Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability

Pathways15: Engaging with people with disabilities from multicultural backgrounds

Susan Beard, Gary Kerridge, Devan Nathan and Isabel Osuna-Gatty, NDCO Program

Many multicultural communities, especially humanitarian entrants face significant and complex challenges, hence requiring greater support in accessing services due to lack of local knowledge, low levels of English Language and Literacy skills, lack of confidence and poor self-esteem. Linkages with multicultural communities need to be strengthened among schools, community services, educational providers and employers.

Research has shown that disability carries a high level of stigma in multicultural families. Familial and community responsibility impedes carers to reach out for support, as they believe it is their sole obligation to take care of the person with a disability. It is very unusual for these communities to accept tertiary education or even employment as an option for a person with a disability. These vulnerable people are often isolated within their own families and fail to participate in the community.

Service providers need to build relationships based on trust and cultural awareness to engage with multicultural communities, as families and carers would not openly seek out for assistance. People with a disability from multicultural backgrounds depend on carers and family members for guidance and support. This overdependence often becomes a barrier to access and participate in tertiary education. The complexities of engaging with people with disabilities or carers from multicultural communities often arise due to lack of understanding of cultural values and beliefs.

The aim of this presentation is to share information, provide strategies and share innovative best practice methods and approaches which will strengthen engagement, organisational capacity and service delivery for tertiary education providers when working with students with a disability from multicultural communities.


Susan Beard is the National Disability Coordination Officer (NDCO) for Adelaide Metro since 2018. Susan has worked in leadership roles in community centres managing ACE Programs and LLN courses, including working with families wanting to access education and employment.
Susan’s previous experience includes specialist employment placement and case-management for people with disability in crisis.

Susan’s career has been enriched by engaging with learners from multicultural backgrounds, who show courage and commitment to achieve their education goals to create a better future for themselves and their children. She holds a BA in Education, BA of Arts in Psychology and Politics and a Graduate Diploma Rehabilitation Counselling.

Gary Kerridge is a disability advocate who has had over 30 years’ experience as a disability professional and advocate. He has been on several boards including Deaf Recreation Victoria (Chair), Deaf Children Australia, Royal South Australian Deaf Society and Deaf South Australia.
Gary has worked within disability and education systems, he knows how to navigate the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and is a passionate advocate for Deaf people, he has campaigned tirelessly for interpreting and accessible environments for Deaf people. Gary is a community builder and is a strong voice for Deaf people and people who use the NDIS.

Devan has been in the National Disability Coordination Officer (NDCO) role since 2016. He was involved in the NDCO’s Multicultural Inclusive Film Project. His previous experience includes retail, marketing, logistics, employment services and disability. Devan has 10 years’ experience working in the disability sector, his qualifications are in marketing, management, community services and training.

His own experiences from being part of a multicultural society provide an overview of the challenges and barriers faced by people from multicultural backgrounds. This coupled with working experiences in the disability sector further provide Devan a deeper understanding of the needs of people with disabilities.

Isabel Osuna-Gatty is from a Spanish/Latin-American/African background. She is partially sighted and suffers from hearing loss. Isabel has a Master Degree in Psychology and postgraduate degrees in Counselling and Education.

Isabel is the recipient of the Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Australian Training Award. Isabel developed and implemented several local, state and commonwealth funded projects to assist Aboriginal and multicultural communities across Australia.
Isabel is currently leading a project to identify the challenges people with a disability from multicultural backgrounds face when accessing and/or participating in tertiary education and subsequent employment before and during the COVID crisis.