Access the right support to help take you to tertiary and beyond
Students with disability have a right to access and participate in all levels of education on the same basis as students without disability, and are enrolling in tertiary level study at an increasing rate. However, students with disability are not yet achieving the graduate career outcomes they aspire to on par with other students. One way to improve these results is to ensure that all students with disability who are enrolled to study with a tertiary education provider know about and can access the right support.
Based on their own experience of tertiary study, two students teamed up with some staff from the National Disability Coordination Officer (NDCO) program to work on the Students Thriving project.
Frequently Asked Questions
These are the frequently asked questions (FAQs) that these students think other students most need the answers to:
I’m not sure if I have a disability, where can I find out how disability is defined by my education provider?
Many students may not realise that their condition, illness, or injury may be considered a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA). This anti-discrimination legislation defines disability very broadly to include total or partial loss of part of the body or of bodily or mental functions, or of organisms causing disease or illness. This includes people who may not consider themselves as having a disability, for example, a person with a temporary such as a broken limb or undergoing treatment such as cancer; people who previously had health conditions that no longer exist; or a disability that may exist in the future such as a genetic predisposition. The legislation also covers people who are carers of a person with disability or a person imputed (believed) to have a disability. You can find out more about how disability is defined at:
Education providers are obligated to adhere to the DDA and so reference to the DDA should be embedded in the provider’s policy and procendures library with additional information on how the provider supports people with disability.
What happens if I tick the boxes to indicate that I have a disability on my enrolment form, and provide permission for staff to contact me?
All education providers are required to collect information about students who declare disability upon enrolment. This assists government departments who have responsibility for education to understand how effectively their policies and programs are working to ensure that people with disability are able to access education at parity with all Australians. The data collected during enrolment may also influence the level of funding that an education provider is eligible to receive. However, ticking the boxes that relate to questions about disability is always your choice.
Indicating you have a disability for the purposes of data collection though does not automatically mean the provider will contact you to offer support. Check with your education provider about the type of support available and how you access this support.
Some education providers may include an option for you to provide consent for their staff to contact you to discuss individualised support, but don’t assume that this will be automatic. You should always follow up with your education provider’s disability service to access support if you need it.
Any information you share about your disability is treated confidentially by your education provider. It will not be used to discriminate against you, and cannot be shared with other people, for instance lecturers or other students, without your consent.
Where do I go to get disability support in tertiary education (university, TAFE, or another registered training organisation)?
As a student with disability you have a right to participate in education on the same basis as other students. One of the most important steps you can take is to arrange the right support at the beginning of your study journey. It’s a good idea to reach out to the disability services at your education provider and have a conversation about the impacts your disability could have on your study, so that you can access the right supports at the right time. You can do this prior to enrolment or once you commence. Early conversations with disability services is encouraged by education providers.
Your study path may not always follow the pattern that you expect it to. Accidents, illnesses, or changes to treatment may affect you throughout the year, and you may need to alter your study load, mode of study, or the type of reasonable adjustments you need. The disability service at your education provider can help you with this. More information is available at:
How do I safely and confidentially talk about my disability and access requirements with my education provider?
Talking about your disability is a personal decision. It’s up to you what you say, who to, when, and how to talk about it. Generally, you are not obligated to talk to your education provider about your disability, but there are good reasons why you might want to including:
- access to reasonable adjustments and other services or equipment that can support your study
- advice around meeting the inherent requirements of your course
- guidance on any required documentation to access supports in your course or during a work placement
Conversations with the disability service at your education provider are confidential and private. Information about your disability cannot be shared with other people within the institution without your consent. So, be assured that you are in control of what information is shared and with whom.
For example, you may feel comfortable disclosing and discussing a mental health condition with your disability advisor, but generally the information passed on to your tutors relates only to the reasonable adjustments recommended, and not the nature of your disability. Your learning access plan should only state the reasonable adjustments required such as needing extra time in exams.
What type of support can my education provider offer me?
As a student with disability in the tertiary education system, you may be eligible to receive support from your education provider. These supports are called reasonable adjustments. They are designed to assist you to participate in education on the same basis as all other students. You will need to negotiate these adjustments with your education provider, usually through their disability or accessibility service. Your education provider may require some supporting documentation from a medical or allied health practitioner. Check with your provider about what documentation they may require.
Some examples of the type of reasonable adjustments available include extra time for assessments or exams, course materials presented in alternative formats, and/or the use of assistive technology. This list is not exhaustive as the reasonable adjustments developed for you will be based on the impact that your disability has on your study, and may be changed over time if your needs or the demands of your course change. Even if you don’t think you require reasonable adjustments, it is often still helpful to contact the disability services to discuss how reasonable adjustments may benefit your studies if you need them in the future.
More information about the type of reasonable adjustments that a frequently used is available at:
What can I do if I feel like my education provider is not providing the support I need?
In Australia, education providers have legal obligations to make sure that students with disability are supported to participate in their education on the same basis as all students. However, sometimes things do go wrong, and you may feel your rights have been denied, or your needs have not been met. If you feel like this applies to you, there are steps you can take to remedy the issue. This includes resolving your concerns informally or formally with your education provider using their internal complaints mechanism, or making a formal complaint with the Australia Human Rights Commission. Step by step guidance on understanding and resolving issues with your education provider is available at:
What assistive technology can I use? Where can I be upskilled with assistive technologies? Can I also use assistive technology in my employment?
Assistive Technology (AT) is technology that improves, increases or maintains the functional capabilities of students with disability. Assistive Technologies also referred to as Inclusive or Adaptive technologies, exist to enhance people’s lives and to create opportunities that might not otherwise be realised. Assistive Technologies have proven to assist learners with disability to negotiate and complete academic tasks with greater efficiency, confidence and increased levels of competence. The range of AT is diverse and caters to individuals who require intervention, support and tools to assist with writing, reading, research, planning, organisation, problem solving, mathematical reasoning and calculations, and time management. Assistive technologies support people with disability to become independent learners and to reach full academic potential. You can discuss the range of assistive technologies available to you through your education provider with your disability advisor.
In the workplace, assistive technology makes tasks that were previously challenging and difficult for some people with disability, far easier. Assistive technology can include screen readers, mobility aids, hearing aids, lifts and moving stairs, sensor-based switches and extendable reaching devices. This technology is often inexpensive and may be eligible for reimbursement through the Employment Assistance Fund.
What should I expect during my study journey?
Tertiary education is quite different from learning at school. It is an adult learning environment, which means you are responsible for setting and achieving your study goals and seeking the support you need to assist you to achieve them. You can expect to have a lot more flexibility over what you study and how you spend your time. This can be great for fitting in other things like time with family, or getting some exercise, but it also means you need to be organised and manage your time effectively. There is plenty of support available to assist students, but if you need it you have to ask, your lecturers, tutors and trainers will not be as familiar with your individual strengths and needs as they might have been in school.
More information is available in this helpful resource:
What can I do to build my confidence with studying?
Most tertiary education providers offer a range of study centres, academic skills units and peer study programs, to help students build confidence and develop skills such as academic reading and writing, referencing, time management, effective note-taking, preparing for exams, digital literacy, working in groups, researching, managing stress and keeping up motivation. Check out what your TAFE or university offers on their website (often offered through the Library). Additionally, you may find this resource useful:
Study Skills for students with a Specific Learning Disability (good general advice for all students)
How can I best plan my assessment tasks and take care of my health at the same time?
It’s important to manage your time effectively, as well as balance your study with other aspects of your life that are important to you such as your health and wellbeing, social life and work. Students who are organised and well prepared are more likely to experience study success. Get into good study habits early and maintain them throughout the semester. Use information such as subject outlines, and planning tools like a calendar or assessment tracker to help you plan your day, week and semester.
- make sure you get enough sleep
- make a plan and schedule your study time, as well as scheduling breaks and time for other things like family, friends, food, exercise, and fun activities
- reward yourself when study goals are achieved, even the small ones, as this will keep you motivated to succeed
- ask for help if you need it
Be mindful of
- Procrastination. Develop strategies to overcome procrastination, as leaving things to the last minute will increase your stress levels and reduce the quality of your work
- Allowing distractions to get in your way. Find a quite space to study, turn off phones and other devices
- Studying 24/7. You do need time away from study as well. Focus on the quality of your study time
- Check out what study resources your TAFE or university offers on their website (often offered through the Library).
Find more useful tips at:
Organising your study (good general advice for all students)
Why should I stick with my studies?
What you’ve decided to study and your motivation for studying will be as unique as you are. If you’re feeling like you want to withdraw from study, first ask yourself ‘What were the three main reasons I decided to study in the first place?’ Write these reasons down and stick them on your wall, or somewhere that you’ll be reminded of them regularly, as this will help you to reconnect with your study goals. Imagine your life in the future and how your qualification will help you achieve this. Use this bigger picture thinking to help you get past the hurdles you’re facing now e.g. “I don’t like writing essays, but developing research skills will benefit my future career because…”
Break study tasks down into small and manageable chunks, plan study breaks, and reward yourself for even the smallest achievements. Doing this will make you feel in control of your study schedule and feel positive about your study progress. If you do feel overwhelmed by your study load, reach out and talk to a disability advisor, counsellor or learning advisor at your institution for guidance. For strategies to help you manage study stress and anxiety, visit:
Managing stress and anxiety (good general advice for all students)
What can I do if I fail a subject or don’t get the grades I require to complete my course?
Success in your studies is more likely if you have established good study habits and routines, maintained good relationships with your teaching staff and other student services, and have arranged to have the right support in place such as reasonable adjustments.
You should be able to anticipate how you are performing in a subject through feedback from teachers or lecturers and through assessment grades well before the end of semester. If you have concerns talk to your faculty or disability advisor to arrange feedback or further support to help you stay on track or improve your grades. A conversation may include discussing a review of your reasonable adjustments with your disability advisor.
If you do receive a fail grade or poor marks, and there are extenuating circumstances that have contributed to this outcome, you can seek feedback on your academic performance, and may be able to request a review of a mark or grade. Tertiary education providers have a range of academic policies such as special consideration, complaints and appeals, and subject withdrawal, to manage this type of situation and you will need to follow the relevant process. This usually begins with an informal discussion with your faculty or discipline area, but may be escalated to a more formal process, and will likely require you to submit some supporting documentation to substantiate your request. Your disability advisor, counselling service, or even student advocates can help you with this process.
Other useful information
Throughout your student journey other things that might come up are the need for financial assistance, accessible student accommodation, and the requirement to complete work placements, sometimes known as work integrated learning or field education. ADCET has information on all these topics, which might be helpful if the need arises.
There are also many other useful online resources which you may find helpful. The following list suggests some places to start, but there are many others:
Information and services to help people with disability, their family, friends and carers, to find the support they need in Australia can be found on the Disability Gateway
A disability insurance scheme to fund reasonable and necessary supports for eligible people with disability through the NDIS
Mental health and wellbeing resources Head to Health
Work and study specialists that can provide tailored support via a digital platform to young people experiencing mental health challenges aged 15-25 years. You can access the service through web chat, video conferencing, email and phone –wherever you are in Australia, and in a way you prefer, to meet your work or study goals. Headspace
National hub for workplace and employment information and resources for people with disability JobAccess
Resources for people with disability who are seeking employment, wanting to develop a career or considering self-employment IncludeAbility
Mentoring and internships for tertiary students with disability Australian Network on Disability
A Disabled People’s Organisation representing people with disability across Australia Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
Information about advocating for yourself or someone you care for, and a list of advocate services in each state and territory Disability Advocacy Network Australia
The national peak body that represents children and young people (aged 0-25) with disability CYDA