Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability

Pathways15: Disability and the HE ‘Anxiety Machine’: Fitting your own oxygen mask first

Prof. Sally Kift, President, Australian Learning and Teaching Fellows

Supporting good mental health and wellbeing for higher education (HE) students and staff is core university business. If more than a moral imperative is required for this statement, the Higher Education Standards Framework mandates this must be so, while institutions are similarly and fundamentally obligated under work health and safety legislation. But even pre-pandemic, HE had been described as an “anxiety machine” for staff (Morrish, 2019). With our sector in turmoil, and warnings now that the long-term mental health impact of COVID-19 must not be ignored, attention to HE mental wellbeing is now more urgent and critical than ever before.

This presentation will highlight that, as for all university staff, the wellbeing of disability practitioners deserves our sector’s care and consideration for three reasons in particular. First and quite obviously, in its own right because all staff in the university community matter. Secondly, because disability colleagues have shouldered much of the burden as ‘first responders’ in valiant efforts to mitigate and trouble-shoot inequities for their students in our remote emergency responses. And thirdly, because, in increasingly precarious workplaces, it is salutary to remember that the wellbeing of staff impacts the wellbeing of students.


Professor Sally Kift is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law (FAAL), and President of the Australian Learning & Teaching Fellows (ALTF). She has held several university leadership positions, most recently Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at James Cook University. Sally is a national Teaching Award winner, a Senior Teaching Fellow and a Discipline Scholar, Law. In 2017, she received an Australian University Career Achievement Award for her contribution to Australian higher education.