ACCESS TO EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS WITH A DISABILITY
ACCESS TO EDUCATION FOR STUDENTS WITH A DISABILITY: BARRIERS AND DIFFICULTIES
Issues raised in consultations by Elizabeth Hastings, Disability Discrimination Commissioner, with education providers 1996
1. Lack of available options
There are not enough services available to students with disability to match the requirements. In early education, a mix of services is often required. In schools, physical access limits choice, as does provision of support services and a selection of schools prepared to provide full access to the curriculum. Rural, regional and isolated areas provide minimal option (see also transitional services and post-school options).
2. Lack of information to families or prospective students about options
Many parents do not know what choices are open to their children in either Special Schools or inclusive schools, or about accessing ancillary services. They are often unaware of how to access educational services appropriate to the needs of their child with disability, particularly in early intervention and early childhood education. Older students find it difficult to obtain sufficient information about vocational education, pre-employment training and support services, or adult and community education.
3. Lack of information to families about procedures (applications for funding, expectations of school's management of their child's education process)
Many parents have no information about procedures for funding or personal support and do not know what pre-schools, schools or any of the post-school services will arrange for the student. Many do not have information about planning the student's educational goals and how these are established, or what an Aide's role is, or whether equipment can be obtained to assist in accessing the curriculum. They do not know how personal care or health care can be arranged or what needed therapies can be provided in the educational setting.
4. Inconsistency (lack of equivalence) between various education providers and sectors
In many instances, the move from one educational sector to the next reveals significant gaps in level of service. Moving a young child with disability from early childhood services to primary school is frequently a transition in which the programs and supports are not replicated in the new setting. The same applies at all transitional levels, equally from primary school to secondary school, and from there to the range of post-school options. There is lack of equivalence within a region from one school to another, and from the private sector to the public school sector, so families dissatisfied with service or who move location find the student unable to move with ease across education settings.
5. Co-ordination between services, departments and ancillary staff unsatisfactory
The need for collaborative service provision is great in supporting students with disability. In many cities, towns, areas and regions, the needed coordination between education, health and community services is disorganised or non-existent. Ancillary staff of the most necessary disciplines of speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy are often not easily accessible to education authorities for their students. Procedures for accessing these services has undergone change and accessibility has diminished in recent years.
6. Funding for student disability support insufficient
Insufficient provision of funds is the biggest issue in providing equal access to education for students with disability. There are several funding sources, none of them sufficient to make and have available the full range of services needed. (see also Equipment, Aides, therapy staff, interpreters).
7. Procedures and formulas for applying for funding too complex; delays; labeling students by disability to access funds: global budgeting/self managing schools
Procedures for applying for disability support funding have changed in some States in recent times. Funding provision is fragmented, coming through a number of departments. There is sometimes delay in obtaining approval for funding for individual students, leaving them either in school or college without the needed assistance, or not in education because they cannot access it until the funding for support is there. In some States, the funding is approved for a student with a given diagnosis according to the funding criteria. This encourages the detrimental labeling of the student by his or her disability diagnosis, rather than as a person or by Ability. In State where schools are allocated a "global" budget to administer the whole of the school's requirements autonomously, there are concerns that disability support for students who need it has very low priority compared with the many other demands in the school for finances, and that there may be too little accountability for the disability support expenditure.
8. Funding unavailable for conditions such as mild intellectual disability, behavioural problems and learning difficulties
The criteria established by Commonwealth and State funding for students' disability support requirements does not correspond with the DDA definition of disability. Many teachers report that if students in the above categories had even a little aside or speech therapy or other disability support funded, they would prosper educationally, with very little financial input.
9. Trained Aides and ancillary and support staff insufficient; difficulty with/lack of health care and personal care assistants
There are not sufficient numbers of teachers' Aides or Integration Aides available at all to meet the need. Of those there are, there is insufficient training and professional support provided for them. They need to be trained in the complexities and sensitivities of their task. Too many Aides distance the child from teacher and class, rather than assisting with inclusion. Many children, young people and adults with disability require personal care or medical interventions throughout the day. There are problems in determining who undertakes these procedures, whether it is teachers, parents, health personnel, specially employed and credentialed staff, and in some areas, unresolved issues as to who pays the cost of these services.
10. Changes to availability of ancillary and support staff and trained Aides or inequitable arrangements for such support services
Provision of ancillary staff employed by education departments has been discontinued. Various versions have replaced the earlier arrangements. Ancillary service staff are contracted in, or groups in an area establish core services to service several schools, or arrangements are made between Community Services, Health and Education departments. There is not equal availability of ancillary service staff from one area to another, or from one State to another.
11. Equipment, technological aids and other devices insufficient
Obtaining appropriate equipment as needed for individual students, from hearing and vision aids, to electronically adapted mobility devices, to walking frames for students, is a continuing barrier to providing equal access for education providers, from students in kindergarten and child care, through the school system, to vocational and recreational education providers. Some schools within areas have arranged pooled stores to make access to these aids easier, but there are rarely enough supplies to meet the need.
12. Curriculum adaptation needed; curriculum limited; or curriculum needs not addressed. Components of courses or post-qualification employment not accessible
Although much work has been and is being done to devise appropriate adaptations of educational curricula for a range of students in a range of age groups with a range of capacities and abilities, this is one of the largest areas of difficulty for education providers and their students. It is a huge field because of the individual nature of students and of their requirements and levels of readiness to learn. There are areas where not enough has been done or curriculum needs and curriculum adaptation is too little understood. A separate problem is when courses for qualification (vocational, pre-employment or academic) contain particular segments which a student with a disability cannot complete or cannot access. This creates difficulties with enrolment (advice and information issues), with granting qualifications or accreditation, and with post-qualification work or profession.
13. Disability unrecognised or undiagnosed
In several areas, failure to recognise or failure to diagnose a student's disability is a problem in providing access to education. In early childhood, it may not be possible to identify a child's disability, if it is a learning difficulty and the child is too young for it to show up, if it is a developmental delay, because very young children develop at vastly differing rates in the first years, if it is a complex mix of muscular, behavioural/emotional and intellectual disability which is not diagnosable until an older age. Psychiatric debilities are not recognised by many teachers and are often denied by parent or student.
14. Disability denied by parents or unrealistically minimised
Parents sometimes deny or do not inform a school or pre-school about their child's disability. Some parents do not alert schools to the degree of disability or ask the school to provide education above the level of capacity of the student with disability. This creates problems of a sensitive nature for teachers and schools.
15. Parent choice/selection of placement for child
In most areas in Australia, the educational setting in which a student can be educated is that preferred by the parent. In the best circumstances, a setting appropriate to the student's abilities and needs can be agreed upon by parent and school. However, there are many instances where this issue creates significant conflict. A minority of parents want either to keep their child in Special School to get the higher staff to student ratio, or to protect and care for it, when it could benefit and manage well in a regular school. Some parents whose child has more severe disability want to enrol the child in an inclusive school, when the educational benefits may be achievable. This issue in general can give rise to anger and misery for many, especially the child.
16. Parent participation needed in students' support arrangements, appropriate educational Goals and program planning
The family of a child, young person, or adult with disability probably knows more about the student's abilities, deficits, style of learning and communication and personal qualities than anyone else. In formulating curriculum plans and learning goals, these issues are more significant for a student with disability than for students without, because they may be limiting or enabling factors which the educators would benefit from knowing about. Teachers need to encourage parent participation energetically, to explain the process more clearly to parents and listen to parents far more.
17. Teacher training and support and integration aide training and support needed
Probably the biggest issue of all in the whole spectrum of barriers to access to education for students with disability, along with the issue of insufficient funding infrastructure. Many teachers were trained decades ago with nil expectation of having students with disability in the class. A large majority of teachers are willing to manage with a range of such student, but in order to gain the confidence essential to allow for creative and responsive teaching, they need training, regular practical and theoretical reinforcement, and a support and consultation mechanism - someone to ring and ask what to do about an issue that has arisen. Some teachers without training in working with students with disability are negative and resistant. Most are not, but need substantial input in managing the inclusive class. For different reasons, teachers' Aides and Integration Aides need training and support in the complexities of their role.
18. Teacher stress
There is a substantial burden on teachers of inclusive classes, due to inadequate professional support, inadequate training in teaching the adapted curricula, managing the class which includes students with disability, and inadequate understanding of a range of disabilities and what they mean in practical terms for the individual students in the class. Research shows that the teacher's feeling of confidence is by far the biggest factor for success for teachers of inclusive classes. Confidence only comes from a combination of training, support, experience, and the resultant competence.
19. Class sizes need to be reduced where classes are inclusive; shortage of teachers (cuts to numbers)
It is obvious that if a teacher at any level of the education system is required to provide teaching to a wider range of student abilities, it is going to take more time and create greater demands in the teacher's time and creativity and responsiveness. There is not sufficient reduction in class sizes in inclusive schools to facilitate this. Additionally, education budgets overall in a number of States have meant that class sizes are not reducing and the numbers of teachers have diminished substantially, particularly in Victoria.
20. Conditions and disabilities that are the most challenging for teachers to incorporate in the class
There is common agreement at all levels of the education spectrum that some disabilities are more challenging than others, These are: behaviour problems, including Hyperactivity/Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, learning difficulties (which often are accompanied by frustration in the student leading to behaviour difficulties), Deafness(due to communication difficulties about the curriculum) and psychiatric problems. Some teachers find it challenging to incorporate students with intellectual disability in a regular class, because of the scope and amount of curriculum adaptation needed in the one class.
21. Access to buildings (costs and other problems)
Many buildings used for child care and pre-schools, schools, and premises used by adult and community education providers are not physically accessible. Many of these do not lend themselves to modification, or modification would necessitate enormous expenditure.
22. Transport: barriers (functional and financial) to transport to and from school/college/university
Many students with disability have mobility limitations. Many have inappropriate behaviours, which can be allowed for in class but which may create difficulties or embarrassment for the student in public. Many have physical and medical problems which make independent utilisation of public transport problematic for them. Some students with disability attend schools and vocational or academic institutions far from where they live, because those institutions offer support or accessibility others do not. Cost of special transport is a difficulty. Parent availability to transport students is not always possible, particularly where both parents work. Some education providers say transport to and from pre-school, school, college, or university is the biggest problem in providing access to students with disability.
23. Transitional programs and procedures inadequate
There is a very great need for more services, and more comprehensive and appropriate services, to assist students with disability in three main phases of moving from one level of education to the next. They are all of major importance in the student's settling effectively into the next level. The first transitional phase is from early childhood services/pre-school into primary school. This phase can make or break the young child's early entry into the formal school system. The second, a difficulty for all students, is the progression from primary school to High School. The third, a very vital stage, is the transition from school to work, training, pre-employment training, vocational education, academic course, or adult and community education. There is a need for far more services in this area, to enable people with disability to either obtain the means to earning a living, or providing meaningful activity tot the extent appropriate, to fill in their days in a useful fashion.
24. Attitude of teacher or Principal negative or resistant or deny obligations
There is much evidence reported at all levels from parents to Principals themselves, that if a teacher, or particularly a Principal of a school has an attitude that is either negative or totally resistant to placing students with disability in the regular school setting, there will be discrimination in either exclusion, or in difficulties for the student if enrolled. This is the area most vehemently complained of, and most frequently, by parents of students with disability. There is a time-lag between changes in policy and practice towards inclusion, and the responses of those in charge of administering preschools, child care centres, or schools. Complaints are more commonly directed against Principals than teachers. Many Principals and some teachers are still denying that they have any obligations to accept students with disability.
25. Differences, difficulties or conflicts between parents and schools, including requests for placement, arrangements made at school, unattainable expectations of parents for their child
These three areas have given rise to many bitter conflicts and much injury to the future educational and social prospects of the student for settling into the educational environment and accessing education at an appropriate level with all supports required. There are constant hurdles and disappointments for parents of children with disability, leading to volatile emotions and many failed hopes and expectations. Calmness and practicality have to be at a premium. Often both sides are pushed to the limit in trying to reach a resolution which meets their needs and the appropriate educational needs of the child.
26. Discrimination by schools / other educational institutions, either conscious or unconscious, including lack of understanding of relevant issues
Both direct and indirect discrimination by educational authorities on the grounds of the disability of students occur regularly. In some instances, disability discrimination is overt and direct; in others, it is founded on lack of knowledge of disability issues and inclusion practices. Until greater knowledge and understanding of disability and its effects, the law and human rights principles, and the experience and the practice of inclusion as the norm are achieved, individuals and institutions will continue to discriminate, knowingly or unknowingly. However, the education filed in general is supportive of a widespread movement towards equal access to education for students with disability.
27. Discrimination, social isolation, teasing, bullying, or harassment by non-disabled students
There is regrettably, an incidence of marking out and picking on students with disability by non-disabled students. This appears to occur much more commonly in the age groups from about the age of onset of puberty (12-13 on) than in the younger age groups, who tend to be far more accepting and helpful in their attitudes towards peers with disability. It is to some extent dependent on a supportive environment within the school, from Principal to teachers and clerical workers and ground staff, as to whether the teasing, bullying and victimisation are present, or if present, allowed to continue.
28. Prejudice and discrimination, or complaints, by parents of non-disabled students
Parents of students who do not have a disability are sometimes resentful that the class in which their child is learning includes one or more students with disability. This is particularly so in schools which aim at academic excellence. These parents are aware that the teacher's time and attention is split among students of differing ability.
Some parents are just outright prejudiced and do not like their child associated with students with disability, particularly those with obvious physical disability or with intellectual disability. Some such parents have requested that the school "get rid of" certain students with disability. Others have taken their child out of that school and enrolled him or her in another school which (at that time) does not have students with disability enrolled.
29. Tendency or plans to "cluster" similarly-disabled students in schools and other educational institutions which have developed expertise in particular disabilities
In a number of areas, different educational institutions (schools, TAFEs) have recognised that a particular school or college is well-equipped to provide education to students with a particular disability (for example, mobility, deafness, vision impairment, behavioural problems) and have directed enrolments to this particular education provider. While that policy makes some practical sense, it is simply an indication that at present time, not all education providers are yet in a position to provide access to students with disability across the board, and leads to undesirable marginalisation of particular groups of students with disability.
30. Unfamiliarity with the requirements of the DDA
It is quite clear from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner's consultations with education providers representing every sector of education that there are a great many of these who do not know what their legal obligations are under the DDA. Particular sectors of concern in this regard are: a range of early education providers, particularly private providers, community child care centres, after school care centres, vacation care providers, some smaller independent schools, and private training organisations. The other sectors are all far more aware of the existence of the legislation and have either some or a fairly good concept of the overall requirements, but very few have a practical or detailed knowledge of what their obligations under the DDA are or of how to interpret this in reality.
31. Competition between schools, skills testing, rating of schools detrimental to promoting inclusive policies and practices
There is an increasing demand from the public at large, spurred by political considerations and the mood of the times, to promote competitive academic achievement as the prime objective of the school education system. While this is already a narrow view of education for all students and is vocationally inspired, it leaves even the non-academically-gifted non-disabled students out in the margins, by not recognising the many other elements besides intellect that make up a whole education, like creative endeavours (drama, music, art,) or interpersonal skills and social issues. When schools start excluding students with disability from taking art in skills testing because that would drag the ratings down, there is a matter for serious concern about the directions education in general is taking, and most particularly, what effects this movement is having on attempts to make schools more inclusive. As for the effects on individual students who know they will never "make it" in academic competition, great damage is done to their self-esteem and sense of worth as individuals with something of value to contribute.