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Practice Spotlight

The positive impact of Disability Awareness training

Disability Practice in the Spoltlight

After an extensive search, Rachael Kliendienst, Manager of Student Access and Inclusion at the University of New England, believes she has found the answer: a course that trains her team and all staff at the University of New England in key aspects of accessibility and equity to create a better learning experience for students with disability.

Driven by a commitment to all students, staff in the Student Access and Inclusion team at the University of New England (UNE) had hunted around for a disability awareness program for some time before settling on ADCET’s Introduction to Disability Awareness e-Training.

“We are a rural university that is very multicultural and diverse, and it is important we continually recognise the idea of equality and inclusion,” Rachael explained.

“At Student Access and Inclusion, we try to consistently work on a new training proposal or projects (for staff and students) so as soon as my staff or I see a ‘need’ we try to think of innovative ways to fill the space. If I see a student ‘in need’ personally I always believe the best way to fill the void is either by educating them or those around them.”

Some staff, she said, aren’t confident in teaching students with disability: they might overcompensate out of good intentions, or not understand what they need to do. But she said education of university staff can help fix that and provide good outcomes for students.

Rachael and her team are part of the Aust-ed email list, and Rachael said the emails are helpful for sharing ideas across the sector. It was through Aust-ed that Rachael’s colleague Culshi Woodward first spotted the Disability Awareness e-Training, and Rachael found that it ticked all her boxes.

“I didn’t want to be talked ‘at’, I didn’t want anything that was too patronising to the students with disability and to the person who was doing the course.”

Now that the SCORM files for the training have been uploaded to the staff health and wellbeing site at UNE, any staff member at the University of New England can access the resource, and Rachael said work is underway to link it to the student Moodle site too.

“We realised that most students live on Moodle, and we wanted a disability awareness program for students as well as staff,” she said of the decision.

This will tie in with a planned Moodle wellness platform that is also currently under construction – so that when students log in, the first thing they will see will be tools to assist with wellness.

Rachael said one of the best parts of the Introduction to Disability Awareness training package is that it also addresses the issue of “indirect discrimination” and how to avoid it.

“You can either discriminate against someone directly by saying ‘you can’t do this because you’ve got a disability’, or you can discriminate against someone by saying ‘I’ll pass you because you’ve got a disability’. Either one is doing no service and doing an injustice. The course very clearly shows a beautiful balance between them.”

She was also looking for something that spoke to the intersectionality of disability and other issues: something that is psychosocial and that doesn’t leave out the LGBTQA community. Furthermore, she liked seeing the sister courses, Vet Staff and Vet Educators Supporting Students with Disability. The fact that it was all online was another bonus. She also wanted a tool that was flexible in its delivery, so that staff could start and stop the training if they needed too.

Rachael said the training has come at the perfect time as there is now heightened awareness of equity within the sector.

Staff feedback has indicated that users want to see the program expanded. Lecturers from the education faculty have requested that the Introduction to Disability Awareness Training be incorporated into the teaching courses.

“It would be especially beneficial for education students to learn this stuff because they’ll go on to teach students of all ages who may have disabilities. How valuable for them, and heir professional development!” she said.

Rachael said she is also pleased with the way the training has opened up conversations amongst staff about how to better include students with disability, and is hopeful that this will continue as the university builds a more accessible environment for students with disability. Since installing the training, Rachael has been asked to hold three workshops around the university about access and inclusion. She said the training has facilitated better engagement with and understanding of her role and the role all staff play in removing barriers.

“My hub is about equity. I always say that access and inclusion is about the ‘hole of inequity’, so whatever the hole is, we fill in the equity so the student is at the same level as everyone else. I have students who are carers, and students who may be victims of domestic violence., But whatever that hole is, we can fill it. I think this training opened up a lot of those questions which is really nice because we don’t want anyone to be left behind and that’s why it was really hard to find a course that was very fluid and opened up that conversation.”

Rachael herself is new to the disability space. She’s a registered nurse and originally taught nursing at the university. When the role in the Student Access and Inclusion team opened up, Rachael was told she’d be the perfect fit; she decided to give it a go and has fallen in love with the job, describing it as her “forever job”.

“I absolutely love this role. It’s really beautiful [to] hear students’ stories and everyone is so focused on wanting to do well. It’s a privilege,” she said.

She’s passionate about the spark that people’s differences bring to the world.

“The best word in the world is difference. We need difference in the world, it’s so important, especially now. It’s never about disability, it’s always about accessibility,” she said.

Written by: Danielle Kutchel

October 2020