Education rights for students with disability

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Students with disability sometimes need adjustments made to their learning environment so that they can learn on the same basis as students without disability.

Key points

  • All students with disability have a right to equal education, which is where they can join in on the same basis as students without disability
  • The Disability Standards for Education set out what a student with disability’s rights are and what education providers must do to protect them
  • You can get help to advocate for your education rights through family members, support workers and education professionals

Being able to make these adjustments and join in with their peers is integral to protecting the education rights for students with disability.

As some education providers might not know how to best protect the rights of students with disability, it is important you know what your, or your child’s, education rights are, so that you can make sure you are getting an equal education.

Disability Standards for Education

The Disability Standards for Education outline and protect the rights of all students with disability, this includes students without a diagnosis that are thought to have a disability.

The specific rights these Standards outline are that every student with disability has the same right as a student without disability to:

  • Apply to enrol or be admitted to an education institution
  • Take part in a course or program, including using services and facilities
  • Take part in learning activities, including when the course or program needs to be modified or the way progress is assessed needs to be modified
  • Use support services
  • Learn in a safe environment free from discrimination, harassment and victimisation

These education rights mean that you should have similar choices and opportunities in your education to what other students have.

The Standards apply to all educational settings and providers, including early learning and kindergarten, primary and secondary Government and non-Government schools, and higher education universities and TAFEs.

Under the Standards, if you have a disability your education institution has to consult with you about whether you need any accommodations, make reasonable adjustments so you can join in with your peers, and put steps in place to prevent you from being mistreated.

If you remind your education provider that they need to follow the Disability Standards for Education and they still refuse to look after your education rights, you can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Reasonable adjustments

Also known as accommodations, reasonable adjustments are changes that support you to join in with your peers in an education setting.

For example, a Deaf student may need captions on a video shown in class in order to understand what is happening on the screen and participate in the class activity.

If you need time to process information a teacher or lecturer is giving you verbally, particularly at university, your education provider might offer a support person to take notes for you.

A student that uses a wheelchair may need a ramp to get into the school building and other areas – not just to enter the classroom itself but also the library, gymnasium and play areas – to participate in classes and events alongside their classmates.

You can ask for these accommodations at any time, regardless of whether you are already learning at a school, yet to start learning, or what time of the year it is.

For example, you might arrange a meeting at the end of the year to prepare for your transition to a new school or new year level the following year, or you may ask for a meeting about accommodations in the middle of the year because you realise you might need support for upcoming exams.

You will need to provide evidence of why these reasonable adjustments will work and how they will help you.

The evidence might include a medical certificate, a letter from an occupational therapist or other specialist, or a previous individual education plan or individual learning plan.

Who can help?

Advocating for your rights, or the rights of your child, can be hard sometimes. You might feel like you’re not being understood, or not being listened to.

If you need some support to keep fighting for your rights as a student, you can ask your parent, caregiver, mentor or support worker to help.

If you are a parent or caregiver needing support to advocate for your child, you could also ask a support worker, your child’s therapist or support coordinator, or you could ask a staff member of the school that has shown interest in supporting your child, such as a teacher or year level coordinator.

Some education institutions, particularly universities, might also have a Disability Liason Officer that can help you identify what accommodations you need and how to ask for them.

Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), the peak body for young people with disability, has worked with students with disability and their families to co-design some resources that can help you to understand your education rights and to advocate for yourself.

These resources can be found on the Department of Education’s website and include:

The resources are also available in Easy Read, Auslan and several other languages.

What else would you like to know about education for students with disability? Tell us in the comments below.

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