Working with Students
Students need to be provided with equal opportunity to learn and demonstrate their skill and knowledge. All students irrespective of disability status require clear direction, including clear information about course requirements, guidance regarding their rights and responsibilities, and advice about the learning and support options available to them. Each student should be provided with and have access to information regarding available disability services.
Disclosure and Disability
In the context of inclusive teaching practices which enhance the learning of all students, it is often useful to know more about the impact on learning of particular impairments in order to better meet the needs of students.
Although students are not generally legally required to disclose a disability, they should be provided with frequent opportunities to discuss both the likely impact of disability on their studies and the appropriate adjustments required. Some students with disability will identify themselves to the provider prior to enrolment and necessary support can be quickly arranged; in other cases, a student may be more reluctant to disclose their disability. Often a student's disability may not be obvious and you may not realise that the student has a disability. This is where inclusive practices are very useful, as individual needs are accommodated and it is often unnecessary for individuals to disclose.
If there is an indication that a student may have a disability that is impacting on their studies, it can be useful to ask the student whether there is anything that could ensure they are able to complete your course. Information regarding the disability service should also be provided. Remember that it is the implications of the disability or health condition in the course/unit that are important rather than the impairment itself.
Creating a Safe Environment for Disclosure
It is crucial to establish a climate that reflects high values with respect to diversity and inclusiveness. Establish an environment in which staff and students demonstrate mutual respect and safeguard against discrimination. Model inclusive language and ensure others, including students, follow suit. Engaging in respectful relationships means demonstrating a positive appreciation of people and their cultural values. A safe welcoming environment encourages students to discuss any particular learning requirements or support needs.
There are several clear and simple ways a post-secondary education provider can engage with, and facilitate the engagement of, a student in terms of their disability related needs and how to meet them:
Include a welcoming statement in recruitment and course material for people with disability inviting them to approach staff to discuss their disability related needs. Two sample statements1:
- For a Faculty: The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is committed to making educational opportunities available to all students. In order for its faculty members to properly address the needs of students who have disability, it is necessary that those students approach their teaching staff as soon as the semester starts, preferably on the first day of class. They should bring an official letter from Disability Services explaining their specific needs so that their instructors are aware of them early on and can make the appropriate arrangements.
- For a course: If you have a learning or physical disability, or if you learn best utilising a particular method, please discuss with me how I can best accommodate your learning needs. I am committed to creating an effective learning environment for all learning styles. However, I can only do this successfully if you discuss your needs with me in advance of the classes and assessments. I will maintain the confidentiality of your learning needs. If appropriate, you should contact Disability Services to get more information on accommodating disabilities.
- Make students aware of information and resources that may assist them and any timelines for arranging adjustment. Consider having a ‘tear-off slip’ in the application form for the student to send direct to the disability service to advise them of their needs confidentially. Ensure that there is an accessible format version for print disabled students.
- Liaise with other teaching and support staff to ensure there is coordination of services and shared understanding of the student's requirements.
- At selection interviews, discuss any learning or other support the student may need in order to complete the course or unit. If the needs are straightforward and you can implement them, do so.
- Make clear to the student what the post-secondary education provider’s disability documentation requirements are; remember that you do not necessarily need to know the nature of the disability, simply the impact that the disability will have on the student's ability to study.
- If necessary refer the student to the disability service to clarify the process for implementing any required adjustments.
1 The Centre for Teaching, Vanderbilt University 2014. Teaching Students with Disabilities. Accessed on 10 November 2014. Retrieved from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/disabilities