More than 4 million people in Australia have a disability. The term disability has a broad definition under legislation, and includes physical and learning disabilities as well as chronic medical conditions and mental illness.
NCVER research has shown that the number of students undertaking VET courses who report having a disability is increasing. This is despite barriers to participation such as a lack of suitable information about their training options and poor career guidance.
People with disabilities have the same right to access and take part in education and training and RTOs must comply with the Standards, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 when providing training to students with disabilities.
Here, we unpack the obligations training providers have under the Standards and legislation and provide some examples of how technology can assist these students in their training and assessment.
RTO Standards Guide
Standard 1: the RTO’s training and assessment strategies and practices are responsive to industry and learner needs and meet the requirements of training packages and VET accredited courses.
Standard 4: accurate and accessible information about an RTO, its services and performance is available to inform prospective and current learners and clients.
Standard 5: each learner is properly informed and protected.
Standard 8: the RTO cooperates with the VET Regulator and is legally compliant at all times.
RTOs are obligated to determine the level of support required by students and provide it so that they meet their course requirements. Some examples include:
- Study and skills support programs
- LLN programs
- Equipment and resources that enable access
- Trained support staff (including specialists, note-takers, interpreters)
- Flexibility in scheduling, training and assessment
- Providing alternate learning materials
Information must be made readily available about:
- Course suitability
- Special physical and/or cultural course requirements
- Reasonable adjustments that can be made
- Available support
Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
Under the DDA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their disability. Section 22 refers specifically to education providers and the steps that must be taken to ensure people with disabilities are not being treated unfairly. This also refers to other people who may be treated unfairly because of their association with a person with a disability.
The definition of disability under the DDA is comprehensive and includes:
- Physical disabilities
- Intellectual disabilities
- Psychiatric disabilities
- Sensory disabilities
- Neurological disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Physical disfigurement
- The physical presence of disease-causing organisms
The purpose of the DDA is to protect every person with a disability. This includes each disability sub-type and severity level, whether the person was born with the disability or acquired it later in life, or whether they had it in the past or may have it in the future. This protection also extends to those who have a personal connection with a person with a disability, including relatives, friends, carers, co-workers, etc.
Disability Standards for Education (Education Standards)
The Education Standards were created under Section 31 of the DDA and outline the legal obligations that education providers have, and how their responsibilities should be administered in an educational setting.
RTOs have obligations during each stage of the training process; from enrolment to participation, curriculum development, delivery, etc. Some. Examples of how RTOs can meet these obligations are:
- Consider the potential needs of students with disabilities when planning new courses or developing materials and what ways you can make adjustments to accommodate these students
- During the enrolment phase, ensure that potential students are able to enrol on the same basis as other students, ie) they may require course information in alternative formats in to be able to make an informed decision about their studies
- Reasonable adjustments may need to be made to make sure students with disabilities have the same opportunities as other students when undertaking study. This means enabling the student to use all relevant services and facilities on the same basis as other students
- Students with disabilities cannot be expelled because of their disability, and if they believe this has happened, may have grounds to file a complaint
- All students with disabilities who have met course requirements must receive the same recognition as other students at course completion
What Can RTOs Do to Ensure Accessibility?
Training providers are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that students with disabilities are able to participate on the same basis as students without disabilities. If a student meets the necessary entry requirements then training providers need to evaluate how they can make ‘reasonable adjustments‘ to courses and methods of delivery to ensure that they are able to participate.
What are ‘reasonable adjustments’?
‘Reasonable adjustments’ are defined by the Queensland Government as those that would not cause unjustifiable hardship on an RTO. For example, if the cost of the required adjustments to premises or facilities are such that it would cause financial hardship, it would not be expected that these adjustments are made.
What is reasonable, is that RTOs take steps within their means to ensure accessibility for all students. This includes:
- Ensuring all units, learning materials and assessments are appropriate and accessible to the student
- Ensuring all unit delivery modes and activities allow for the needs of the student and are flexible enough to allow for the student’s participation
- If a course or unit includes an activity that the student is unable to participate in, an alternate activity that provides an equivalent experience is offered
- Teaching methods are modified to satisfy the student’s learning needs and accommodate any disadvantage the student may be at as a result of their disability. This may include additional support or developing disability-specific skills
- Adaptable assessment that enables the student to demonstrate their skills, knowledge and competencies
Using Technology to Support Students and Training Organisations Meet these Requirements
Technology can offer a whole host of accessibility when using a fit-for-purpose solution like Cloud Assess. Even if students have difficulty operating a mouse or keyboard, or suffer from vision or hearing impairment, there are options now to assist these students in training and assessment. Some examples include:
- Using a cloud based solution allows you to facilitate the delivery of your training to suit the requirements of your cohort face-to-face, blended or online and remote. This is a huge benefit to students who may only need to present in person occasionally, and/or have mobility issues that makes attending difficult
- Design considerations for students with visual impairment can include font choice, size and colour, headings, images, menus and click-throughs that are easy to understand and can be enlarged if necessary
- Audio and video files can make a huge difference to students with hearing impairments, as well as captions and subtitles
- When using images it’s always a good idea to include descriptive text or alt text. This is helpful for screen readers as most cannot describe an image, but can read alt text to explain what the image is
- Partnerships with sign language or speech pathology providers may allow for communication that wouldn’t be possible otherwise
- Updates to the physical premises such as ramps for access and classroom space to allow for wheelchairs or other mobility devices
- Voice to text allows students to answer questions without the need for typing
- Large text view can make reading easier for those with visual impairments
- Adding audio or video instruction to your question bank allows students who might struggle with reading to have a better understanding of the assessment material
- The option for students to highlight text and have their tablet read it to them can be helpful for students who have difficulty interpreting written text
While RTOs are expected to make reasonable adjustments, there is an equal expectation for the student to disclose any potential disadvantage upfront so adjustments can be made ahead of time. You can do this with a web enquiry form. Stipulate that the idea of reasonable adjustment is to give a successful course completion, they still need to do the work.
It is also important to remember that there are circumstances where units or courses cannot be adjusted to suit everyone. If all options have been exhausted, it may not be the right fit for every student, as stated in a recent webinar with Angela McGregor from The VET Gurus.
Training providers need to closely evaluate, consider and communicate with each student, and not discredit them straight away. Individual processes should be documented, making note of each reasonable adjustment made, or why it was not made.
In closing, it is fantastic to say that when training providers remove barriers to learning, they enable those with disabilities to gain independence through acquiring the skills needed to be job ready.