Leading student organisations call for better protections for students with disabilities

The National Union of Students (NUS), Australian Law Students’ Association and the Australian Medical Students’ Association released a joint statement in November.

The National Union of Students (NUS), Australian Law Students’ Association and the Australian Medical Students’ Association released a joint statement in November advocating for immediate reform of the higher education sector to improve accessibility and experience for students with a disability.

The statement illustrates the urgent need for reorganisation within the sector and aims to amplify the lived experiences of disabled staff and students.

The report cites changes previously suggested by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSHE). Recommendations ranging from the dismantling of discrimination within higher education, an increase in student support, and the mitigation of barriers faced by students with disabilities as key areas for targeted change. 

In the report, the student organisations call on Australian universities to endorse anti-discrimination legislation, advocate for greater funding, and implement mandatory inclusivity and anti-ableist training for all higher education staff.

The authors of the report state that supporting hybrid forms of education and dismantling physical barriers have “noticeably enhanced accessibility and student wellbeing for disabled students,” particularly targeting “those from First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse (‘CALD’), and other intersectional, minoritised, and marginalised backgrounds.”

NUS Disabilities Officer Isabella Harding told Honi that the statement is “the voice of d/Disabled students and tragically, it paints a grim picture of students’ experience of social and legal barriers to equal treatment. 

“Any ableism, especially ableism in places of learning, is condemnable and the onus is on higher education providers and regulators to change this culture.”

Harding said that, “as of today, I have not received any contact from Higher Education Providers about how to make their campuses, accommodation, and education delivery more accessible to students. Our demands have not been taken seriously by the Department of Education who refuses to implement the changes.” 

The University of Sydney was the last of the Group of Eight (Go8) universities to implement their own disabilities space. Khanh Tran, Disabilities Officer, said that “USyd remains far from being disabilities-friendly.”

USyd campus remains “riddled with multiple physical barriers to entry and broken promises on implementing tactile routes” Tran said. 

“The elite residential colleges must also be abolished in favour of affordable student housing. Their sordid record on elitism, sexual harassment and assault means that they can never be safe spaces for student with disabilities.”

Tran said that USyd’s own “disability services and the Student Centre must receive far better funding to perform their functions.

“There is next to zero financial support for disabled students, with the much-touted MySydney scholarship ignoring disabled students altogether despite being one of the communities earmarked for increased access by the federal government.”

Despite the lack of support from the University of Sydney management itself, the statement was endorsed by various USyd bodies such as, Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association, University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council, Sydney University Law Society, Sydney University Medical Society  and Sydney Arts Students’ Society.

Read the full report here.

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