Describing course requirements is the role of teaching staff. However, it is useful for disability practitioners to be able to identify how the course can be described in a way that will assist students with disability in understanding the course and determining what type of ‘reasonable adjustments’ they may need. Essentially, the answers to the following two questions need to be clearly identified:
- What are the key learning objectives?
- How will students demonstrate achievement of these learning objectives?
It is also useful to clarify whether the course uses any particular methods of instruction such as online tasks or fieldwork, and whether there are specific forms of assessment or requirements, e.g. attendance requirements.
Many courses list multiple requirements covering a broad range of learning objectives. The following questions can assist in identifying which course requirements are essential:
- Would the learning outcomes be substantially changed if a particular requirement were removed or substituted?
- Is there any particular impact from the requirement on people with disability? e.g. Participation in field trips may be more difficult for a student who uses a wheelchair.
- Have changing circumstances, practices or technology made a previous requirement redundant? e.g. The capacity to physically lift a patient is no longer required by nurses because lifting aids are now available.
- Could the learning objective be achieved by an alternative requirement that would have a less discriminatory impact? e.g. Could students complete an oral viva rather than a written paper in order to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic?
- What is the pedagogical purpose behind a particular requirement, how does it achieve that purpose and are there other ways of achieving this? e.g. Are formal examinations the best or only method to assess particular learning outcomes?
- If a requirement involves a particular skill, is it the actual skill that is required or is it the application of knowledge to the task? e.g. Is it necessary for a chemist to conduct an experimental procedure rather than have the knowledge to instruct another person to do so?
- Are there alternative ways that students could demonstrate that they meet the learning outcomes? e.g. Time-limited exams require students to work under pressure in addition to them demonstrating their knowledge.
It is good practice to state within the course outline whether the course content meets universal design principles. Indicating whether videos are captioned and/or transcriptions will be available, websites meet accessibility standards and resources are in accessible formats allows students to identify any further preparations which may be required.
Inherent Requirements and Reasonable Adjustments
Students with disability may negotiate reasonable adjustments which do not undermine the core/inherent requirements of a course. The decision about what constitutes the essential elements of a unit/course is a matter of academic judgement and must be justified on other than historical or employment based grounds. Requirements imposed by external agencies (e.g. professional bodies, registration boards, external fieldwork agencies etc.) can only be considered to be inherent requirements if they are also considered by the institution as essential to the course itself.
Determining what is a inherent requirement is often difficult. However, understanding inherent requirements assists in ensuring that any reasonable adjustments made do not affect academic standards. Inherent requirements must be reasonable and staff should carefully consider whether alternative approaches to achieving learning objectives are possible and seek expert advice if necessary before coming to a decision.
Students are expected to understand the impact of their disability and negotiate reasonable adjustments in a timely manner; disability practitioners can assist students and staff in this process. Invite and encourage students early to make contact with disability practitioners and academic staff to discuss their learning support needs and any adjustments and/or services they require. This will provide the opportunity to make preparations in advance, if necessary.
Refer to Reasonable Adjustments in Disability Practitioner section for more information.
What if a student is not able to meet the inherent course requirements?
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 affected1.
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’. 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.
1 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