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The Rights of People with Disabilities: Areas of Need for Increased Protection: Chapter 3: Education

The Rights of People with Disabilities: Areas of Need for Increased Protection

Chapter 3: Education

Issues Addressed

The focus of the investigation into the provision of education for students with disabilities was threefold:

  • to examine the Commonwealth Special Education Program which is now the responsibility of the federal Department of Employment, Education and Training;
  • to examine the provision of primary and secondary education for people with disabilities in each State/Territory of Australia, considering each
    State's legislative provisions; policy directions; and policies in practice;
  • to examine the difficulties encountered by people with disabilities in gaining access to continuing education.

Rights

Principle 6 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons states in part that:

Disabled persons have the right to... education, vocational training and rehabilitation...which will enable them to develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum and will hasten the process of their social integration or reintegration.

Principle 2 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons states that:

The mentally retarded person has a right to proper medical care and physical therapy and to such education, training rehabilitation and guidance as will enable him to develop his ability and maximum potentiaL

Article 2 of the Declaration of General and Special Rights of the Mentally Retarded (as adopted by the International League of Societies for the Mentally Handicapped) states that:

The mentally retarded person has a right to proper medical care and physical restoration and to such education, training and rehabilitation and guidance as will enable him to develop his ability and potential to the fullest possible extent. No mentally handicapped person should be deprived of such services by reason of the costs involved.

The key rights in these provisions are those of:

  • appropriate educational provision;
  • appropriate provision of resources; and
  • social integration as an aim of education.

The organisation Queensland Parents of People with a Disability (QPPD) state in their Policy Statement on Education of Children with Special Needs that: ... all students with a disability have the same rights as other students to a free education that caters for them:

  • academically;
  • socially;
  • emotionally;
  • physically;
  • psychologically,

in the most suitable setting and locality.

In addition to the rights espoused by the UN instruments as noted in the Introduction, this Discussion Paper endorses the rights espoused by the QPPD. In acknowledging that people with disabilities enjoy these rights, additional resources and services need to be provided over and above those required by persons without apparent disabilities.

The QPPD Policy Statement suggests further that:

The education of students with a disability should be valued as highly as the education of students without apparent disabilities. Acknowledging the value of educating students with a disability requires acknowledging that they require options for the type and location of their education ...
In order to have any choices at all, students with a disability need a range of services, in a variety of settings relevant to their expressed needs. They will require an investment in human and material resources class for part or whole of their education exceeding that which is applied to that of the average student...

Denial of Rights and Discrimination

Commonwealth Involvement

The Federal Government has direct responsibility in two major areas of education for children with disabilities - early intervention and school age education. New Directions recommends that the Federal Minister consider:

  • re early intervention:

    • giving all disabled children below school age access to an appropriate multi-disciplinary early intervention program;
    • rationalising the role of Federal, State and non-government organisations in the provision of early intervention programs;
    • encouraging State Governments to acknowledge their responsibility in this area by cost sharing early intervention programs with the Commonwealth;
    • encouraging State Education Ministers to establish a data base on disabled children to facilitate longer term planning; and
    • further developing home and centre based programs which would include parent education and training.
  • re school age education:
  • ensuring the right to free and appropriate public education for all school aged children, including those with disabilities;
  • ensuring that disabled children are effectively integrated into mainstream schools and classes;
  • providing funding to enable the transfer to State Education Departments of the current non-government sector education programs for disabled children funded through the Schools Commission; and
  • providing funding to enable disabled children to gain access to mainstream schools by upgrading physical accessibility and providing notetakers, support teachers, therapists and other staff, and by developing alternative methods of teaching and assessment.

It should be noted that since the publication of New Directions, responsibility for the Commonwealth Special Education Program has been transferred to the federal Department of Employment, Education and Training. Discussion later in this chapter indicates that most of these recommendations are still in the process of being implemented.

The aim of this section is twofold:

  • to outline the different elements of the Commonwealth Special Education Program; and
  • to draw on the recommendations of the report The Special Education Services Element of the Commonwealth Special Education Program: a Review (The SES Review), which assesses existing funding arrangements for special education and support services such as therapy, transport and equipment relating to schooling for students with disabilities in all States and Territories.

The Commonwealth Programs for Schools Administrative Guidelines for 1988 indicates that the Special Education Program provides assistance to education authorities and non-government voluntary and community agencies to improve the quality and coverage of educational services for children with disabilities, including those living in institutions.

The Commonwealth provides financial assistance for:

  • Special Education Recurrent Grants: which supplement the operating costs associated with educating children with disabilities in special and regular schools and in centres;
  • Integration Grants: which support the principle that, where possible, children with disabilities attend regular schools;
  • Special Education Services (SES): which provide educational, training and related support services for children with disabilities attending government and non-government schools and centres;
  • Early Special Education: which supports educational services to children with disabilities who are below school age;
  • children in residential institutions: which provides supplementary educational support to broaden the general experience of young people living in institutions for medical, rehabilitation, welfare or correctional purposes;
  • children with severe disabilities: which funds educational programs for children with severe disabilities living in institutions or in their own homes.

The SES Review indicates that many of the uses to which SES funds are put, are similar to those for which other elements of the Commonwealth Special Education Program also provide funds. Consequently, the SES Review addressed three questions:

  • what is the present role of SES funding and what may such roles hope to achieve in future developments in Australian special education?
  • what is the most appropriate method of distributing funds to the States?
  • what should be the guidelines by which SES funds are distributed?

In relation to the first question, the SES Review concluded that:

SES funding is utilised in three ways. First, it supports the direct costs of educational provision (e.g. teachers' salaries or teacher aides) in either special or regular schools, where these are not fully
subsidised or provided by state education authorities.
Secon it supports the delivery of a wide range of support services, such as therapy, equipment and transport which complement the education program. Finally, it supports a range of community based activities provided by agencies that may have only an indirect association with education. These latter services can be considered as supplementary to the education program.

It would appear then that:

On the one hand there is emphasis upon recurrent support of the cost of special education provided in non-government special and regular schools. On the other hand there is emphasis upon provision of support services in both restricted settings and in the form of outreach provisions (with the latter being increasingly emphasised). Complicating both of these paths are conflicting perceptions of the status of integration policy as either regular or special education policy. Is integration the process whereby regular schools accept responsibility for education of an increasing proportion of the student population or does integration represent an expansion of special education into the regular school sphere? Quite different futures are implied for the provision of services depending on which path is selected and if too wide a range of objectives is nominated for the program there is the danger that none will be achieved satisfactorily.

In relation to the third question the SES Review argues that the guidelines for SES funding should in part reflect:

  • an identification of the relevant target population;
  • students whose disabilities give rise to significant educational handicap; and
  • the emerging priorities and structural changes that are occurring in Australian special education, particularly integration and the principle of the least restrictive environment.

The recommendations made by the SES Review could ensure that the SES has a more direct and equitable funding direction, which takes into account the current focus on integration, while at the same time recognising that support services for students in special schools are a Commonwealth responsibility.

The objectives of Commonwealth grants for early special education relating to children with disabilities below school age are, amongst other things, to provide for:

  • the preparation of children for integration into regular schools;
  • the integration of children with disabilities into regular pre-schools; and
  • the involvement of families in the learning processes of young children.

Information collected for this Report indicates that the Recommendations of New Directions in this area have not been implemented, particularly the recommendation which states that all children with disabilities below school age should have access to an appropriate multi-disciplinary early intervention program.

State Education Authorities

Legislation

New South Wales

The Education and Public Instruction Act 1987 is the legislation governing the provision of public education in NSW. As this legislation stands, no child in NSW has a legally enforceable right to education. Rather the legislation permits the Minister to do certain things (such as establish schools) but does not impose a duty on him or her to do so.

Section 6(a) of the Act provides that schools 'may be established and maintained' at the Minister's discretion. Sections 4(1) and 4(1
)(A) impose a duty on the parents of children and infirm children respectively to send their child to school where there is a school or special school in the area. There are several defences available to a parent who fails to fulfill this duty, including section 4(4
)(e) which allows a child's temporary or permanent infirmity to be a defence. The extent of the Minister's power to exempt a child from compulsory education is so considerable as to render the concept of compulsory education a nullity. This is especially so in the case of a child who may require special facilities or services which the Minister is not legally obliged to provide, and therefore cannot be compelled to provide.

The provisions of the Anti-DiscriminationAct
1977
(
ADA), whilst rendering discrimination on the grounds of physical or intellectual disability in the provision of public education unlawful in certain circumstances, do not change the reality of the Public Instruction Act. The ADA does not apply where the student requires services or facilities not required by students who do not have a disability, and which cannot be reasonably provided or accommodated by the education authority (sections 49(J)(3), 49(Y)(3)). Thus it may be discriminatory conduct for a large school appropriate for disabled access and having necessary trained staff to refuse to enroll a child with a disability, where it would not be discriminatory for a small country school without disabled access and without adequate staff resources to refuse to enroll the same child. The ADA would have no effect in any attempt to compel the Minister to provide a service to children with disabilities, since the most common reason for refusal of enrolment is lack of available resources to educate the child - a reason which is acceptable under the
ADA.

Victoria

Existing Victorian legislation does not give any child, with or without a disability, a right to an education. It has been argued that the
Education Act 1958
implies some rights and there is a community expectation that some rights exist. In fact, existing legislation places an obligation on parents to ensure their children attend school but does not bestow on children a right to an education. Within the legislation, requirements on sending a child with a disability to school are less rigid than those applying to non-disabled children.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

The Education Ordinance 1937 and the
ACT Schools Authority Ordinance 1976
are the legislative bases for the provision of education in the ACT.

While attendance of children between 6 and 15 is generally compulsory (
s.s. 8-9), exemptions exist which may extend to children with intellectual disabilities. An exemption can be obtained if the ACT Schools Authority has issued a s.16 certificate: grounds for issuing a certificate include the situation where 'such conditions exist as make it necessary or desirable that the certificate should be granted'. An exemption from attendance is given if the child has a permanent infirmity.

Such exemptions can be construed as an abdication of duty by the ACT
lSchools Authority to provide adequate and appropriate schooling for people with intellectual disabilities. There appear to be no enforceable rights to education in general, to a particular standard of education, or to education at a particular school.

Queensland

The legislative base for the provision of education in
Queensland is the Education Act
1964-74. S.26 of the Act states that 'Special education may be provided or contributed to by the Minister for every handicapped child who is of the age of compulsory
attendance'. This Act does not demonstrate a commitment to provide the necessary
resources and educational service options.

QPPD has recommended that the Education Act 1964-74, S.26, should be changed from 'Special education may be provided and contributed to...,
to

'Special education will be provided and contributed to..."

Tasmania

The legislative base for the provision of education in
Tasmania is the Education Act 1932.

No information on exemptions was available at the time of this Report.

Northern Territory

The legislative base for the provision of education in the
Northern Territory is the Education Act 1979. While as a general rule attendance of children between 6 and 15 is compulsory, s.8(3) of the Act allows exemptions at the Minister's discretion.

Western Australia

The discussion paper A Fair Go for People with Disabilities pointed out that the Education Act 1928 does not contain provisions ensuring the acceptance of disabled and handicapped children within the education system. Although the Act makes school attendance compulsory for children from the age of six until leaving age, there are various provisions which could allow either the school or the parents to prevent a child from receiving a formal education. For instance, section 14 of the Act enables parents not to send their child to school if the child is sick, there is a danger of infection, or the child has a permanent or temporary infirmity. 'Incorrigible' children (who exhibit immoral behaviour or gross conduct) may be removed from the school situation.

Another section of the Education Act (section 20B) gives the Minister the power, on the recommendation of an advisory panel, to prevent a child with a severe mental or physical disability from attending a school. As the compulsory education provisions do not apply to such children, they will not receive any education unless their parents make their own arrangements.

South Australia

Proposed amendments to the Education Act 1972 remain confidential, and it is not known whether these amendments will ensure that a child has a right to an education.

State Education Authority Policies

New South Wales

The Department of Education issued its most recent policy on the enrolment of children with disabilities on 4 February 1988. The Department's current policy is one of integrating the student with a disability into the mainstream where possible and practicable, and where it is in the 'best interests of the child'. Statistics do not necessarily bear out the success of this policy.

The principal of a school to which a child applies for enrolment is the officer responsible for making or refusing an offer of enrolment. The principal can require the child's parents to produce a statement describing the child's condition and requirements, including a medical certificate where he or she thinks it will be relevant. This information is not required of a non-disabled child applying for enrolment. it is arguable that to require a medical certificate constitutes a breach of the child's right to privacy (no detail was available on what happens to this information once provided, and on the application of a policy of confidentiality, if any). Where the principal decides to refuse enrolment, his or her decision can be reviewed by the Regional Director on application by the parents. Where the child is permitted to enroll, his or her continuing enrolment will be subject to review and may be terminated at any time. It would not be normal procedure to subject the application of a non-disabled child to such a process.

Victoria

The Ministry of Education policy is based on the recognition of the rights of people with disabilities and impairments to participate fully in community life. Ministry strategies are aimed at the integration of students with disabilities into mainstream educational settings.

The impetus for this policy has come from the report of the Ministerial Review of Educational Se
,vices for the Disabled
released in 1984.

The Review Committee preparing the report adopted five guiding principles, two of which are of particular relevance to this Discussion Paper:

Principle 1: that every child has a right to be educated in a regular school. It follows from acceptance of this principle that the Government must ensure that regular schools can provide and have access to a range of education options and services for all children, including those with impailments, disabilities or problems in schooling. It implies an obligation on the part of Government to provide the necessary resources so that schools can effectively and progressively integrate these children. This principle does not require children with impairments and disabilities to be educated in the regular school if this is not their parents' wish.

Principle 5: that all children can learn and be taught. This principle departs from earlier assumptions of ineducabiliry and challenges the practices of no educational provision, or limited pro vision, for certain groups of children.

The Review made a total of 143 recommendations, and in May 1985 the Victorian Government confirmed its policy on integration as expressed in the Review report.

Measures to overcome the discriminatory nature of previous educational provisions to children with disabilities in
Victoria has undoubtedly had impact. The existence of the Integration Unit within the Ministry of Education, and Enrolment and Support Groups in each school, which involve parents and parent advocates, are positive steps.

Australian Capital Territory

In November 1986 the ACT Schools Authority (the Authority) produced its Policy for Services to Students with Special Needs. This policy states that:

...the long-term goal of special education is similar to that of the education of all other children. The Authority has a societal commitment to educate all children together as far as it is practicable.

This statement is balanced by:

The Authority will not require children with special needs and others to be taught together in circumstances which would educationally disadvantage any of the students involved.


The Authority emphasises that the home school should make every attempt to provide the necessary assistance to retain students in mainstream as far as practicable. Resources will be provided as far as possible to facilitate the school's commitment.

The clauses 'as far as practicable' and 'as far as possible' allow the Authority to provide education in a range of segregated settings. There are special primary and high schools for people with various degrees of intellectual and physical disability. Despite the Authority's philosophical commitment to mainstreaming, some interviewees reported that lack of resources often left few options. One interviewee responded:

...it's true that every parent has the right to mainstream - but if the choice is made to mainstream there is no right to demand extra support.

This would mean, for instance, that if parents decided, against the advice and assessment of the Authority's workers, to send their child to a mainstream school, there might not be any extra commitment of resources.

Queensland

The Department of Education's
Policy and Information Statement
of February 1986 states that the Department of Education 'supports a policy of integrating handicapped students in regular schools when it is in the best interests of the handicapped students to do so'. Shortfalls in resourcing, however, mean that integration is a difficult ideal to realise, and that some segregated settings are under-resourced. Some resource issues include:

  • lack of necessary staff in special schools - including physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers;
  • lack of a range of special educational options - in each region - as part of the general educational provision;
  • lack of a range of types of settings;
  • physical access to and within schools is often difficult, for example, transport to schools, access in schools including ramps etc, and access in classrooms including allowing for adequate space and design; and
  • the uneven distribution of resources and services across disabilities, across regions, and across the strata of Queensland society.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory's Department of Education
Information Statement
of June 1988 states as its overall approach that:

Children who are recognised as having special needs should have access to education programs which are appropriate to those needs.

The Information Statement goes on to say that:

If it is at all possible for a child to receive an appropriate education in a regular classroom, that is where it should be
provided. Only when this mainstream experience is demonstrably not in the best interests of the child should a less integrated placement be sought. When such an alternative placement is arranged, a full range of support setvices should be available.

In addition to the shortfalls in resourcing, and the perceived lack of commitment to enforce the above policies, particular problems arise in relation to remote Aboriginal Community Schools. There are no specialist teams to adequately assess children in outlying areas. Children who have more severe degrees of disability often have no other option but to move away from their community and family to receive education in either Alice Springs or
Darwin.

Western Australia

The Department's Policy on Children in Need of Special Support is designed to:

  • increase the capacity of the Education Department to provide 'non-
    labelled' and 'non-category-based' individually appropriate educational support services to significant numbers of children in primary and secondary schools who are in need of such support; and
  • enable handicapped children to receive an appropriate education in an integrated setting in regular schools.

The essential elements of the Policy are that:

  • the mode of support must be systematically sustainable;
  • educational support services are based on the individual student's needs;
  • specialised intensive programming and instructional techniques will be used throughout Special Education (Education Support Branch) facilities and services;
  • the education of children with special needs will take place in the least restrictive environment;
  • the education of children with special needs will be provided as close as possible to their homes;
  • a range of services and facilities will be made available for children in need of educational support;
  • the range of children for whom educational support will be provided will include those who are now eligible for entry into special schools, special classes, remedial units and remedial clinics as well as some who are not eligible for support under existing criteria;
  • the primary purpose of assessment of children will be to assist in the design of appropriate educational programs and not for the purpose of determining eligibility for entry into, or exclusion from, labelled categories and groups;
  • Education Support Centres will provide a very significant additional educational resource for regular school students and staff;
  • Education Support Centres will provide systematic support for some children who at present receive their education in segregated settings;
  • this policy will remove the category boundaries between schools for the 'physically handicapped' and those for the 'intellectually handicapped';
  • children who require the very intensive support of these schools will be able to attend their nearest special school;
  • the transfer of large numbers of children into any one regular school will not occur;
  • all Education Support Centre placements will be on a case-by-case basis and parents of the children concerned will be included in the decision-making process;
  • the design of the integration program will take place after careful consideration of the individual child's ability and needs by the joint Education Support Centre/regular school team.
South Australia

Some of the comments to emerge from the consultations include that:

  • some of the recommendations of the Integration Report 1985 are meaningless;
  • the new Education Review Unit should consult with people with disabilities in formulating new policies and curricula;
  • three or four reviews of education in recent years had been 'filtered out' (amended) to suit the Department, demonstrating a lack of commitment which is reflected in legislation and policy,
  • principals have their own agendas, which differ from the Department of Education, resulting in some schools not facing the responsibility of integration;
  • schools hide behind policy statements such as 'wherever possible' or 'within reason'; this creates loopholes to enable schools and the Department not to take responsibility or be accountable; the policies therefore become weak, if not meaningless.

The previous section outlined the integration policies of certain State and Territory education authorities (see also Appendix IV). Most authorities also have policies which relate to a range of other issues, including:

  • enrolment procedures;
  • access to therapy;
  • class sizes;
  • school leaving ages;
  • access; and
  • transport to and from school.

The aim of this section is to consider the evidence provided by interviewees as it relates to these disparate areas of policy. Due to the method by which information was collected, the following discussion of discriminatory practices is far from exhaustive.

This discussion will examine segregated and integrated settings, and the range of possible settings in between. The QPPD Policy Statements suggest that the following types of settings should be available to students with disabilities:

  • to remain in a regular class with special assistance provided by the regular classroom teacher with a continuing review of the child's progress, with teacher aide time to support the teacher;
  • to remain in a regular class using a modified curriculum, with teacher aide time to support the teacher;
  • to receive the support services of an itinerant specialist while remaining in the regular class;
  • to remain in the regular class with provision of specialist help by a resource teacher operating from a special education unit, on a support or withdrawal basis;
  • to attend a special class full-time with increasing participation in regular classes;
  • to attend a special school with some provision for:
    • attendance in a regular class, with provision for support services, or
    • social interaction in the wider community during school hours;
  • where a student is unable to attend school, an education program should be available either at home, in hospital, or respite care facility.

The QPPD Policy Statement goes on to say that

For all the above options, teachers should have access to other relevant suppoll services where necessary. For example, teachers of regular classes, who have a child with a significant disability, should be relieved of classroom duties to liaise and confer with
otherpersons, such as therapists, visiting teachers and guidance officers, involved with the education of the student.

Although project workers differed in their focus, a number of general statements can be made concerning practices of state education authorities in segregated and integrated settings.

Although all State and Territory education authorities have written policies which to a greater or lesser extent promote the integration of students with disabilities into regular school environments, these policies are often not supported with the allocation of appropriate resources.

In most States, the lack of resources effectively means that many students with disabilities are denied the right to education in a regular school, even where this is the most appropriate setting. Some general issues included the incapacity to resource:

  • a range of professional personnel;
  • non-professional personnel;
  • physical access to and within schools;
  • access to relevant curricula;
  • special equipment; and
  • access to electronic technology.

In most States, as well, people with disabilities, parents and advocates reported practices which effectively worked against the process of integration. Education authorities themselves are committed to integration 'as far as it is practicable', or 'while recognising the needs of non-disabled children'. Such clauses would not appear to deny a child with a disability access to appropriate education, but the use of such clauses by education authorities, even against the express wishes of parents, is pronounced.

Because of this inadequate allocation of resources, and the lack of commitment to implementation of integration policies, special schools, in segregated settings, remain a major focus of educational provision for children with disabilities.

Given that this Discussion Paper has defined educational discrimination as occurring when a child with a disability is denied free, appropriate education in the most suitable setting and location for that individual, then special schools need not be discriminatory in themselves. The practices of some education authorities, however, suggest that students at special schools are not valued as highly as their non-disabled peers in regular schools, and that the existence of special schools promotes discrimination.

Such practices as:

  • delayed admission;
  • differing school leaving ages;
  • disciplinary measures;
  • response to non-attendance at school; and
  • the lack of early intervention programs

indicate that education authorities have not accepted that all members of a community should grow up together, learning to accept each other as persons with rights, and to value each other as participants in the whole society.

It is important that students with disabilities have the same access as other students to a free education in the most suitable setting and locality. Areas in which project workers identified discriminatory practices that deserve closer scrutiny include:

  • in
    New South Wales

    • early intervention programs
    • enrolment procedures
    • progression to secondary school
    • transport
    • access to therapy
    • school leaving ages
  • in Victoria
    • delayed admission
    • attitudes of school principals
    • school to work transition
  • in the Australian Capital Territory
    • non-attendance at school
    • school leaving ages
    • transport
    • discipline
  • in Queensland
    • physical access to and within schools
    • differentiated curricula
    • isolated areas
  • in Tasmania
    • parental participation in decision making
    • physical access
    • school leaving ages
  • in the Northern Territory
    • persons in isolated communities
  • in South Australia
    • access to therapy services
    • transport to and from school
    • limited information to parents
    • location of school.

Continuing Education

The focus of this chapter has been on primary and secondary education. Only a few interviews were conducted with people with disabilities involved in continuing education, and with people involved in the provision of continuing education.

This section of the chapter concentrates on two main matters:

  • a brief analysis of the report commissioned by the federal Department of Community Services and Health entitled TAFE and People with Disabilities
  • a brief analysis of the project and report entitled Assistance for Disabled Students in Post- Secondaiy Education Perception, Needs and Responses.

TAFE and People with Disabilities (The TPD report)

The TPD report endeavours to provide information and advice on:

  • how TAFE could best meet the needs of people with disabilities, and
  • how TAFE could offer relevant training to people who will be working with disabled people in the community.

Although the TPD report's surveys and research indicated considerable activity in the training of people with disabilities, the report found that:

resources are very thinly spread, programs are overly dependent on the individual efforts of some teachers, most special courses do not have vocational outcomes, linkages between schools at one end of the spectrum and job placement and support at the other end are poorly developed, funding is unreliable, inadequate and insufficiently focussed, initial teacher training is minimal and in-service staff development generally absent and evaluation of college
peifonnance in the disability field generally non-existent (including an absence of data on fundamental factors, such as the number of students with disabilities). Basically disability is an ad hoc, poorly resourced, low priority issue, in which performance is unable to match the rhetoric of the TAFE policy documents.

If these major structural difficulties are to be resolved, then the recommendations of the TPD report need to be implemented. The intent of the recommendations is to ensure a clear, predictable and ongoing basis for the development of programs and to overcome the existing ad hoc approach caused mainly by funding inadequacies.

Although the TPD report is not a document which details discriminatory practices, it does set an agenda for the better provision of continuing education for people with disabilities.

Assistance for disabled students in post-secondary education: perception, needs and responses
(The ADSPSE report)

The ADSPSE report was intended to assist in the assessment of the adequacy of support for tertiary students with disabilities and to develop policies that would more effectively ensure that disabled young people are able to take full advantage of educational opportunities.

The ADSPSE report covers issues such as the nature of disability, available sources of fmancial assistance for students, approaches and attitudes adopted by institutions and the support provided by government and non-government organisations. The ADSPSE report raises the question of the responsibility which both institutions and government agencies may need to accept and discusses the need for the development of appropriate policies.

The ADSPSE report points out that disabled people have traditionally tended to be confronted with restrictions in terms of the options for post-secondary education available to them. Although it is generally accepted that people with disabling conditions have an equal right to post-secondary education, these rights are rarely pursued. There are very few universities or colleges of advanced education which publicise, specifically, the possibilities of educational participation to disabled persons. The report, as a result, emphasises the need for more affirmative action.

In spite of the diversity that exists among students with disabilities there are some common characteristics:

  • many students with disabilities proceed through courses of study at a slower rate because handicapping effects place constraints upon the semester load that can be carried;
  • in order to reduce the handicapping effects of disability, students commonly incur types and levels of expenditure not faced by students without disabilities;
  • many students with disabilities delay entry into post secondary education for a variety of reasons;
  • many students experience a shock in the transfer from school to post-school education because of the significant differences in resource and support provided (generally, schools are perceived as being more appropriately resourced than the post-secondary sector);
  • for some students with disabilities the purposes of post-secondary education differ considerably from those of students without disabilities, for example, post-secondary education is often significant as a social site where people with severe disabilities may engage in a form of rewarding activity, hence their participation may not be temporary as is the case for students without disabilities.

The ADSPSE report identifies three of the different types of inaccessibility for disabled students to post-secondary education. These are physical
inaccessability, inaccessability due to the teaching process, and fmancial
inaccessability.

1. Physical inaccessibility

This includes problems of physical access to buildings, the overall layout of the relevant institution/s, ramps, sign posting, special toilets, special parking or set-down arrangements. It also relates to access maps which often fail to consider the time required to travel routes between buildings or the effect of wet weather on both the route and the traveller: for example, an uncovered route may render it inaccessible in wet weather as well as providing the person with disabilities no other option but to get thoroughly wet. The lack of covered waiting bays at taxi ranks also has the same effect. Inaccessibility may also occur if lifts become inoperative preventing students from attending classes or other necessary areas within the institution.

2. Inaccessibility due to the teaching process

The main two contributing factors are the lack of equipment and service aids and the negative attitudes sometimes expressed by teaching staff. Disabled students often have a need for more specialised equipment, materials and services.These may include visual aids, high powered tape recorders, word processors, readers, scribes or personal care assistants to help the student with mobility, eating and going to the toilet. Thoughtlessness on the part of staff members also contributes to this form of inaccessibility. Insensitive staff members may be unwilling to make recordings of lectures or to provide copies of lecture notes or overhead transparencies. Staff members often fail to recognise the additional time that disabled students need to travel between buildings, to rest between activities and to complete their work. Staff may even show undisguised hostility towards disabled students because they see inappropriate vocational outcomes.

3. Financial inaccessibility

Many disabled students incur extra costs in order to undertake some form of post- secondary education. In addition to the extra equipment that they may require, most disabled students rely heavily upon a photocopying service. Also, many such students are compelled to use a taxi service as the main mode of transport to and from the institution. The lack of special funds or programs for disabled students in post secondary institutions often renders such opportunities inaccessible.

In trying to reduce some of the recognised inaccessibilities, the ADSPSE report found that the universities and colleges of advanced education addressed these issues in three stages along a continuum of institutional adaptation. These are:

  • a concern for modifications of buildings and facilities to allow some access by disabled people;
  • a subsequent shift in emphasis on the provision of specialised equipment and educational aids for disabled students (this stage also includes some potential for the modification of assessment procedures);
  • an emphasis on greater consultation with and participation of students with disabilities on committees where the issue of access for people with disabilities is central, for example, course modification to make the 'interaction of disability and educational environment less handicapping'.

It is clear from the ADPSE report that individuals with disabilities are assisted or impeded in their studies by the nature and degree of the relevant institution's response. As stated earlier, very few post-secondary institutions publicly encourage people with disabilities to participate in their programs. Many institutions do, however, permit disabled students to enrol on an integrated basis.

The ADSPSE report's survey of students with disabilities indicated that such students expect institutions to demonstrate their responsibility and commitment in this area by removing the additional and significant handicapping obstacles which can, and often do, operate to reduce such students' chances of success on the basis of merit. That is toy, if such a student is accepted for enrolment in a given course, he/she should be afforded a reasonable opportunity to:

  • attend lectures, tutorials, other classes and required activities;
  • gain access to the library and its services; and
  • to gain access to any other required facilities and support services.

Obviously, the educational institution should be required to make a more meaningful response than the mere acceptance of students with disabilities.

If people with disabilities are to gain access to the teaching process of, and physical and fmancial access to, universities and colleges of advanced education, then such tertiary institutions need to specify the nature and extent of the responsibility they are undertaking at the time they enrol a student with a disability.

Major Issues and Recommendations

To ensure that people with disabilities have the right to an education which will enable them to develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum, and which will hasten the process of their social integration or reintegration, it is essential that the Federal and State Governments respond appropriately to the discriminatory practices highlighted in this chapter.

As was stated at the beginning of this chapter, New Directions recommended that the federal Minister for Education (now the Minister for Employment, Education and Training) should consider:

  • ensuring the right to free and appropriate public education for all school aged children, including those with disabilities;
  • ensuring that children with disabilities are effectively integrated into mainstream schools and classes;
  • providing funding to enable the transfer to State Education Departments of the current non-government sector education programs for children with disabilities funded through the Schools Commission; and
  • providing funding to enable children with disabilities to gain access to mainstream schools by upgrading physical accessibility and providing
    notetakers, support teachers, therapists and other staff, and by developing alternative methods of teaching and assessment.

Since New Directions some of these recommendations have been achieved in part, and some have not been addressed. it is believed that:

  • because of exemption clauses in the legislation which governs the provision of education in most States and Territories, children with disabilities do not have a right to an education, and in many instances have been excluded from all educational services;
  • the policies of State and Territory education authorities are at odds with the practices of those authorities, particularly in relation to commitments to integration;
  • a basic premise of education is that all members of a community should grow up together, learning to accept each other as persons with rights, and to value each other as participants in the whole society.

Accordingly, it is recommended that:

  • education, as the first option, be provided in generic school settings;
  • existing practices in special schools be monitored by the Federal and State Governments to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate education in the most suitable setting and location;
  • the Commonwealth Special Education Program address the issues raised in the SES Review report in relation to funding arrangements and support services for special education;
  • the recommendations of the report TAFE and People with Disabilities be used to address the structural difficulties currently encountered by TAFE in providing services for people with disabilities;
  • universities and colleges of advanced education accept the responsibility of encouraging people with disabilities to enrol, and of enabling them to study with the appropriate support;
  • appropriate anti-discrimination legislation be enacted by Governments in those jurisdictions without such specific legislation.

Go to chapter 4