The Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our campuses are situated. With a history spanning 60,000 years as the original educators, Indigenous peoples hold a unique place in Australia. We recognise the importance of their knowledge and culture, and reflect the principles of participation, equity, and cultural respect in our work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future, and consider it an honour to learn from our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends.

You are reading: Best practice in Supporting Indigenous Students with Disability in Higher Education

Michele J. Fleming and Diana M. Grace

University of Canberra

Report Summary

This report recommended a whole-of-university approach to supporting Indigenous students with disability, with more cultural awareness training for staff in Disability Units and roles for Indigenous people in relevant decision making processes. Recommendations were also made for case management where necessary, and support made available through a variety of mediums including face-to-face contact. There is little research into best practice in supporting Indigenous students with disability in higher education. Using data from the Department of Education and Training, plus surveys from disability advisors and Indigenous Education Units, the analysis confirmed previous research that students with disability sometimes face significant challenges, which is reflected in higher attrition rates. Indigenous students with disability face a double disadvantage, so it’s important that disability services are culturally respectful.

Indigenous students with disability across all Australian universities rose from 491 in 2001 to 1256 in 2013, accounting for 0.1 per cent of total students.

A survey of 17 Disability Units in Australian universities found:

  • Less than half the units collected data on Indigenous students upon registration; and one-third provided some form of support to these students.
  • Over two-thirds of units reported working with Indigenous Education Units, but usually in limited ways.
  • Specific case management for Indigenous students with disability was uncommon.
  • While most disability advisors received cultural competency training, only one unit had a dedicated Indigenous disability advisor.
  • There were no Indigenous staff at any of the responding Disability Units.

Recommendations included:

  • A whole-of-university approach is taken to Indigenous students with disability, with Disability Units and Indigenous Education Units working more closely.
  • More cultural awareness training needs to be made available for staff in Disability Units.
  • Indigenous people should play a role in decision making processes in relation to disability support services.
  • Disability Units should form partnerships with Indigenous Education Units to ensure that Indigenous students with disability are fully and appropriately supported, including case management where necessary.
  • Support for Indigenous students with disability is provided through face-to-face contact and through other mediums to ensure that the needs of all students are met.


Best Practice in Supporting Indigenous Students with Disability in Higher Education

Fleming, M. & Grace, D. (2016). Best Practice in Supporting Indigenous Students with Disability in Higher Education. Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University: Perth.

Featured publications
The Critical Interventions Framework Part 3 (CIF 3) focuses on evaluative studies which provide details of the impacts of specific interventions on equity groups in relation to access to and success in higher education.
A case study documenting the transition of one Indigenous student, Robbie, from an underprivileged school located in the Western suburbs of Sydney to an urban Australian university.