Photo: Saff Bannister, Disabilities Officer, ANU Disabilities Student Association (DSA)
As the new university year begins, students are wondering about the need for academics to get educated.
Australian academics need educating on disability issues and they need it fast, according to the Australian National University’s Disabilities Student Association (DSA).
The DSA, which is run for students with disability by students with disability, wants to educate ANU academics on the needs of students with disability.
Disabilities Officer Saff Bannister says for example, ANU academics largely don’t understand how Education Access Plans (EAPs) work to formally establish reasonable adjustments that support students with disability to get equal access to education.
Saff Bannister spoke to Ability.News about the DSA’s policy and advocacy focus this year.
“We will be working to introduce disability sensitivity and awareness training for tutors and lecturers, as well as try to increase lecturer awareness of EAPs and ANU’s policies around reasonable adjustments. We will also be working with the ANU Access and Inclusion team to give guidance to improve their services.”
“EAPs have to be individually discussed with lecturers – and if a lecturer decides they don’t want to follow it, students are basically forced to self-advocate, which can be really tough. That’s if the student can get an EAP in the first place. EAPs require medical documentation which can be difficult for a student to get for financial and language reasons (the documentation has to be in English). Certain conditions require expensive specialist visits and assessments.”
“EAPs must be more accessible to obtain. Secondly, they must be applied consistently and students should not be forced to self-advocate.”
Across Australia, students with disability are at high risk of dropping out and not completing university studies.
In 2019, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) reported students with disability in undergraduate courses were more likely (27%) than those without disability (19%) to discontinue studies.
Getting to physical lectures is very difficult for many students.
Saff Bannister wants quality online learning to be seen as just as important as face-to-face teaching.
“In person learning is inherently inaccessible for people with some disabilities, particular fatigue and mobility affecting disabilities, chronic illnesses and for people who are immunocompromised.”
“At the same time, I recognise that online only learning is inaccessible for many people. That’s why I’m advocating for hybrid and multi-modal solutions.”
He wants the University to see online learning as an ongoing, rather than a ‘stop-gap’ solution.
Getting around campus is difficult.
“The ANU’s campus is huge – easily a 45-minute walk from top to bottom – and many lecture and tutorial locations are inaccessible if you have limited mobility or rely on mobility aids,” said Saff Bannister.
Saff Bannister is urging new students to connect with their support services at the ANU Disabilities Student Association