Teaching students with disabilities

Inclusive teaching practices

Inclusive teaching practices are a proactive way of meeting the needs of a diverse student population. There is a range of resources available to help staff develop inclusive teaching practices linked at the bottom of this page. Creating Accessible Teaching Support (CATS) is an important Australian teaching resources for academic staff.

Awareness of disability access issues in the use of microphones, overheads, projectors, print materials and online materials in class are key issues. Class processes such as group work, field trips, practicals and assessment tasks should also be conducted with disability access in mind.

Accommodating students with disabilities

Students with disabilities may require individual arrangements to ensure that they have fair access to the teaching and learning environment and processes within your course. A useful strategy is to invite your class to privately discuss any individual requirements they have at the beginning of the study period. UniSA students requiring accommodation or services should have an Access Plan provided by the Disability Service. This plan will assist you in working out any individual adjustments required by the student. These can include activities such as:

  • assessment modifications including providing additional time for assignments
  • tailoring readings for a student
  • modifying teaching practices (i.e. using a microphone).

Deciding what is fair

Most people recognise that being fair is not just a matter of applying equal treatment to all people. For example requiring all students to demonstrate their knowledge by sitting a 3 hour exam without a break, may be very unfair for a student with a back injury who cannot sit for that long. In fact, Commonwealth legislation requires that educators provide reasonable adjustments to ensure fair treatment of people with disabilities. Reasonable adjustments are changes to course content, delivery and assessment which are required by law to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities.

  • Reasonable adjustments should be aimed at accommodating the impact of a student's disability or medical condition on their study and be based on information about the impact of the student's disability provided in a Access Plan (AP).
  • Reasonable adjustments should be negotiated in a timely manner. Students can be expected to meet the terms of the agreed adjustments once they have been established. Additional extensions for an assignment would not be considered a 'reasonable adjustment' unless the student's circumstances change significantly, in which case additional supporting documentation would be required. (i.e. hospitalisation or other unforeseen health problem).
  • Reasonable adjustments should not lessen the genuine academic standards of the course being taught and assessed. Genuine academic standards relate to the inherent skills and knowledge required as opposed to non-academic or non-essential skills such as an ability to read or write at a prescribed speed. Genuine academic standards should be described in course information booklets.
  • Reasonable adjustments should not give a student with disabilities an unfair advantage over other students.
  • Adjustments such as extra time in tests and extensions to deadlines would not be considered an unfair advantage where they are designed to accommodate the impact of a student's disability.
  • Reasonable adjustments should seek to maximise a student's participation. Adjustments should be sought which do not preclude a student from interaction with the mainstream course material, other students and the learning environment.
  • Reasonable adjustments which impact on the structure or content of exams are negotiated with the Course Coordinator. A Disability Adviser may assist in this negotiation or the student may communicate independently with their Course Coordinator.
  • Where agreements are reached between a student and their Course Coordinator to modify exam arrangements or curriculum for a course, the Course Coordinator should notify the Disability Adviser indicated on the student's Access Plan so that the agreement can be incorporated into the student's Access Plan.
  • Disability Advisers can provide advice on reasonable adjustments.

Access Plan process

The UniSA Disability Service administers a documentary process for providing services to students with disabilities. Services are directed toward minimising the impact of the student’s disabilities on their access to the teaching and learning environment. The process results in the development of an Access Plan for the student. The Access Plan documents services to be provided and is a mechanism for students who need to alert staff regarding the impact of their disability, mental health or medical conditions. It is important to note that students use the Access Plan independently to inform staff regarding their disability where required unless assistance is needed.

Referral of students to Disability Services

TheStudent Engagement Unit Disability Service provides a range of services to students with disabilities. Services can include equipment loan, interpreting and notetaking services. Disability service staff can also provide advice and assistance to University staff in meeting the needs of students with disabilities. The services are provided on the basis of the student's individual access requirements. Staff and students can contact a Disability Adviser on their campus by phone, email or eReferral.

Legislative Responsibilities

Australian universities must comply with the Disability Standards for Education(2005). The standards clarify obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act (2003) and help guide practices in the university setting.

If you would like training in applying the standards at UniSA or would like more information about supporting students please email the Disability Service inclusion@unisa.edu.au.

Confidentiality and privacy

Releasing information

  • within the University: information a student decides to provide University staff regarding their disability or health status is of a personal nature. The student maintains control over access to the information and determines what information they choose to make available to relevant university staff. Students can inform staff of disability or health issues impacting on their study with the assistance of the disability service. An Access Plan can be used as a means of providing relevant information.
  • outside the University: information students provide the University regarding their disability or health status is strictly confidential. It can not be passed on to other parties or organisations outside the University without the student’s explicit agreement, nor can University staff compel a student to release this information.

Limits to confidentiality

Information may be disclosed without the student’s consent when:

  • the University reasonably believes that the disclosure will lessen or prevent a serious and imminent threat to the health, life or safety of the student or others or
  • there exists a legal obligation to do so

University of South Australia’s Privacy Policy

Other Resources