Disabilities Officers updates you on the Uni’s new Disability Action Plan

The University’s new Disability Action Plan for 2013-2018 (DAP) was released last Friday. The launch began with Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum, who said “After a year in my class, students never think of a person with a disability in the same way again”.  Professor McCallum was the first totally blind person to be appointed the dean of a law school in Australia. While he imparted his experiences and knowledge with his students, unfortunately the same cannot be said for all staff members relating to disability issues.

Consultative process?

The University appears proud of its’ strong consultative process throughout the development of the DAP. Despite advertisements from late last year, unfortunately student participation was low and there were confidentiality issues for mixed staff and student input meetings. The primary issue raised by students was the impression that staff had a negative perception of students enrolled in disability services, for example experiences suggesting that it was an inconvenience for them and required additional paperwork (of which it does not). Ironically, Pearl Rozenberg, Business faculty Sub Dean (Academic Policy & Administration) felt it was appropriate to argue with me when I shared a negative experience with a Business staff as a result of my enrolment with Disability Services. At that stage, the DAP Action Group was unaware that the Disability Collective existed and did not contact us for input.

DAP’s Objectives:

The DAP lists 6 objectives including:

1.    The University incorporates the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities in all policies and planning
2.    The University is a tertiary education provider of choice for all students
3.    The University is an employer of choice for people with disabilities
4.    The University’s communication and digital environment is accessible to people with disabilities
5.    The University provides an accessible built environment to everyone
6.    The University provides leadership to the community in developing an inclusive Australian society.

Overall, the DAP will cost $6 million until 2018.

Looking more closely at the measurable outcomes listed for each objective, it is clear that most of the money will be spent on making the built environment accessible, including pathways, facilities and Braille signage.

A ‘one stop shop’ will be established on each campus by 2014 to provide information, advice and referral for students, including those with a disability. This would be beneficial for students at satellite campuses as current the Disability Collective has meetings on Main Campus only.

Also positive is the disability awareness training that all staff will be required to complete which should hopefully reduce the number and severity of negative interactions with students.

Unfortunately, the measurement of the DAP’s outcomes is heavily reliant on data collection from students. The primary issue surrounding data collection is the confidentiality of students registered with Disability Services, which on a number of occasions has been breached by the University. In some cases, students have deemed the risk of exposure too high and have decided not to register with Disability Services. Despite confidentiality processes were not mentioned in the DAP, I truly hope the University has given some thought to the critical nature of students’ confidentiality so all eligible students feel comfortable accessing Disability Services.

While the new DAP has the capacity to significantly benefit students with a disability, we will be watching closely to see how this will actually impact students on campus.

Come along to our next meeting on the 4th of September 12pm New Law School Seminar 105 to discuss what the new DAP means for you and how your semester is progressing.

 disabilities.officers@src.usyd.edu.au

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