Studying in Australia as a Disabled Student
Studying in Australia as a disabled student is about joy and intellectual growth, regardless of your mental or physical health. Universities in Australia embrace values of equality and celebrate the diversity of all kinds in higher education to guarantee everyone an optimal learning environment. In addition, education authorities are fully committed to providing support through effective and concrete strategies.
But, studying abroad can appear overwhelming to almost every student if proper information is not collected beforehand. In addition to common challenges, disabled students in Australia may encounter additional problems related to their disabilities.
The range of services that disabled students need is wide and often specific to an individual, and sometimes unintentionally universities’ disability support services may not live up to students’ needs. They will require a record of your specific needs related to your disabilities to be able to adjust their support policies and accordingly initiate proper action.
Plus the way these services are delivered in Australia may be quite different to what you’d expect in your home country. For example, if you interpret through signs, then you must know that in Australia sign interpreters use the Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN).
With that in mind, it is essential you get to know well in time what does your chosen University in Australia provide to disabled students in terms of both learning assistance and your easy movement around campus. Also, it is very important to be aware of your legal rights as a disabled student in Australia.
This guide will help you define what specific needs you will submit to the disability support service running at your university and will help them effectively meet your disability-related demands. Since this information is often vague on the web and students usually have a problem to properly comprehend it, in this page you will find everything you need to know about studying in Australia with disabilities.
My rights as a disabled student in Australia?
The Australian government works hard on providing disabled students equal opportunities to attend tertiary education. Laws are the basis of their commitment to protect and promote equity principles in education.
Under current law, every university or any other involved party in the education process is obligated to provide an equally-accessible learning environment be it in terms of learning assistance or infrastructure.
To date, there are two legal acts upon which disabled students in Australia have their rights protected and guaranteed:
Disability and Discrimination Act 1992 – A legal act voted by the Australian Parliament in 1992 which states that every act of discrimination toward disabled people, including them in education is against the law, therefore is condemned.
Disability Standards for Education 2005 – Built upon Disability and Discrimination Act 1992, the Disability Standards for Education was amended in 2005. Its purpose is to ensure higher education providers in the UK are aware of their responsibilities in relation to disabled students and to measure how they match with specific standards. The act is reviewed every 5 years.
What does the university offer for you?
Your initial resource for any kind of information or support regarding your disability must be your university. All universities in Australia have a specific disability support service office integrated in their campus or a professional Disability Adviser. Responsibilities in charge of this office are many, including learning assistance and emotional care for students.
It is highly recommended to register at the university’s office for disabled students as soon as you enroll course or within the first week of the semester. This will give them enough time to evaluate the impact your disability will have on your studies and in turn, will be able to put support in place at the right time, in the right way.
The range of their services is wide and can also be modified in case you have specific disability-related needs. For example, you may have some hearing problems and you need some technology hearing aids to use while in class with the participation of your teacher. In such a scenario, the disability support service may take care to equip you with such devices and will also request teachers to play their role in the process.
The services provided by this office may be divided into three major categories:
Infrastructure adjustments (equipment) – The Disability Support Service can request from university to apply certain changes in the infrastructure of the campus. For example, a student may need a hearing implant in his classes and the university must do what’s necessary to provide and install those devices. Or a student in a wheelchair may face difficulties reaching to the university’s library and Disability Support Service will work on building an accessible route to the library.
Academic adjustments – Te University must allow for some flexibility in university courses if a disabled student wants to follow a specific study curriculum because of his/her learning disabilities.
Technical adjustments – Due to their disability some students may also find it difficult to meet deadlines and rigorous schedules applied at the university. If their disability is assessed to have such a negative impact on student’s learning capacities the university is obligated to apply other rules to them.
For example, disabled students may need additional time to complete their exam and teachers must allow them to do that. Or a student with sight loss who needs university books written in Braille language may request Disability Support Service to add books he/she needs in the university’s library.
Apart from common practical services, these offices are also concerned with students’ emotional state. They know that studying for disabled students can often become stressful and wary. At this stage, they provide their best professional counselling to help them go through, feel accepted and valued in the student community.
The documents required to register as a disabled student may vary depending on the university of your choice. Mainly, to register at the disability support service you must fill an application form and provide relevant evidence of your disability. Usually, a certified medical certificate is sufficient, but the university may also require some additional documents to be able to respond properly to your disability needs. For that, a document which describes the support you had received in the past or a professional statement by a Disability Adviser in your home country may also help the university adjust their approach toward your disability-related problems.
Important note: Universities in Australia take care that students’ personal information related to their medical or mental health remains confidential, so they won’t feel any kind of emotional pressure. Also, the Disability Support Service focuses more on describing what effects can student’s disability can have in his/her studies, rather than going into details about that disability is.
An accessible campus
One of the most common problems disabled students face is free movement. Fortunately, universities in Australia have an extensive network of accessible route pathways to enable disabled students to move freely around campus and they continually invest in improving this infrastructure.
But is quite understandable that for a foreign student like you that information is not known in the first place. Universities in Australia want you to know what to expect before even coming to Australia. For this purpose, they often offer maps where accessible route pathways are shown on the campus.
Scholarships for disabled students
Disabled students in Australia are also provided with various scholarships to encourage and support them financially during their studies. Since there are so many funds available, it is not necessary to be a top student to be eligible for a scholarship. There are countless scholarship schemes for disabled students funded by different organizations be it private, governmental, federal and charity.
A little research is all it takes to find these scholarships and to help you with that we have listed some of them below:
- The Junie Opie Fellowship
- Centrelink: Living Away From Home Support
- Australian Disability and Indigenous People Education Fund
- The Alastair McEwin Scholarship at the University of Adelaide
- Relocation Scholarship
- Sir Charles Bright Scholarships
- Victoria University Equity Scholarships
- Student Start-Up Scholarship
- Justice Victoria’s Disability Scholarship Program
- ParaQuad NSW Scholarship
- Griffith University Uni-Start Equity Scholarships
- Gregory and Dolores Farrell Scholarship
- Special Circumstances University Postgraduate Awards at the University of Western Australia
- Tasmania Access Bursary
- Sir Charles Bright Scholarship
- The Walter and Eliza Hall Trust Opportunity Scholarship
In addition, there are also a lot of scholarships funded by individual universities and other organizations. Also, disabled students in Australia are entitled to plenty of favourable student loan schemes provided by the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP).