Level the Playing Field for Aboriginal Students with Disability
Glenn Jones couldn't wait to get out of school, so returning to the classroom after 40 years wasn’t easy. Glenn had worked for 15 years in the mining industry driving heavy machinery. When Glenn’s left leg had to be amputated due to diabetes, he decided that he wanted to help others. Three months after the operation Glenn began a Certificate in Community Service at the Durack Institute of Technology in Geraldton.
Glenn had more time in hospital during his study. He says that Durack’s Aboriginal Liaison Officer and equity support services worked with him and his teachers to help him catch up.
Glenn wants to encourage other Aboriginal people with disability to consider study, and to use the supports for students with disability, medical and mental health conditions.
Many Aboriginal students do not access support, perhaps because they do not identify as having a disability. Damian Griffis, Chief Executive Officer of the First Peoples Disability Network (Australia) said: “This occurs for a range of reasons, including fear of discrimination and stigma. In traditional language there was no word for disability. Disability was viewed as part of the human experience, and that’s a positive on many levels”.
There may be a higher need for support for Aboriginal students. Damian Griffis said: “There is a significant under reporting of psychosocial disability throughout Aboriginal Australia”.
Damian and Glenn both see additional barriers for Aboriginal students. Being away from country and family supports “students can feel isolated in the tertiary environment, particularly if they do not have many other Aboriginal students around,” said Damian.
Damian Griffis spoke about the experience of Aboriginal students with disability at the PATHWAY12 conference held in Perth 3-5 December.
Pauline Pannell, Disability Officer, UniAccess: UWA's Disability Office