Your role as a disability practitioner within the tertiary education and training sector sits within a specialised field of practice and requires a broad range of skills and experience. A disability practitioner may have a focus on students or staff, and in some institutions both.
The principles of access and inclusion are central to the role, and it is therefore important that you adopt a holistic approach to service provision. When we get it right, we increase rates of participation in all aspects of the educational environment for everyone. This does not negate the need for disability services but rather encourages a ‘whole of institution’ approach that does not rely solely on you to take responsibility for all disability-related matters. However, Disability Practitioners and Disability Services usually take a leading role in guiding, informing and/or implementing inclusion across all other areas of your institution.
Practitioners may be known by many titles including Access and Inclusion Officer, Equity Officer, Ability Advisor, Accessible Learning Coordinator, Disability Liaison Officer, and Disability Adviser. Titles that focus on access, equity and inclusion are the way forward.
The level of complexity of the role may include strategic and leadership responsibilities including resource management and supervision of others. It may also include service provision which draws on expertise and includes the ability to solve problems, make sound judgements, and manage risk.
Across the Higher Education sector, depending on complexity, responsibility and qualifications, role descriptions can vary from Higher Education Worker Award (HEWA) 6 to 8 and may also vary under individual Enterprise Agreements. Within the Vocational Education and Training sector role descriptions under the TAFE enterprise agreements and levels may vary across states and territories. To access the relevant Award visit the Fair Work Commission website
Developing Role Descriptions
While titles and position descriptions vary from institution to institution, the primary functions of the disability practitioner in the institutional environment may vary. We have included a range of key responsibilities that you might include on a role description when developing or re-developing a role. Consider using these key responsibilities below and how they fit with the relevant role classifications outlined in your Award or Enterprise Agreement.
Strategy and leadership
Staff with strategic and leadership roles may have responsibility for:
- coordinating, or actively contributing to, the development and monitoring of institutional policies, procedures and programs. This may include disability action plans, continuous improvement and monitoring processes. Participation in relevant university committees, working parties or advisory groups may also be a feature.
- keeping abreast of relevant developments in state and federal legislation and in best practice service provision, including emerging technologies.
- oversight or supervision of teams or service areas.
Awareness, advice and training
Key elements around developing awareness and training may include:
- understanding of, and compliance with, key disability legislation, disability standards, building standards, health and safety policies and procedures, and safe work practices.
- understanding of the principles of equity and inclusion with the ability to communicate with diverse audiences.
- engaging, collaborating and communicating effectively with internal and external stakeholders.
- engaging in community education and outreach programs, developing strong prospective student/staff referral streams and identifying appropriate support services.
- promoting disability services within the institutional environment, e.g. increasing the profile of available services, inclusion across the whole student lifecycle.
- playing a mediatory role between the rights of students or staff with disability and the interests of the institution. This may include complaints management.
- develop and delivery professional development for university staff on disability issues relevant to students/staff in higher education.
Key elements of service provision may include:
- supporting students to develop skills and knowledge to enhance independence in managing study and self-advocacy.
- providing individual assessments/interviews to determine eligibility for services, ensuring disability related documentation is valid and current.
- undertaking a registration process and providing services to a database of individually registered students, ranging from small to very large volumes of registrations.
- making recommendations to academic and administrative staff regarding reasonable accommodations and adjustments and alternative forms of assessment, as required under relevant legislation and institutional policies.
- facilitating the coordinated delivery of articulated support services, including induction, orientation, training/coordination or management of disability support workers such as participation assistants, note-takers, tutors and interpreters.
- identifying and facilitating required adaptive technologies and equipment. This may include competence with adaptive technologies, software and assistance technologies.
- maintaining accurate and confidential student records within institution systems.
- supporting staff with disability in conjunction with relevant Human Resource and Health and Safety areas to ensure staff are supported in employment.
Disability practitioners often work closely with areas responsible for physical or technical infrastructure, data and planning teams and reporting and monitoring service delivery. Consider elements in resource management such as:
- advising and addressing inclusion issues, e.g. access to buildings (new and existing buildings), programs of study and services, designated parking, and participation in all aspects of the education or training environment.
- identifying, securing and effectively managing internal and external funding and expenditure.
- ability to use and interpret data to identify risks, trends and areas for improvement in service delivery.
- providing reports and submissions to internal or external stakeholders.
Disability practitioners have formal qualifications across a wide spectrum of disciplines including social work, human services, occupational therapy, psychology, health science, social science, education, inclusive education, equity, and social justice.
Professional experience may include working with people with disability, injury or health conditions in educational settings or related settings such as community or health. A demonstrated understanding of the impact of disabilities upon teaching and learning processes at a tertiary education level, and of the provision of reasonable adjustments is desirable in these roles. If the role is focused on assistive technologies strong technical competency will be required.
These roles generally require the following combination of formal qualifications and experience depending on the level:
- a degree with subsequent relevant experience (3 – 4 years); or
- extensive experience and specialist expertise or broad knowledge in technical or administrative fields; or
- an equivalent combination of relevant experience and/or education/training.
Higher level roles may require additional postgraduate qualifications and/or additional experience as it is likely this level may take on strategic, leadership and/or supervisory responsibilities.
It's also important to consider how to attract and develop new staff or emerging practitioners to the profession if their practical experience is limited.