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ABC Radio: Universities Accord not ambitious for students with disability

The Universities Accord final report released last week sets out a blueprint for the future of higher education in Australia.

But the country's Disability Discrimination Commissioner has raised concerns with the document, claiming it fails to set ambitious targets for students living with disabilities, and uses faulty data. 

Listen to the ABC's Oliver Gordon's report with, Rosemary Kayess (Disability Discrimination Commissioner), Andrew Shim (Autistic university student and disability advocate) and Darlene McLennan (Manager, ADCET).

Transcript:

Sally Sara:
The university's Accord Final Report released this week set out a blueprint for the future of higher education in Australia.
But the country's Disability Discrimination Commissioner says it fails to set ambitious targets for students living with disabilities and uses faulty data. Oliver Gordon reports.

Oliver Gordon:
Last week's Universities Accord suggested people living with disabilities are already enrolling in higher education at the same rate as the rest of the population. But that's not the experience of autistic university student and disability advocate Andrew Shim.

Andrew Shim:
During my university journey and education journey I was told at every stage you're not good enough, you should drop out, you shouldn't be here, you should even come. Which is why I think the data is not ultimately reflective of reality.

Oliver Gordon:
The Accord's findings are also being challenged by Disability Discrimination Commissioner Rosemary Kayess. She says the data used to assess participation by the disabled community excludes people classified as living with a profound disability such as herself.

Rosemary Kayess:
Stephen Hawking is someone that would have been captured by the field of profound disability. I personally would be captured by the field of profound disability in terms of a data set.
And so when they're saying that universities are at parity for representation of people with disability, it's being assessed on very flawed data that doesn't recognise a whole sway of the people that could highly likely want to enrol in university.

Oliver Gordon:
And that, the Commissioner says, has an impact on the targets the Accord has set for future enrollments.

Rosemary Kayess:
What they have done now is they've got actions and priority targets that is about maintaining the present level of participation by people with disability and higher education and no ambition to grow it in the same way that they have intended for other underrepresented groups.

Oliver Gordon:
While the Accord states the goal should be to maintain participation rates for students with disability, for First Nations students, students from poorer backgrounds and regional and remote students, growth targets are set.
Darlene McLennan is from the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training.

Darlene McLennan: 
Reading it as it is, it can appear quite like it's actually locking people out of university, which I'm sure is not the intent.

Oliver Gordon:
She says it's critical the federal government gets this right.

Darlene McLennan: 
You know, nine out of ten jobs require a tertiary qualification as what the government is stating. We've got to make sure the people with disabilities aren't left behind in that.

Oliver Gordon:
And Law student Andrew Shim is hoping to be included in any future discussions too.

Andrew Shim:
Ultimately, we're asking for the opportunity to be considered on this opportunity to be considered so that we can have opportunities in the future. This notion that we don't need more doesn't truly attempt to understand why so many students with disability feel lonely on campuses. People with profound disabilities have a right to study in universities unencumbered and with support.
Those voices matter.

Sally Sara:
That's University student and disability advocate Andrew Shim ending Oliver Gordon's report.
And in a statement, the Federal Education Minister Jason Clare told AM he'll meet with the Disability Discrimination Commissioner to discuss her concerns.