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SULS establishes new Disabilities portfolio

The portfolio will be filled by the incoming 2022 SULS executive.

Following a General Meeting held yesterday, Sydney University Law Society (SULS) has announced a new, dedicated Disabilities Officer position following intensive consultation with members.

This makes SULS the third society to implement such a portfolio at USyd, following the footsteps of PsychSoc and SASS. Similarly, the development marks SULS as only the third student law society to have a dedicated Disabilities officer alongside Monash and Melbourne universities.

Notably, the portfolio is framed to align with the Social and Human Rights Model of Disability recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

“The advocacy role encompasses raising awareness of disabled students’ rights and capabilities, organising disability-related programs, and advocating for accessibility requirements at SULS and Faculty-organised initiatives,” said Wendy Hu, the current SULS President.

“Moreover, the Disabilities Officer will directly liaise with the Faculty Disability Liaison Officer and relevant Associate Deans of the Law School and disability-involved departments at [The] University of Sydney.” 

According to the University of Sydney’s Disability Inclusion Action Plan 2019-24, as of 2018, only 21% of USyd staff agreed that the institution was very supportive of staff with disabilities. 

It is understood from SULS’ documents surrounding the constitutional amendment that Identity-first Language (IFL) was preferred over Person-first Language (PFL) since “it serves to affirm disability pride and de-stigmatise understanding disability as an element of identity.” On this debate, the society notes that “there is no definitive consensus on this point, so at certain points the proposed changes utilise both IFL and PFL.” The society said it “considers it of high importance that students do not feel excluded by their own preference in language.”

As an autonomous position, the office will be reserved for disabled students in the faculty and appointed by the incoming 2022 SULS executive.

For Andrew Shim, a member of SULS who has been closely involved in consultations surrounding the creation of the portfolio, the new role represents a significant milestone not only for himself but for the student community: “Thanks to yesterday and the outpouring of solidarity that I witnessed, I feel for the first time proud and open in my status as a disabled person,” Shim told Honi.

“I genuinely think that this moment is something special. I think that whoever the new Disability Officer is will have a plethora of resources.”

“When I first learned about my disability I felt a great sense of shame and belonging. My disability confined me and signified a mark against me. This entire consultation process with the Executives has exceeded any expectation that I have. Now I know that whatever happens, the discrimination against disability may hopefully not impact future students as adversely as it impacted me and those who came before me.”

In a statement in response to the portfolio, the newly elected SRC Disabilities Officers Ira Patole, Sarah Korte and Holly Zhang said: “We recognise the incredible work it takes to study with a disability. Therefore, we particularly welcome this move towards inclusion and hope it sets a precedent for other law societies across the country.”

“We also believe that while this is a step in the right direction, most, if not all, society mechanics are still fundamentally ableist. In terms of the amount of unpaid labor expected from students on top of a study load, we hope that SULS will recognise the effort of these members in the future with a small stipend. Second, also in the way social circles function and gather inside societies. On both these fronts, a lot of work still needs to be done to make these spaces accessible and safe for students with disabilities.”