spelling and grammar errors in exam situations.
  • Provision and tutoring of a specific software program.
  • Extensions to course work due dates.
  • Dot point assignments marked for content rather that structure when writing a report or essay is not inherent to the unit of study.
  • One on one academic skills tutoring.
  • Provision of audio recorded lectures or permission to audio record lectures.
  • Extended loans for library resources.
  • Class handouts / lecture presentations provided online prior to the scheduled class.
  • Choice in assessment type i.e. oral presentation, slide presentation, portfolio or project.
  • Opportunity to submit a draft for feedback and guidance.
  • Audio or word processed feedback comments from the lecturer / tutor.

What might be considered unreasonable

In determining whether an adjustment is reasonable, the factors in the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Sect, 3.4.2) are considered. This includes any effect the proposed adjustment will have on the education provider, staff and other students, and the costs and benefits of making the adjustment. It is also imperative that the principles of assessment - validity, fairness, reliability and flexibility are maintained. Where reasonable adjustments result in unfair advantage to one or more students, subsequent disadvantage will occur for other students. In this situation the award being conferred can be invalidated. The following are examples of unreasonable adjustments:

  • The provision of unlimited time in examinations. The amount of additional time allowed must be justifiable based on the nature and degree of the individual’s difficulties. 
  • Reduced workloads are viewed as lowering standards and expectations. In contrast adjusting the mode of the assessed task is reasonable in situations where the original assessment task format was not inherent to the knowledge and skills required to succeed in the unit of study.
  • Extreme demands on lecturer / tutor time can also be considered unreasonable and must be determined in consultation with lecturers in the planning of reasonable adjustments.
  • Provision of reasonable adjustments where there is no evidence base. Students who receive support through reasonable adjustments have a responsibility of disclosure and must provide authentic documentation such as the Educational Psychologist assessment that outlines explicitly the specific learning disability and recommended adjustments.

Strategies for learning vs Reasonable Adjustments

Strategies for learning provided through consultation with a disability practitioner or academic are not a reasonable adjustments. For example, recommending and demonstrating how to use Assistive Technology such as voice to text software is an academic strategy and not a reasonable adjustment provided by the education provider. It becomes a reasonable adjustment when the software used has been provided to the student by the education provider and / or tutoring is provided in the use of the software.