Teaching students with disabilities
- Will I know if I have a student with a disability in my class?
- How can I meet the needs of a student with a disability if I do not know that they are there, or what their needs are?
- How will I know when I have a student with a disability in my class that has disclosed?
- What can I do if I believe a student in my class is experiencing difficulties because of an undisclosed disability?
- If a student discloses their disability to me am I legally obliged to implement whatever they request?
- What if I do not agree with the recommendations for reasonable adjustment as written in the Access Plan?
- Where can I access additional information on services to students with disabilities and/or expectations of the University in meeting the needs of students with disabilities?
- What actually is a disability?
- Is it my role to organise supports for a student with a disability?
- If a student with a disability's parent telephones to discuss their son/daughter's progress am I obliged to discuss the student with them?
- What do I need to do if a student discloses their disability to me?
Not necessarily as students are not required to disclose their disability to the University. Some students prefer to see if they can manage their studies without any support and some students choose not to disclose as they fear they may be treated differently, or given less opportunities because of their disability. Conversely some students elect to disclose prior to classes commencing or at some stage in their studies when they feel it is important to do so.
How can I meet the needs of a student with a disability if I do not know that they are there, or what their needs are?
If a student chooses not to disclose their disability and to discuss/negotiate the specific needs they have, then staff cannot implement any individual adjustments for that student. However all staff are encouraged to be familiar with and practice inclusive teaching strategies.
Sometimes it may be obvious that you have a student with a disability in your class e.g. a student uses a guide dog or a wheelchair to assist mobility, most students however have 'hidden' disabilities such as mental health or medical conditions.
If a student has disclosed their disability to Disability Services, and has medical documentation to meet eligibility requirements then it is standard practice for Disability Services and the student to complete an Access Plan. Disability Advisers encourage students to make a time to meet with relevant academic staff to discuss their Access Plan and to negotiate any adjustments required in the course.
It is the students' responsibility to forward their Access Plan to staff and discuss/negotiate their disability-related needs.
What can I do if I believe a student in my class is experiencing difficulties because of an undisclosed disability?
Students experience difficulties for many reasons. It can be helpful to begin the study period by announcing in the first class a statement such as "if there is any student who is likely to experience any difficulties with this course, or has any concerns in the future due to personal reasons, then I encourage them to make a time to meet me so we can discuss these issues". Confidentiality is often a large concern to students, so adding that the discussion will be confidential is also useful.
If you feel it is appropriate to approach a student individually, it will be best to do this in a private environment and to approach the topic from your concerns about study rather than your suspicions of a disability being present. Students may disclose a wide range of issues and then you will be able to refer to the most appropriate service or your school supports.
Academic staff can refer students to Counselling Service and Disability Service.
If a student discloses their disability to me am I legally obliged to implement whatever they request?
The University is required to provide 'reasonable adjustments' that enable a student with disabilities to participate in their studies on the same basis as other students. This means that a negotiated outcome is sought that minimises the impact of the student's disability in the task, does not compromise academic standards and considers factors such as impact on other students and the University. Students have a responsibility to request any accommodations in a timely manner.
A staff member can have a confidential discussion with a Disability Adviser, and the student does not need to be named.
The Access Plan documents agreed services as well as information about the impact of a students disability to assist students and staff in negotiating reasonable adjustments. It is written by the Disability Adviser and the student, who don't know the inherent requirements of every course. If you feel that the information or services documented are not appropriate for the context of the course you teach, feel free to contact the Disability Adviser to discuss an appropriate alternative. An Access Plan can be updated at any time at the request of a student, their Program Director or Disability Adviser.
Where can I access additional information on services to students with disabilities and/or expectations of the University in meeting the needs of students with disabilities?
There are a number of useful resources for staff both within and external to the University. Among these are:
- Navigate through the links to the left for ideas and resources
- Contact Disability Services
- Contact an Academic Developer through to discuss inclusive learning strategies
- The ADCET website has strategies, disability specific information and teaching information for University academic and professional staff.
- Creating Accessible Teaching and Support (CATS)
The Disability Discrimination Act describes disability as:
- total or partial loss of the person's bodily or mental functions
- total or partial loss of a part of the body
- the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness
- the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness
- the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person's body
- a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction
- a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour.
It is important to note that many factors impact on an individual's experience of their own disability. That is, not all people with the same disability share the same experience as factors such as gender, age, coping strategies, frequency of illness, societal attitudes, architectural structures, shape and affect us all differently.
There a range of adjustments that students with disabilities may require to enable them to participate as equitably and independently as possible in their studies. Specific supports such as sign language interpreters for Deaf students, text books in accessible formats, notetakers etc are organised through Disability Services once a student has validated their disability and discussed its impact with a Disability Adviser. There may be some supports that are appropriate for general staff members to implement in the course of their general duties. Examples are:
- Front desk staff assisting a student to complete school paperwork by reading or writing responses for a student who is unable to independently do so
- Student advisers writing down key points of discussions for students who have memory/concentration difficulties
- Library staff assisting a student to collect materials when they cannot independently do so
If you feel that you are being asked to do something that is outside your role or that you feel uncomfortable with you can speak with a Disability Adviser.
If a student with a disability's parent telephones to discuss their son/daughter's progress am I obliged to discuss the student with them?
Students with disabilities are adults enrolled at the University on the same basis as every other member of the student community. It is inappropriate to discuss a student's progress with anyone unless you have the permission of the student to do so.
Your response to a student's disclosure can usually be guided by their expectations. A student who lets you know that they have a hearing impairment and asks that you face them when answering their question may not require anything other than you do as they ask. A student who discloses that they are failing subjects due to a hearing loss and subsequent inability to follow what is being taught is disclosing because they need assistance.
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