All students with disability have the right to access and participate in education and training on the same basis as other students and without discrimination. All education providers have obligations to ensure rights to access education and training are upheld including ensuring the learning environment is free from discrimination, harassment, or victimisation. It’s unfortunate that discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of disability is still an issue in tertiary education (as it is in the broader community).
There is legislation and guidelines in place to help disability practitioners, educators and other staff within tertiary education environments to create and foster learning environments which are inclusive of people with disability and discrimination free.
Legislation and Standards
There are a range of compliance instruments that tertiary education providers must uphold in order to meet their compliance obligations:
- The Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards ) 2021 (HESF) which is overseen by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and governs Higher Education providers. It includes specific reference to equity and diversity (Section 2.2), and provision of mechanisms for student grievances and complaints (Section 2.4). Guidance notes from TEQSA around the HESF Domain 2 covers these areas and can be found on their website.
- The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) regulates the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector and includes Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015 . These Standards form part of the VET Quality Framework, a system which ensures the integrity of nationally recognised qualifications. Under Standard 6 complaints and appeals must be recording, acknowledged, and dealt with fairly, efficiently and effectively.
Both TEQSA and ASQA require compliance of tertiary education providers to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) (DDA) and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (DSE). These two documents, working together, provide students with disability protection from discrimination based on disability that education providers must meet.
Disability Standards for Education
The DSE requires educational providers to develop and implement strategies and programs to prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation of students with disability. Specifically, providers must:
- enable a prospective student to seek admission to and enrol in the provider, without undue difficulty
- make information that addresses the needs of students with disability accessible to them in a range of formats within a reasonable timeframe. This information should enable people with disability to make informed choices about course selection and progression
- consult with the student, review their course in the light of disclosure of disability and implement any reasonable adjustments required whilst maintaining academic integrity
- provide additional support to the student and, where necessary, assist them to achieve intended learning outcomes
- inform staff and students about the obligation not to discriminate, harass or victimise students with disability, take appropriate action if discrimination, harassment or victimisation occurs and provide complaint mechanisms for students
- ensure that staff are aware of the specialised services available and can assist the student to access such services
- provide specialised services for the student, where necessary, including collaborative arrangements with specialised service providers
- provide any necessary specialised equipment to support the student in participating in their course or program
- provide appropriately trained support staff including interpreters, note-takers, and aides, to ensure equitable access to education.
Requests for adjustments to standard assessment practice may occur for students for whom the course design does not automatically provide full access. Reasonable adjustments refer to a ‘measure or action taken to assist a student with disability to participate in education and training on the same basis as other students’1. Further information on the Disability Standards for Education.
An adjustment is considered reasonable if it achieves this purpose while taking into account students’ learning needs and balancing the interests of all parties affected, including those of the student with disability, the education provider, staff and other students. Refer to Reasonable Adjustment for further information.
Strategies for tertiary education providers to prevent discrimination
There are some key strategies that tertiary education providers can put in place to ensure staff are supporting students with disability appropriately. Students with disability should have easy access to information about their rights and obligations, and how to make a complaint about discrimination, harassment, or victimisation without difficulty.
A useful way to review your institution’s compliance with the DDA and DSE is to ask some key questions about anti-discrimination measures within your institution. The compliance checklist below acts as an auditing tool to assist tertiary education providers.
Does your institution have policy settings to support disability inclusion such as:
- a current Disability Inclusion Action Plan (which is recorded on the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) Register of Disability Discrimination Act Action Plans register )
- policies which include rights and responsibilities such as code of conduct for students and staff
- a code of conduct which explicitly mentions refraining from discrimination, harassment, and/or victimisation, including based on disability (as outlined in the DDA)
- policies related to social justice such as equal opportunity, equity and diversity and/or disability underpinned by relevant Federal and State anti-discrimination legislation including the DDA and/or other state or territory human rights legislation
- policies and procedures related to disability including reference to reasonable adjustments and underpinned by the DDA and DSE
- policies and procedures which support people with disability in employment including reasonable adjustments, workplace support, health and safety support.
Does your institution have complaints mechanisms such as:
- policies and procedures on making a complaint of discrimination, harassment, or victimisation which are easy to find, in plain English and accessible
- dedicated staff who manage discrimination complaints and/or a network of contact officers to assist with inquiries and referrals
- referral processes between complaints staff/networks and key student services especially disability services, counselling, teaching and learning areas, and frontline staff
- complaints processes which take a trauma-informed approach to managing complaints
- feedback mechanisms for students who have made complaints to provide feedback on their experiences with complaints processes and services.
Awareness and training strategies
Does your institution have:
- information for prospective students with disability about supports
- information for prospective staff with disability about supports
- information/awareness campaigns which are promoted at key points within the student’s learning journey e.g., enrolment, orientation, embedded in course information etc
- information/awareness campaigns which are promoted to staff at key points in their employment e.g., onboarding, professional development programs or performance planning
- information/awareness campaigns for students and staff with disability about the provider's complaints processes which is easy to find, in plain English, and accessible.
Does your institution have professional development, information and/or resources for staff on:
- disability awareness and inclusion
- their responsibilities under discrimination legislation especially the DDA and the DSE
- inclusive teaching strategies, Universal Design (in teaching, built environment, digital accessibility), and reasonable adjustments in education and employment
- their responsibilities under discrimination policies and procedures within the institution
- how to refer, manage and/or support students or staff who have complaints of discrimination, harassment, or victimisation (including trauma-informed approaches).
Resources to help prevent discrimination
Developing Disability Inclusion Action Plans
The DDA requires that people with disabilities be given equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to the full range of social, political, and cultural activities. A Disability Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP) is a strategic document which identifies ways to make systemic changes to eliminating disability discrimination. A DIAP also identifies any structural barriers to full participation of people with disability in education and employment through practical changes which foster inclusive strategies around teaching and learning, built environment, digital accessibility, and cultural change.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has information on developing a DIAP and a register where organisations are encouraged to register their Plan. You may find some good examples to borrow from for your own organisation and there are some additional resources below to access when developing or revising your Action Plan.
Information on awareness and training
Professional development for staff on how to support people with disability in education and employment is a crucial step in developing a disability confident workplace. Below are a range of disability awareness programs that tertiary education institutions can embed into their professional development programs. ADCET, in partnership with the NDCO program, has developed free disability awareness eLearning training.
There are five eLearning programs that are free for individuals to undertake online.
(The following links will redirect you to an external website)
- Introduction to Disability Awareness
- Online Access for Tertiary Students who are Blind or Vision Impaired
- UDL in Tertiary Education
- VET Staff Supporting Students with Disability
- VET Educators Supporting Students with Disability
Alternatively, institutions can request SCORM files in order to embed these programs into your own professional development learning platforms.
Further professional development resources on the ADCET website
- Professional Development
- Information on Inclusive Teaching
- Inclusive Communication
- Creating Accessible Documents
Information for students
ADCET has prepared some comprehensive information about Disability and Discrimination aimed at providing students with information on their rights and responsibilities to ensure they get the support they need to thrive in their education.
1 Commonwealth of Australia (2006). Disability Standards for Education 2005 plus Guidance Notes. Accessed on 19 November 2014. Retrieved from https://www.education.gov.au/swd/resources/disability-standards-education-2005-plus-guidance-notes