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You are reading: Issues and Trends for Students with Disability: Review of NCSEHE-Funded Research

Mr Ian Cunninghame, Dr Diane Costello and Professor Sue Trinidad, NCSEHE

Background, Purpose and Aims

As identified by many researchers working in the field of disability research, there is a lack of comprehensive information as to: the participation and performance of students with disability, the various pedagogical issues impacting their engagement with higher education, and the best approach to developing services to support students with disability.

This review focuses on presenting the key findings, recommendations and future directions for further research for the equity group of students with disability. Typically, disability is described as “any limitation, restriction or impairment which restricts everyday activities and has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months” (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013). The Federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (2015) defines ‘disability’ more specifically as:

  • Total or partial loss of the person’s bodily or mental functions; or
  • Total or partial loss of a part of the body; or
  • The presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness; or
  • The presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness; or
  • The malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body; or
  • A disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction; or
  • A disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour.

According to the most recent Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016), people with disability represent 18.3 per cent of the Australian population, with roughly half that figure accounting for working age Australians. The Australian Network on Disability (2016) indicates one in six Australians have some form of hearing loss, over 350,000 Australians have a vision impairment, roughly 10 per cent of the population has dyslexia, and an estimated 45 per cent of the population will experience a mental illness within their lifetime.

As per the Act, the definition of disability covers persistent, previously existing, predisposed future disability, and those imputed to a person (Disability Discrimination Act 1992, 2015). It is worth noting such a normative definition of disability and the classical categorisations which are associated with it can be problematic when the full spectrum of impairments which fall under the category of ‘disability’ are considered, as the reports commissioned by the NCSEHE reveal that disability is an exceptionally diverse field, particularly more so than the current taxonomy would suggest.

In Australia, tertiary education institutions are typically guided by the definition presented in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 in order to offer specialist disability services to meet their obligations to students with disability, as well as develop course and campus design measures to provide inclusive curriculum and building design to accommodate students with a variety of impairments. Students are required to provide documentary evidence of disability or an ongoing health condition and how their access and/or study may be affected (Cupitt, Costello, Raciti, & Eagle, 2016). While institutions may differ in their methods of supporting students with disability, identifying where reasonable adjustments can be made to the learning process is a key aspect of reducing the detrimental impacts of disability on university studies. This can involve a number of supports including the loan of equipment (e.g. screenreading software), and reformatting of course materials to accommodate specific impairments (e.g. reformatting for large print), or the provision of in-class and tutorial support. This may also include access to learning/academic support, counselling, assessment accommodations, or financial advice (Cupitt et al., 2016).

Read the full review here.

Cunninghame, I., Costello, D. & Trinidad, S. (2016). Issues and Trends for Students with Disability: Review of NCSEHE-Funded Research. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University: Perth.