Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability

Pathways15: Teach Me How to Fish Please: What’s Reasonable about Reasonable Adjustments - doing with rather than doing for

Julie Kiroluch and Anthony Gartner, La Trobe University

Sometimes with the best of intentions, we make assumptions about what other people are capable of, and we inadvertently project and impose limitations on their possibilities. We thus influence and shape the stories that script their lives and resultant actions.

We do this in three ways:

  1. Under the banner of the Disability Standards for Education, we foster a culture of service, of doing for rather than doing with;
  2. We make decisions on students’ behalf as to what they need to be successful; and thus,
  3. We can inadvertently project our own limiting expectations and beliefs upon students.

With care and best intentions, we lovingly use ‘reasonable adjustments’ to set students up for short and mid-term success in tertiary education. In doing so, however, we can inadvertently set them up for potential long-term disappointment and ongoing frustration. We must encourage, equip and resource students to act and participate in their education independently and to the maximum of their capacity to do so. Only then will their opportunities for inclusion and participation, in study and in life, be optimised.

Historically, when a student can’t write, can’t concentrate, can’t hear or see, we put a notetaker in the lecture or workshop and provide the student with a set of notes summarising the learning content. We have considered this as part of a negotiated and agreed set of ‘reasonable’ adjustments enabling participation on an equal basis. Anthony and Julie will discuss attempts to withdraw notetaking services from twenty-five students and transition them to the use of assistive technology software to encourage independent learning. What happens when our own beliefs about what constitutes a quality service are challenged?

What objections are likely to be made?

  • A student is entitled to a set of accessible notes covering the lecture content
  • The technology won’t work for them
  • It will be harder for them to participate, and they are already disadvantaged enough
  • It will negatively affect their grades
  • If the principles of Universal Design were truly implemented this would be unnecessary
  • It’s contrary to the principles enshrined in the Disability Standards for Education
  • It’s a move that is driven by budget constraints, not in the best interests of students
  • Talk of independent learning and empowerment is just bs spin to cover a financial problem
  • We will be offering an inferior service and our students will FAIL

But, what are the potential benefits?

Students can operate independently, and are not reliant on others

Students are more engaged in the act of learning and therefore likely to learn better and retain more information

After graduation, students are better able to apply for and retain employment because they have been equipped with the skills that make them more able to participate in the workplace on an equal basis

Julie and Anthony will discuss the personal challenges they encountered through the rolling out of assistive technology to replace human intervention at La Trobe University. We will highlight some of the belief systems that got in the way, the opportunities we found to overcome them, and the outcomes as reported by students. Ultimately, we will discuss the fundamental mind shift that necessarily occurred for us as practitioners during this process.


Julie Kiroluch is a speech pathologist by background, working in the University sector for 8 years. Julie is team leader of the AccessAbility Hub at La Trobe University based at the Bendigo campus and is passionate about student centred best practice.

Anthony Gartner is a social worker by background and recently joined La Trobe as manager of the AccessAbility Hub after 14 years at Swinburne. Anthony is passionate about positive employment outcomes for people living with disability and imagines the day when Australia sits at the top of the OECD list for employment outcomes for people living with disability.