The National Union of Students, the Australian Law Students Association and the Australian Medical Association have called upon stakeholders of the higher education sector to seek urgent reform on the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, subordinate legislation including the Disability Standards for Education 2005 and the higher education sector at large.
The three groups collaborated in 2022 to release a joint statement and research report into disability and higher education in Australia.
The report included a number of recommendations as reaffirmed by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) which include encouraging universities to offer face-to-face and remote study options, increasing the number of employed disabled academics and improving the campus experience for people with disabilities.
The report was broken up into three subsections; disability discrimination within higher education, disability supports by universities and external barriers for disabled students at university.
“Ableism in the higher education sector can manifest as systemic biases and inequitable service provisions,” the report reads.
“Higher education institutions which neither acknowledge ableism and system biases nor undertake positive action to redress ableism may infringe The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities articles by failing to prohibit discriminatory practices, particularly against those with invisible disabilities, intellectual disabilities, cognitive impairment, and psychosocial disabilities.”
According to the report, only 17 per-cent of Australians with a disability have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, as opposed to 35 per-cent of Australians without a disability.
“Recognising the systemic neglect experienced by disabled students and disabled staff (including disabled academics), we call for strong action by the higher education sector … to promote equal access to education and non-discrimination for people with disabilities,” the report reads.
“Disabled students are consistently showing lower rates of success and social inclusion, which confirms the literature pointing to the poor implementation of participatory and co-production approaches to policy development for disabled students.”
“The greater the level of accessibility, the greater the number of students who will not need reasonable adjustments made to their educational experience. This should be a focus for the increasing use of online and remote technologies.”
The full report can be read here.