Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability
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Pathways banner. Pathways15 Online. Advancing Inclusion in 2020 and Beyond. Monday 30 November - Friday 4 December



Pathways15 Presentations: Wednesday 2 December

Stream One - Vocational Education and Training Stream

Strengthening and promoting opportunities in VET: Australian Government perspective

Katerina Lawler, Assistant Secretary, Policy and Regulation Branch, VET Quality and Policy Division

This presentation will discuss the programs, policies and future opportunities within the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment to support people with a disability in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. Areas of focus will include the Disability Standards for Education Review and the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program.

The presentation will also provide insights into the uptake of the e-learning resources that have been created by the National Disability Coordination Officer Program (NDCO), and the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (ADCET).

Importantly, the presentation will provide information on upcoming opportunities as part of the Quality Reforms under the Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform to build upon and inform how resources are developed to support people with disability to engage with the VET sector.


The VET Disability Practitioner: Then, now and what the future holds

Brandon Taylor, TAFE Queensland

The role of disability practitioner in the VET sector is one of challenges, demands, competing priorities, availability and personal integrity. This workshop will reflect on the VET practitioner journey across three stages (then, now and future) and shine a light on the opportunities and necessities for the VET disability practitioner in 2020 and beyond.

This workshop will use an interactive whiteboard, voting buttons, emoji’s and is BYO coffee, wine & biscuits. We will take a light-hearted look at how the role has evolved before we address the current environment and what this means, not only for the VET disability practitioner today, but critically what this means for the future and address the importance of self-care, professional development, career opportunities and more.

Honest, practical and constructive we’ll identify the essential elements in the resilient practitioner’s toolkit and how to ensure that you, as the VET practitioner, are included in Inclusion!


Access Plans for VET Educators: A Call to Arms

Jen Cousins, TAFE SA and Meredith Jackson, TAFE Queensland

The Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015, require RTOs to have a process for identifying and documenting individual needs, and legally responding to students who disclose that their disability will have an impact on their learning. This information is often incorporated into the individual’s learning / access plan. These plans aim to document information about the impact of a student’s disability, mental health or medical condition on their studies, and identify potential reasonable adjustments to delivery methodologies and assessment practices, and support strategies that may assist the student to participate equitably.

This process is most often facilitated by equity, student or disability services or support personnel within the RTO. This process is widely known and adopted across the VET Sector however there has been limited discussion and exploration about how effectively educators respond when an access plan is presented to them. Anecdotally feedback indicates there is a significant gap between the formal process of acknowledging and developing an access plan for potential support and then what happens in practice when an educator receives that plan. Conversations between VET equity practitioners identified the need for a community of practice (COP) to be established to design and develop a framework and suite of capability building resources which can be contextualised to improve educator confidence, responsiveness and implementation of access plans.

This presentation explores the key challenges equity practitioners experience in working with educators in responding effectively and appropriately to access plans, the challenge of building educator capability in facilitating conversations, exploring inherent requirements and reasonable adjustments, and documenting these negotiations and agreements. We will showcase the new professional learning framework and resource, developed by our COP, encompassing the purpose of the access plan; educator and equity practitioner roles and responsibilities and strategies to optimise a positive learning experience for students with disability.


2020 a Space Odyssey: Exploring Unchartered Territories in the VET Sector

Penny McCulloch and Sheena Cranwell, TAFE Queensland

This presentation is intended to provide an insight into innovative practices developed by TAFE Queensland AccessAbility Officers [TQ ASOs] to ensure accessible delivery for students within the vocational training environment.

Our focus has always been on reducing barriers and ensuring inclusion for all students more especially those with identified support needs. Reasonable adjustments and supports are put in place for the duration of a student’s study through an Access Ability Plan. This involves a collaborative process between students, TQ ASOs, and teachers, designed to provide the very best possible training outcome for the student.

With the shift to the online delivery of courses, there were a few obvious challenges. Vocational training focusses on students building practical skills. This usually requires a hands-on classroom with a purpose-built environment, reflective of industry standards. How could this be translated into an online environment without compromising the training packages and outcomes for students? How could we ensure that all students would continue to engage, participate, and learn?

With ASOs conscious of the need to soften the blow for students in times of uncertainty, we hit the ground running. Changes in delivery have created opportunities to explore new ways of learning, collaboration, networking between students, educators, and support teams.

Presenters will share insight into various approaches to working in the online space with some light-hearted examples that many will relate to. You know the stories of students using a bedroom cupboard as study space and those embarrassing moments when your student’s brother wants to finish an argument during your AccessAbility Coaching session.

The goal to continue Good Practice in Access Ability Support was and is achievable despite evolving changes when equitable practices are key in service delivery.


Findings from the NSW Disability, Disadvantage and VET study

Jennifer Smith-Merry, University of Sydney

The New South Wales Government provides funding through its Smart and Skilled program to support people with disability and other forms of disadvantage to complete vocational education and training through loadings and fee subsidies. The aim is to boost skills through vocational education and training with the outcome being increased employability for people who are disadvantaged.

Our research, which was funded by the NSW Government, sought to understand the experience of people with disability as they moved through VET and into employment through talking to people with disability, their supporters, services, vocational education providers and employers. We also looked at available education and employment data to compare outcomes for people with disability and other forms of disadvantage.

This presentation reflects on the experiences and views expressed in the 71 interviews we conducted. Our research found that people with disability generally have positive experiences of undertaking VET in NSW but that the employment market that they enter into, while showing some good examples of disability employment, is marked by a lack of confidence and knowledge around disability and disability employment. We also found that a broader lack of disability inclusion in society, which creates stigma and discrimination, places limits on the expectations that people with disability themselves have about their employment prospects.

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Stream Two - Higher Education Stream

Department of Education, Skills and Employment – Higher Education

Rajan Martin, Assistant Secretary, Governance, Quality and Access Branch, Higher Education Division

The Australian Government wants to ensure that students with disability can access and participate in higher education on the same basis as students without disability.

To specifically assist higher education students with disability, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment administers the Higher Education Disability Support Program (DSP) and the National Disability Coordination Officer Program which target the needs of students with disability to support the cost of adjustments required to attend university and remove barriers to access, participation and subsequent employment.

Changes to the DSP commenced this year. The changes respond to the 2015 evaluation of the program and consultation with the sector during 2016. The changes ease the administrative burden on universities by removing the need to submit small claims, ensure support for students with high cost needs, allow universities to claim for staff development, and direct more funding to the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (ADCET).

The Government’s 2020 higher education reforms aim to deliver more job-ready graduates in the disciplines and regions where they are needed most and help drive the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The package includes reform of equity funding, that will ensure regional and remote students receive greater support in accessing and succeeding in higher education.

The Disability Standards for Education help people understand the rights of students with disability, and make clear the obligations and responsibilities of education providers to students with disability. The Department, on behalf of the Minister for Education, is currently undertaking a review of the Standards. The Review is asking whether the Standards are doing their job and, if not, how they could be improved. Public consultations have recently closed. The final Review Report will be provided to the Minister for Education in December 2020, and presented to all governments for consideration in early 2021.

The Department is working to improve the visibility of student outcomes by developing a stronger evidence base for equity policy and programs. Key projects include the Student Equity in Higher Education Evaluation Framework and the Widening Participation Longitudinal study.

The Minister for Education has established the Equity in Higher Education Panel (EHEP), to provide advice and make recommendations on strategic issues relating to improving student equity in higher education, including on issues facing students with disability. As part of its work, the EHEP is developing a national Student Equity in Higher Education Roadmap (the Roadmap), a five year strategy aligned with the higher education reform agenda and COVID-19 recovery measures. Consultation on the Roadmap will commence shortly.



Universal Design for Learning, Inclusion and Accessible Assessment

Professor Carol Evans, Griffith University

Abstract pending


NCSEHE research findings: supporting mental health, academic success and employability of students with disability in Australian universities

Nicole Crawford, David Eckstein and Tim Pitman, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education

Since 2016, the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) has supported twelve Equity Fellows to conduct targeted research projects, advancing student equity research, policy and practice. Three of the 2019/20 cohort will share findings from their year-long projects, with specific reference to students with disability and supporting student mental health and wellbeing.

Dr Nicole Crawford (NCSEHE) investigated university students’ mental wellbeing from the perspectives of mature-aged students in regional and remote Australia. In this presentation, Nicole will consider the relationship between mental health conditions, mental health challenges, and efforts to support mental wellbeing, as well as from whom students seek support and why. She’ll explore the complexity from the student perspective and from the perspective of university support provision.

Mr David Eckstein (Swinburne University of Technology) will focus on issues concerning the provision of careers support for university students with disability. David will present findings from a national student survey that provides much needed data about the lived experience of students with disability. His research also sheds light on barriers to the provision of targeted careers support and how they may be addressed using different resources. This discussion will culminate in an introduction to a new national community of practice which will provide open access tools for all universities to use.

A/Prof Tim Pitman (Curtin University) will discuss how universities can better support students with disability in succeeding in their studies. Tim’s fellowship had a specific focus on students with disability studying in regional, rural and remote areas and he will focus on this aspect of his Fellowship.


From Practice to Evidence: Inclusive Assessment Design - What Can We Learn from Assessment Adjustments?

Merrin McCracken, Joanna Tai, Mary Dracup and Yasmin Mobayad, Deakin University

This presentation will describe the outcomes of an initial research project undertaken at Deakin University. It will also tell the story of how the practitioners and the researchers came together, and explore the value for all in this experience.

The experience:

At last - we had a full year of data on our new ServiceNow database! We could do some analysis of the adjustments that were in place for students. How many? What were the most common? Were there patterns or differences relating to faculty or course? Would anyone find this information useful?

CRADLE (the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning) at Deakin did!

The research:

Higher education providers in Australia are morally and legally obliged to provide all students equivalent opportunities to achieve academic success. However, students with disabilities continue to report poor assessment experiences, where assessment adjustments are only partially effective. A focus on inclusive assessment is likely to benefit more than just students with disabilities. Priorities for the design of inclusive assessment are required, including understanding what types of assessments are posing the greatest barriers, and for whom. Through analysing data from a database of assessment adjustments, exams were identified as requiring the most adjustments. Alternatives to examinations must be considered: choice in assessment may help to ensure that all students’ needs are taken into account.

The value:

The initial research has provided the opportunities for presentation in the teaching and learning space at Deakin and beyond, and forms the basis for a further NCSEHE grant across two universities. We have also learnt more about what each other do, and there will be more research to come!


Embedding Wellbeing and Inclusion at Griffith University

Lisa Chiang, Griffith University

This year, although challenging, has presented us with some unique opportunities. As we transitioned to online learning at Griffith University the world has become smaller and we are now able to tap into and communicate with a much wider audience than ever. The need for practices that support wellbeing, inclusion and accessibility has become more urgent and brought into the spotlight as new strategies are needed for this new world.

We have jumped at this opportunity to spread the word on inclusion and inclusive practices through online disability awareness training, involvement in teaching and learning forums, creation of step-by-step accessibility resources and participating in university wide conversations. In continuing to support student and staff wellbeing in this online space we have created short "meaningful minute" mindfulness-based videos. Tips and strategies to support wellbeing and thriving at university were actively communicated to students through multiple channels and an innovative mixed mode Mental Health and Wellbeing Week.

Putting wellbeing and inclusion on the map has also meant that we have been engaging and collaborating with the academic community towards buy-in and embedding these into curriculum. Building academic content that is accessible and inclusive from the ground up for new bachelor’s degrees and explicitly covering content on wellbeing and inclusion in teaching and assessment items. There has also been support from Senior Management with the top-down promotion of an inclusive practice teaching and assessment framework focusing on Equity, Agency and Transparency.


Equitable learning spaces and deep consultation with students and staff, low impact sensory spaces for optimal design and functionality

Gemma Dodevska, University of Melbourne

Students on the autism spectrum are often extremely academically capable and are subsequently attracted to university education. However, challenges with their social-communication often mask their academic potential and impede their participation in University life, including progression to graduation and transition to employment.

Few supports are available to young autistic adults at University. Arguably, it is at this crucial stage of transition from adolescence to adult life, and from education to employment, that supports are most needed. In addition, people with autism commonly experience sensory overload, heightened levels of anxiety, and the emergence of serious mental ill-health. Combined, these factors can lead to students falling behind, dropping out of study, long term unemployment - or at best underemployment; thus, impacting on their transition into adult life.

Our project, led by Professor of Disability and Inclusion, Keith McVilly explored the development of sensory friendly study spaces with students on the autism spectrum. The project draws from organisational research demonstrating how the provision of small concessions for employees, such as providing a suitable environment, can support increased organisational engagement and commitment.

The aim of this presentation is to share our experiences of developing low impact sensory friendly study spaces with students on the autism spectrum. Navigating the complexities and challenges of the University system, building alliances across organisational units and finding place-based champions supported the discovery of solutions to issues as they arose. Throughout this process we discovered multiple applications across different student cohorts including people with chronic fatigue, people who have experienced trauma and people with a diverse range of physical and mental health challenges.

How the spaces are made available to students most in need and booking systems that maintain student privacy will be discussed. We will also present the mechanisms that support navigation and wayfinding to the spaces to ensure safe and supported use. The process for developing and negotiating naming conventions will also be covered.

Plans for future implementation and upscaling of the initiative in preparation to the support the return to campus life in the new COVID normal will also be discussed.


Inclusion in Higher Education? The changing terrain of disability advocacy and scholarship

Ben Whitburn, Deakin University

The phrase 'Nihil de nobis sine nobis' (Nothing about us without us) has resonated through disability activism and scholarship since the 1990s (Charlton, 1998). While enrolments of students with disabilities in higher education have unquestionably increased over time, if we were to critically reflect on the historical account of inclusion in the sector, we would note that plenty goes on without input from the diverse voices of those who live with disabilities.

The argument I put forward in this presentation is that the conceptual tools, activist phrases and human rights instruments continually and comfortably referenced in the pursuit for inclusion in higher education may have reached the limitations of their utility. Drawing on recently published and ongoing work in the temporalities of inclusion (Whitburn & Thomas, 2020) and the role of higher education in inclusive employability, the purpose is to advance a manifesto (McMaster & Whitburn, 2019) for reframing the ways the sector responds to disability. As institutions of higher education re-acclimatise to their renewed relevance to local and global communities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ways that they provide the conditions for inclusion—how they conceptualise, practice, educate and research disability must accordingly be addressed.

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