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ACCESS TO EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS WITH A DISABILITY: BARRIERS AND DIFFICULTIES

ACCESS TO EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS WITH A DISABILITY: BARRIERS AND DIFFICULTIES

Issues raised in consultations by Elizabeth Hastings, Disability Discrimination
Commissioner, with education providers 1996

1. Lack of available options

There are not enough services available to students with disability to
match the requirements. In early education, a mix of services is often
required. In schools, physical access limits choice, as does provision
of support services and a selection of schools prepared to provide full
access to the curriculum. Rural, regional and isolated areas provide minimal
option (see also transitional services and post-school options).

2. Lack of information to families or prospective students
about options

Many parents do not know what choices are open to their children in either
Special Schools or inclusive schools, or about accessing ancillary services.
They are often unaware of how to access educational services appropriate
to the needs of their child with disability, particularly in early intervention
and early childhood education. Older students find it difficult to obtain
sufficient information about vocational education, pre-employment training
and support services, or adult and community education.

3. Lack of information to families about procedures
(applications for funding, expectations of school's management of their
child's education process)

Many parents have no information about procedures for funding or personal
support and do not know what pre-schools, schools or any of the post-school
services will arrange for the student. Many do not have information about
planning the student's educational goals and how these are established,
or what an Aide's role is, or whether equipment can be obtained to assist
in accessing the curriculum. They do not know how personal care or health
care can be arranged or what needed therapies can be provided in the educational
setting.

4. Inconsistency (lack of equivalence) between various
education providers and sectors

In many instances, the move from one educational sector to the next reveals
significant gaps in level of service. Moving a young child with disability
from early childhood services to primary school is frequently a transition
in which the programs and supports are not replicated in the new setting.
The same applies at all transitional levels, equally from primary school
to secondary school, and from there to the range of post-school options.
There is lack of equivalence within a region from one school to another,
and from the private sector to the public school sector, so families dissatisfied
with service or who move location find the student unable to move with
ease across education settings.

5. Co-ordination between services, departments and ancillary
staff unsatisfactory

The need for collaborative service provision is great in supporting students
with disability. In many cities, towns, areas and regions, the needed
coordination between education, health and community services is disorganised
or non-existent. Ancillary staff of the most necessary disciplines of
speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy are often not easily
accessible to education authorities for their students. Procedures for
accessing these services has undergone change and accessibility has diminished
in recent years.

6. Funding for student disability support insufficient

Insufficient provision of funds is the biggest issue in providing equal
access to education for students with disability. There are several funding
sources, none of them sufficient to make and have available the full range
of services needed. (see also Equipment, Aides, therapy staff, interpreters).

7. Procedures and formulas for applying for funding
too complex; delays; labeling students by disability to access funds:
global budgeting/self managing schools

Procedures for applying for disability support funding have changed in
some States in recent times. Funding provision is fragmented, coming through
a number of departments. There is sometimes delay in obtaining approval
for funding for individual students, leaving them either in school or
college without the needed assistance, or not in education because they
cannot access it until the funding for support is there. In some States,
the funding is approved for a student with a given diagnosis according
to the funding criteria. This encourages the detrimental labeling of the
student by his or her disability diagnosis, rather than as a person or
by Ability. In State where schools are allocated a "global"
budget to administer the whole of the school's requirements autonomously,
there are concerns that disability support for students who need it has
very low priority compared with the many other demands in the school for
finances, and that there may be too little accountability for the disability
support expenditure.

8. Funding unavailable for conditions such as mild intellectual
disability, behavioral problems and learning difficulties

The criteria established by Commonwealth and State funding for students'
disability support requirements does not correspond with the DDA definition
of disability. Many teachers report that if students in the above categories
had even a little aside or speech therapy or other disability support
funded, they would prosper educationally, with very little financial input.

9. Trained Aides and ancillary and support staff insufficient;
difficulty with/lack of health care and personal care assistants

There are not sufficient numbers of teachers' Aides or Integration Aides
available at all to meet the need. Of those there are, there is insufficient
training and professional support provided for them. They need to be trained
in the complexities and sensitivities of their task. Too many Aides distance
the child from teacher and class, rather than assisting with inclusion.
Many children, young people and adults with disability require personal
care or medical interventions throughout the day. There are problems in
determining who undertakes these procedures, whether it is teachers, parents,
health personnel, specially employed and credentialed staff, and in some
areas, unresolved issues as to who pays the cost of these services.

10. Changes to availability of ancillary and support
staff and trained Aides or inequitable arrangements for such support services

Provision of ancillary staff employed by education departments has been
discontinued. Various versions have replaced the earlier arrangements.
Ancillary service staff are contracted in, or groups in an area establish
core services to service several schools, or arrangements are made between
Community Services, Health and Education departments. There is not equal
availability of ancillary service staff from one area to another, or from
one State to another.

11. Equipment, technological aids and other devices
insufficient

Obtaining appropriate equipment as needed for individual students, from
hearing and vision aids, to electronically adapted mobility devices, to
walking frames for students, is a continuing barrier to providing equal
access for education providers, from students in kindergarten and child
care, through the school system, to vocational and recreational education
providers. Some schools within areas have arranged pooled stores to make
access to these aids easier, but there are rarely enough supplies to meet
the need.

12. Curriculum adaptation needed; curriculum limited;
or curriculum needs not addressed. Components of courses or post-qualification
employment not accessible

Although much work has been and is being done to devise appropriate adaptations
of educational curricula for a range of students in a range of age groups
with a range of capacities and abilities, this is one of the largest areas
of difficulty for education providers and their students. It is a huge
field because of the individual nature of students and of their requirements
and levels of readiness to learn. There are areas where not enough has
been done or curriculum needs and curriculum adaptation is too little
understood. A separate problem is when courses for qualification (vocational,
pre-employment or academic) contain particular segments which a student
with a disability cannot complete or cannot access. This creates difficulties
with enrolment (advice and information issues), with granting qualifications
or accreditation, and with post-qualification work or profession.

13. Disability unrecognised or undiagnosed

In several areas, failure to recognise or failure to diagnose a student's
disability is a problem in providing access to education. In early childhood,
it may not be possible to identify a child's disability, if it is a learning
difficulty and the child is too young for it to show up, if it is a developmental
delay, because very young children develop at vastly differing rates in
the first years, if it is a complex mix of muscular, behavioral/emotional
and intellectual disability which is not diagnosable until an older age.
Psychiatric debilities are not recognised by many teachers and are often
denied by parent or student.

14. Disability denied by parents or unrealistically
minimised

Parents sometimes deny or do not inform a school or pre-school about
their child's disability. Some parents do not alert schools to the degree
of disability or ask the school to provide education above the level of
capacity of the student with disability. This creates problems of a sensitive
nature for teachers and schools.

15. Parent choice/selection of placement for child

In most areas in Australia, the educational setting in which a student
can be educated is that preferred by the parent. In the best circumstances,
a setting appropriate to the student's abilities and needs can be agreed
upon by parent and school. However, there are many instances where this
issue creates significant conflict. A minority of parents want either
to keep their child in Special School to get the higher staff to student
ratio, or to protect and care for it, when it could benefit and manage
well in a regular school. Some parents whose child has more severe disability
want to enrol the child in an inclusive school, when the educational benefits
may be achievable. This issue in general can give rise to anger and misery
for many, especially the child.

16. Parent participation needed in students' support
arrangements, appropriate educational Goals and program planning

The family of a child, young person, or adult with disability probably
knows more about the student's abilities, deficits, style of learning
and communication and personal qualities than anyone else. In formulating
curriculum plans and learning goals, these issues are more significant
for a student with disability than for students without, because they
may be limiting or enabling factors which the educators would benefit
from knowing about. Teachers need to encourage parent participation energetically,
to explain the process more clearly to parents and listen to parents far
more.

17. Teacher training and support and integration aide
training and support needed

Probably the biggest issue of all in the whole spectrum of barriers to
access to education for students with disability, along with the issue
of insufficient funding infrastructure. Many teachers were trained decades
ago with nil expectation of having students with disability in the class.
A large majority of teachers are willing to manage with a range of such
student, but in order to gain the confidence essential to allow for creative
and responsive teaching, they need training, regular practical and theoretical
reinforcement, and a support and consultation mechanism - someone to ring
and ask what to do about an issue that has arisen. Some teachers without
training in working with students with disability are negative and resistant.
Most are not, but need substantial input in managing the inclusive class.
For different reasons, teachers' Aides and Integration Aides need training
and support in the complexities of their role.

18. Teacher stress

There is a substantial burden on teachers of inclusive classes, due to
inadequate professional support, inadequate training in teaching the adapted
curricula, managing the class which includes students with disability,
and inadequate understanding of a range of disabilities and what they
mean in practical terms for the individual students in the class. Research
shows that the teacher's feeling of confidence is by far the biggest factor
for success for teachers of inclusive classes. Confidence only comes from
a combination of training, support, experience, and the resultant competence.

19. Class sizes need to be reduced where classes are
inclusive; shortage of teachers (cuts to numbers)

It is obvious that if a teacher at any level of the education system
is required to provide teaching to a wider range of student abilities,
it is going to take more time and create greater demands in the teacher's
time and creativity and responsiveness. There is not sufficient reduction
in class sizes in inclusive schools to facilitate this. Additionally,
education budgets overall in a number of States have meant that class
sizes are not reducing and the numbers of teachers have diminished substantially,
particularly in Victoria.

20. Conditions and disabilities that are the most challenging
for teachers to incorporate in the class

There is common agreement at all levels of the education spectrum that
some disabilities are more challenging than others, These are: behavior
problems, including Hyperactivity/Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism,
learning difficulties (which often are accompanied by frustration in the
student leading to behavior difficulties), Deafness(due to communication
difficulties about the curriculum) and psychiatric problems. Some teachers
find it challenging to incorporate students with intellectual disability
in a regular class, because of the scope and amount of curriculum adaptation
needed in the one class.

21. Access to buildings (costs and other problems)

Many buildings used for child care and pre-schools, schools, and premises
used by adult and community education providers are not physically accessible.
Many of these do not lend themselves to modification, or modification
would necessitate enormous expenditure.

22. Transport: barriers (functional and financial) to
transport to and from school/college/university

Many students with disability have mobility limitations. Many have inappropriate
behaviours, which can be allowed for in class but which may create difficulties
or embarrassment for the student in public. Many have physical and medical
problems which make independent utilisation of public transport problematic
for them. Some students with disability attend schools and vocational
or academic institutions far from where they live, because those institutions
offer support or accessibility others do not. Cost of special transport
is a difficulty. Parent availability to transport students is not always
possible, particularly where both parents work. Some education providers
say transport to and from pre-school, school, college, or university is
the biggest problem in providing access to students with disability.

23. Transitional programs and procedures inadequate

There is a very great need for more services, and more comprehensive
and appropriate services, to assist students with disability in three
main phases of moving from one level of education to the next. They are
all of major importance in the student's settling effectively into the
next level. The first transitional phase is from early childhood services/pre-school
into primary school. This phase can make or break the young child's early
entry into the formal school system. The second, a difficulty for all
students, is the progression from primary school to High School. The third,
a very vital stage, is the transition from school to work, training, pre-employment
training, vocational education, academic course, or adult and community
education. There is a need for far more services in this area, to enable
people with disability to either obtain the means to earning a living,
or providing meaningful activity tot the extent appropriate, to fill in
their days in a useful fashion.

24. Attitude of teacher or Principal negative or resistant
or deny obligations

There is much evidence reported at all levels from parents to Principals
themselves, that if a teacher, or particularly a Principal of a school
has an attitude that is either negative or totally resistant to placing
students with disability in the regular school setting, there will be
discrimination in either exclusion, or in difficulties for the student
if enrolled. This is the area most vehemently complained of, and most
frequently, by parents of students with disability. There is a time-lag
between changes in policy and practice towards inclusion, and the responses
of those in charge of administering preschools, child care centers, or
schools. Complaints are more commonly directed against Principals than
teachers. Many Principals and some teachers are still denying that they
have any obligations to accept students with disability.

25. Differences, difficulties or conflicts between parents
and schools, including requests for placement, arrangements made at school,
unattainable expectations of parents for their child

These three areas have given rise to many bitter conflicts and much injury
to the future educational and social prospects of the student for settling
into the educational environment and accessing education at an appropriate
level with all supports required. There are constant hurdles and disappointments
for parents of children with disability, leading to volatile emotions
and many failed hopes and expectations. Calmness and practicality have
to be at a premium. Often both sides are pushed to the limit in trying
to reach a resolution which meets their needs and the appropriate educational
needs of the child.

26. Discrimination by schools / other educational institutions,
either conscious or unconscious, including lack of understanding of relevant
issues

Both direct and indirect discrimination by educational authorities on
the grounds of the disability of students occur regularly. In some instances,
disability discrimination is overt and direct; in others, it is founded
on lack of knowledge of disability issues and inclusion practices. Until
greater knowledge and understanding of disability and its effects, the
law and human rights principles, and the experience and the practice of
inclusion as the norm are achieved, individuals and institutions will
continue to discriminate, knowingly or unknowingly. However, the education
filed in general is supportive of a widespread movement towards equal
access to education for students with disability.

27. Discrimination, social isolation, teasing, bullying,
or harassment by non-disabled students

There is regrettably, an incidence of marking out and picking on students
with disability by non-disabled students. This appears to occur much more
commonly in the age groups from about the age of onset of puberty (12-13
on) than in the younger age groups, who tend to be far more accepting
and helpful in their attitudes towards peers with disability. It is to
some extent dependent on a supportive environment within the school, from
Principal to teachers and clerical workers and ground staff, as to whether
the teasing, bullying and victimisation are present, or if present, allowed
to continue.

28. Prejudice and discrimination, or complaints, by
parents of non-disabled students

Parents of students who do not have a disability are sometimes resentful
that the class in which their child is learning includes one or more students
with disability. This is particularly so in schools which aim at academic
excellence. These parents are aware that the teacher's time and attention
is split among students of differing ability.

Some parents are just outright prejudiced and do not like their child
associated with students with disability, particularly those with obvious
physical disability or with intellectual disability. Some such parents
have requested that the school "get rid of" certain students
with disability. Others have taken their child out of that school and
enrolled him or her in another school which (at that time) does not have
students with disability enrolled.

29. Tendency or plans to "cluster" similarly-disabled
students in schools and other educational institutions which have developed
expertise in particular disabilities

In a number of areas, different educational institutions (schools, TAFEs)
have recognised that a particular school or college is well-equipped to
provide education to students with a particular disability (for example,
mobility, deafness, vision impairment, behavioral problems) and have directed
enrolments to this particular education provider. While that policy makes
some practical sense, it is simply an indication that at present time,
not all education providers are yet in a position to provide access to
students with disability across the board, and leads to undesirable marginalisation
of particular groups of students with disability.

30. Unfamiliarity with the requirements of the DDA

It is quite clear from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner's consultations
with education providers representing every sector of education that there
are a great many of these who do not know what their legal obligations
are under the DDA. Particular sectors of concern in this regard are: a
range of early education providers, particularly private providers, community
child care centers, after school care centers, vacation care providers,
some smaller independent schools, and private training organisations.
The other sectors are all far more aware of the existence of the legislation
and have either some or a fairly good concept of the overall requirements,
but very few have a practical or detailed knowledge of what their obligations
under the DDA are or of how to interpret this in reality.

31. Competition between schools, skills testing, rating
of schools detrimental to promoting inclusive policies and practices

There is an increasing demand from the public at large, spurred by political
considerations and the mood of the times, to promote competitive academic
achievement as the prime objective of the school education system. While
this is already a narrow view of education for all students and is vocationally
inspired, it leaves even the non-academically-gifted non-disabled students
out in the margins, by not recognising the many other elements besides
intellect that make up a whole education, like creative endeavours (drama,
music, art,) or interpersonal skills and social issues. When schools start
excluding students with disability from taking art in skills testing because
that would drag the ratings down, there is a matter for serious concern
about the directions education in general is taking, and most particularly,
what effects this movement is having on attempts to make schools more
inclusive. As for the effects on individual students who know they will
never "make it" in academic competition, great damage is done
to their self-esteem and sense of worth as individuals with something
of value to contribute.