May 25, 2015 Parent School Partnership
The NSW Parents’ Council, Students with Disabilities (SWD) taskforce recently worked alongside the Australian Parents Council (APC), to take a lead role in providing feedback regarding the Review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005. The experience highlighted how the SWD taskforce work extremely well as a team, sharing their vast experience, knowledge and expertise.
The Standards are currently reviewed every five years to ensure that they continue to be effective. As part of the review, a discussion paper was prepared which set out key questions. The main purpose of the Standards is to clarify the obligations of education and training service providers, and the rights of people with disabilities, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (the DDA). The Standards were developed in consultation with education, training and disability groups and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (now called the Australian Human Rights Commission).
The Standards are intended to give students with a disability the same rights as other students. All students, including students with disability, should be treated with dignity and enjoy the benefits of education and training in a supportive environment which values and encourages participation by all students. This includes the right to comparable access, services and facilities, and the right to participate in education and training without discrimination. Education providers have an obligation to make changes to reasonably accommodate the needs of a student with disability.
One of the main concerns with the current Standards is that there is a widespread lack of awareness of, and access to the Standards among both parents and educators. It is important that a community awareness campaign increase awareness of the Standards. Furthermore teacher training needs to be implemented from university and then continue as part of teacher professional development. It is also important that greater responsibilities be placed on Principals, as part of the professional standards.
The Standards in their current form are not strong enough to protect people with disabilities of all types such as hidden disabilities (for example mental health and learning). The Standards also need to utilise language and content which pertains to all ages as there is a perception that the main relevance is to TAFE and university students.
The Standards also address harassment and victimisation of a student with disability. Education providers are obliged to put in place strategies and programs to prevent harassment and victimisation. The current definition of bullying needs to be more clearly defined with supporting resource materials.
An education provider must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate a student with disability. An adjustment is a measure or action taken to assist a student with disability to participate in education and training on the same basis as other students. The term reasonable adjustment is not well understood and sometimes unjustifiable hardship can be used as an easy excuse by school personnel. There needs to be better understanding through case studies.
If a person thinks that they are affected by a breach of the Standards, they can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission can investigate the complaint and try to resolve it. If the Commission decides a complaint cannot be resolved, the matter can be taken to the Federal Court of Australia or the Federal Magistrates Court.
There is a widespread view that there are few consequences if the Standards are not adhered to, and that they play little if any part in eliminating discrimination. The Standards currently lack a backbone and it is important that they are backed by resources. There needs to be greater accountability. Repercussions need to be introduced for educational providers who do not comply.
The review provides an opportunity for improvements as there appears to be shortcomings in their implementation. It is important that parents, teachers and school leaders work in partnership to maximise educational outcomes for students with disabilities.