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Specific Disabilities

The primary responsibility of any post-secondary education provider is to deliver the best possible academic experience for all students. Students may reach their goals and realise their potential in different ways – and this is true particularly for students who have a disability.  Staff may encounter students who are mildly or severely hearing or sight impaired, who have long or short term medical disabilities, mobility disabilities, psychiatric or psychological disabilities, or a learning disability. In the context of inclusive teaching practices which enhance the learning of all students, it is useful to have a basic understanding of the implications that a specific disability or health condition may have in order to better meet the needs of students.

Even though two people may have a similar condition or disability, they are unlikely to have the same needs or experience of disability or require identical strategies and adjustments to support their learning.  Rather than make assumptions about the impact of a student's condition on their learning, ask them what assistance or accommodations they need.

A health condition is variously disabling depending on the extent to which the education provider makes provisions for their inclusion. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair will have no difficulties negotiating a well-designed accessible building but will be disabled in a poorly designed one. But even within the same provider, students with the same disability or condition may have very different needs. This can be as a result of the following factors:

  • The type or extent of the impairment; for example, ‘vision impairment’ refers to a broad range of conditions with very different implications for the student
  • The student’s previous educational experience; some students may have already developed effective study skills, while others may have only recently developed an understanding of their disability
  • The nature of the study; a student studying physical sciences may have very different assistance requirements than one who is studying law
  • The teaching format; a student's needs will vary according to whether they are undertaking practicum work, e-learning or lab work, for example
  • The level of study; postgraduate study will require different skills than an undergraduate course

This section offers insight into the experience of living and studying with a disability or health condition, defines the terms you may encounter and suggests specific strategies for accommodating needs. Disabilities and health conditions can result from injury, illness or genetic disorders - but remember, your focus is the implication of the disability or health condition for learning, not the specific disability itself. Your job is to make reasonable adjustments to teaching and assessment practices in order to minimise the impact of the student's disability.