ADCET - a 'short' history
The birth of ADCET
Once upon a time, the National Clearinghouse on Education and Teaching for People with Disabilities (NCET) was created in 1999. The Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) provided a small grant of $75,000 in 1999 and $120,000 in 2000 under the Disability Initiatives Programme to Deakin University. This early pilot developed an initial website with some limited usage by practitioners and ended in 2001 due to challenges around financial viability.
However, in 2002, a tender by the University of Tasmania to DEST led to a renewed vision and a new project commenced with the key objective to provide a financially viable comprehensive, accessible, user-friendly website for the tertiary education disability sector that contains currently available, accurate, and up to date information relevant to the sector.
With recommendations from the project team, DEST accepted the strategic aims and objectives and endorsed the central focus for the newly named Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (ADCET). The new ADCET aimed to encourage equitable access to post-secondary education and training for people with disabilities through the following strategies:
- gather, evaluate, and disseminate research and other information for disability practitioners and students with disabilities, relating to inclusive teaching; assessment and learning strategies; support services and related areas including changes to legislation; policies and practice
- facilitate and promote professional development, information sharing, and research, amongst disability practitioners, teachers, and other professionals
- promote the long-term sustainability of the service through the development of partnerships with compatible organisations, subscription mechanisms, and sponsorship arrangements.
Initial activities included establishing a steering committee and advisory group, setting a strategic focus, recruiting a manager and additional support staff, adopting Web Accessibility standards, and starting the AustEd email list. It was funded through a subscription model to provide ongoing financial sustainability.
Establishing networks and projects
Apart from key sponsors of ADCET, which included DEST and the University of Tasmania, key partners included the Australian Learning Disability Association (ALDA) and the Australasian Network of Students with Disabilities (ANSWD).
In 2003, DEST funded ADCET to create a website to support a network of Regional Disability Liaison Officers (RDLOs) and Disability Coordination Officers (DCOs). RDLOs and DCOs supported people with disability moving from school into training and higher education and then into employment.
The ADCET website contained a range of resources and information such as preparation for post-school study and training, accessing technology, teaching support, legislation/policy, and careers/employment including news and events to keep audiences up to date. The website was evaluated and launched at the 2004 National Pathways Conference by Tony Payne, the then Manager of Student Services at the University of Tasmania. The evaluation was overwhelmingly in favour of ADCET continuing.
Between 2003 and 2008, ADCET created portals for networks and organisations across Australia. A flurry of information and resource portals were developed including:
- VET sector resources
- DCO portals in South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland
- Opening All Options for RDLO NSW
- an accessible teaching resource called Creating Accessible Teaching and Support (CATS)
- student support services information for the Australia New Zealand Student Services Association (ANZSSA)
- Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET)
- a mature student study portal for University of South Australia
- information for the ALDA
- Education to Employment Tasmania resource
- a practitioner portal for the VET sector called EdEquity
- an email list service for the Equal Opportunity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia (now Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia or EPHEA).
Much of the work developed for these organisations still exists today, redeveloped with new expertise, good practice, technology, and co-design with people with lived experience continuing to enhance content. Many of the organisations still exist and still work with ADCET in ongoing partnerships. The RDLO and DCO network, now the National Disability Coordination Officer (NDCO) Program, works closely with ADCET to develop and implement resources to support practitioners, educators, and students.
Professional development for practitioners and educators continues to be a crucial element of our work. With exponential increases in the number of people with disability in tertiary education ADCET has been in demand like never before.
The many ‘faces’ of ADCET
As technology, information, and practice change so does ADCET. The website has undergone a number of ‘facelifts’ over time and accessibility certainly looks more attractive today!
ADCET has always worked a little magic by producing significant outcomes with minimal amounts of funding. In 2007 DEST advised that the existing subscription model would be replaced with a three-year funding model under the Higher Education Disability Support Program (HEDSP).
The HEDSP, which includes ADCET, is enshrined in legislation under the Higher Education Support (Other Grants) Guidelines.
To promote equality of opportunity in higher education by providing information, advice, and online resources (including in a form able to be downloaded and used) through a website, hosted by a provider, to disability practitioners, teachers and students to promote inclusive teaching and learning practices for students with disability.
The key objectives outlined in this legislation continue to be at the core of ADCET’s work, with one difference ADCET also supports vocational education and training as well. Through a combination of core funding and support for special projects ADCET continues to ‘punch above its weight’ in developing quality resources. Staffing to oversee management of the program is provided through the NDCO program including additional funding for a National Assistive Technology Officer. Ongoing in-kind support from the University of Tasmania continues to be vital.
ADCET’s expertise and collaboration
It has been the expertise, passion and drive of ADCET staff that has really propelled ADCET as Australia’s leading resource on disability in tertiary education. In addition, ADCET’s approach has always involved on drawing on expertise from the sector.
It was Tony Payne, ADCET’s first manager, who saw its potential. As Manager, Student Services at the University of Tasmania Tony saw its inception from 2003 to 2005.
From 2013 onwards management of ADCET was undertaken by Darlene McLennan who had been working as an NDCO for Tasmania since 2005. Darlene has been in the ADCET manager role for almost 10 years.
"I was excited by the prospect of how ADCET could assist practitioners and educators to build and develop their practice to support students with disability in tertiary education. When I started there was such growth in the numbers of students with disability pursuing tertiary education and I am passionate about ensuring there are no barriers to their success. I feel proud of the role ADCET plays in influencing the national conversation and agenda to improve access, participation and success for students in tertiary education. ADCET provides a coordinated approach that works systemically and strategically in collaboration with the sector. Our recent work in developing accessible ICT procurement guides for the university sector is an example of the impact a coordinated national approach can make." Darlene reflected.
ADCET’s Project Coordinator Jane Hawkeswood holds the record for longest serving staff member and has been part of ADCET since its inception. Jane reminisces about her time with ADCET in the Disability Practitioner in the Spotlight series.
The current staff of ADCET are as committed and passionate as ever about tertiary education disability inclusion and include staff across Australia who work collaboratively to develop the essential resources for practitioners, teachers, and students.
There have also been a wide variety of consultants, experts and advisory committee members over the past 20 years, all providing their expertise in education, training and disability to the myriad of projects ADCET has developed. And importantly, people with disability are at the centre of our work and it has been essential to include these voices in our activities.
While the fundamental objective of ADCET remains to support staff who support students with disability to achieve their study and training goals the evolution of ADCET to grow and develop projects of strategic and national significance endures. ADCET continues to work with the Department of Education and our host institution the University of Tasmania, to support our stakeholders in the tertiary education sector towards full and authentic disability inclusion in tertiary education.
So watch this space!