Friday, January 19, 2018
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Students with disabilities - disrupting the barriers to education

This month our newly launched #DisabilityDisrupt campaign is focused on education.   

Under Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Australia has obligations to ensure inclusive education is available to all children.

In January, the Senate Education and Employment References Committee released its Report on Access to real learning: the impact of policy, funding and culture on students with disability. The Committee examined the huge barriers and difficulties that students with disabilities face in accessing education in Australia. During the Inquiry, hundreds of people and organisations from across Australia contributed evidence and shared their stories through submissions and public hearings.

Access to education can vary greatly depending on 

-          the financial means of individuals and their families;

-          geographical location;

-          cultural background (with particular challenges facing students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds); and

-          the culture of the school.

The practice of schools find ways of unofficially excluding students (dubbed “gatekeeping”) serves to further discriminate against and isolate children with disabilities and their families. The Committee found that far more needs to be done to enforce the law prohibiting the prevention of enrolment of students. (See this short article on The Conversation)

Another problem identified was the “systemic culture of low expectations” that often results in children with disabilities receiving “babysitting” rather than meaningful education that prepares them for a valued and productive adult life. (See this article in the Courier Mail and this column in the Sydney Morning Herald)

Further, it was established that there is widespread ignorance of the Disability Standards for Education 2005, formulated under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. These standards set out the legal obligations of education and training providers in relation to providing access and making reasonable adjustments to assist students with disabilities to participate.

The use of restrictive practices (such as physical restraint or isolation in separate rooms) was strongly condemned by the Committee. The lived experience of violence, abuse and neglect in schools was explored in another recent Senate Inquiry.  

There are huge costs to students and families, and ultimately to the broader Australian community in failing to educate students with disabilities in their school years.  The Senate Committee recommends that the government make funding commitments on the basis of need, according to the Gonski Review, and work cooperatively to establish a national strategy to improve the education of students with disability.

All students need access to real learning  - and Australia is currently failing in its human rights obligations to ensure inclusive education is available to all.

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