Knowledge is power

This page contains useful definitions to assist staff in supporting staff and students with disabilities at Griffith. These definitions include extracts from relevant policies and legislation, as well as useful links and practical examples to illustrate ways to be inclusive of people with disabilities.

As per Griffith University’s Students with Disabilities Policy (PDF, 210kb), a student with a disability refers to an enrolled student of the University with a disability that in relation to a person means:

  • total or partial loss of the person’s bodily or mental functions; or
  • total or partial loss of a part of the body; or
  • the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness; or
  • the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness; or
  • the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the person’s body; or
  • a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction; or
  • a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour;

and includes a disability that:

  • presently exists; or
  • previously existed but no longer exists; or
  • may exist in the future; or
  • is imputed to a person;

resulting in a reduced ability to access educational services provided by the University, including assessment tasks, and a requirement for reasonable adjustments and/or support services to address these barriers.

A student who is pregnant and does not meet the above criteria is not a student with a disability.

This definition reflects current legislation.

‘Universal design’ was coined by US architect Ronald Mace to describe the design of buildings and products that were inherently usable and aesthetically pleasing to everyone regardless of their age, ability, or status1.

In particular, Mace focused on how the built environment and product design could support the needs of people with disabilities. ‘Barrier-free design’ and ‘design for all’ are important concepts and technologies that have been developed from universal design.

Across Europe, human diversity in age, culture and ability is greater than ever. We now survive illness and injury and live with disability as never before. Although today’s world is a complex place, it is one of our own making, one in which we therefore have the possibility—and the responsibility— to base our designs on the principle of inclusion.

Design for All is design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality. This holistic and innovative approach constitutes a creative and ethical challenge for all planners, designers, entrepreneurs, administrators and political leaders.

Design for All aims to enable all people to have equal opportunities to participate in every aspect of society. To achieve this, the built environment, everyday objects, services, culture and information—in short, everything that is designed and made by people to be used by people—must be accessible, convenient for everyone in society to use and responsive to evolving human diversity.

(EIDD Stockholm Declaration, 2004 (PDF, 90kb)).

From this concept, Mace and his colleagues developed seven principles of universal design to guide the design of environments, products and communications.

The Seven Principles of Universal Design are:

  • equitable use
  • flexibility in use
  • simple and intuitive use
  • perceptible information
  • tolerance for error
  • low physical effort
  • size and space for approach and use.

These design principles have been enshrined in architecture through building codes, assistive technology, and web technology. More broadly, they have been adapted to improving accessibility in other areas, including Universal Design for Learning.

In the 1990s the Centre for Applied Special Technologies developed a concept of Universal Design for Learning based on Mace’s concept. Within the learning context Universal Design for Learning’s basic premise is that:

Curriculum should include alternatives that make the learning in it accessible and applicable to students with different backgrounds, learning styles, abilities, and disabilities. The 'universal' in Universal Design for Learning does not imply a single solution for everyone, but rather it underscores the need for inherently flexible, customizable content, assignments, and activities. Flexibility is essential for two reasons: (a) individual differences between learners and (b) differences between instructional media. 2

Some applications of Universal Design for Learning include:

  • providing course materials in accessible formats such as accessible word documents or Braille, so that vision impaired students can use screen reading software or ‘read’ the documents
  • providing captioning videos for students who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • providing a range of alternative learning activities to allow students to demonstrate knowledge.

1 Source: The Centre for Universal Design

2 Rose, D. (2000). Universal design for learning. Journal of Special Education Technology, 15(1), 67.

Some disabilities are visible but many more are invisible. Anyone may experience a disability, injury or health condition over the course of their lives. Their need to disclose depends on the impact of their disability on their employment or education, and the need for adjustments in order to fully participate in work or in study.

Most students find the process of commencing university study daunting. Juggling personal and academic commitments as well as a new environment can be a challenge.

Students with disabilities may also need to consider the possible or perceived impact that their disability may have while studying. Disclosure of disability is another decision that has to be considered.

For staff with a disability applying for a job requires earlier decision-making at the application process. Prospective staff may need to consider whether an organisation is ‘disability-friendly’, whether the employer will discriminate in the application process and whether the workplace will accommodate needs appropriately.

For staff who have a disability that is not apparent, or who may acquire a disability, disclosure can be a concern. Although it is a legal requirement to support people with disabilities in learning and working environments, direct and indirect discrimination are realities.

Often, the greatest challenges people with disabilities face are the lack of awareness among other students and staff about barriers for people with disabilities, the lack of familiarity with different types of disabilities, or ignorant or ill-informed attitudes to disability.

A useful link for all staff and students is: Disclosure, it’s a personal decision.

Griffith University Disclosure Statement for students

The Griffith University Disclosure Statement (PDF, 700kb) aims to assist students to make appropriate disclosures to University staff (including disabilities service officers, course conveners, and placement officers). The document indicates where adjustments need to be made to work-integrated learning to enable students with disabilities, injury or health conditions, or people who care for others with disabilities, to participate fully in learning activities.

The Disclosure Statement appears on all course profiles. All information is confidential and the form should be provided to the course convener or work-integrated learning placement officer as relevant. Students should also seek assistance from the Disabilities Service.

Reasonable adjustments in education

Relevant Griffith policies and federal legislation require that reasonable adjustments be made for students in order to access and participate in all facets of education.

Ideally, if all physical, digital, learning and work environments were universally designed then the need for reasonable adjustments would be removed. However, that is not always possible.

Based on medical documentation, the Disabilities Service will make recommendations on adjustments to redress the functional implications of a student’s disability. Adjustments might include:

  • provision of information or course materials in accessible formats e.g. audio version, large print, formats suitable for screen readers
  • changes in teaching practices, such as wearing an FM microphone to enable a student to hear lectures through assistive technology or hearing loops
  • supply of specialised equipment or services, such as assistive technology or a notetaker
  • changes in lecture schedules and arrangements, such as relocating classes to an accessible venue
  • changes to course design, such as substituting an assessment task or additional time to complete exams
  • modifications to physical environment, such as installing lever taps, building ramps, or lifts
  • modifications to computer equipment in the library.

Alternative assessment should aim to simultaneously respect the student’s learning needs, defend academic integrity, and promote equity and consistency for all. In more complex cases discussion with the Disabilities Service is useful.

Useful links

Reasonable adjustments in employment

Reasonable adjustments are changes to the work environment that allow people with disabilities to work safely and productively. People with disabilities are protected by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. The Act covers people with disabilities  who are current or prospective employees, who require adjustments in order to participate in recruitment processes or to perform the genuine and reasonable requirements of the job.

Examples of reasonable adjustments in the workplace include:

  • reviewing and, if necessary, adjusting the performance requirements of the job
  • arranging flexibility in work hours
  • providing assistive technology, such as video phones or caption telephones
  • purchasing screen-reading software for employees with vision impairments
  • approving regular breaks for people with chronic pain or fatigue
  • buying desks with adjustable heights for people using wheelchairs

When are adjustments not reasonable?

In some cases an employer can lawfully decide not to make requested adjustments, if:

  • the adjustment presents unjustifiable hardship to the employer
  • the employee cannot perform the inherent requirements of the job even with adjustments
  • health and safety are likely to be compromised.

Useful links

Inherent requirements and education

In the academic context, inherent requirements are the essential components of a program or course that demonstrate the abilities, knowledge and skills required to achieve the core learning outcomes of the course or unit, while preserving the academic integrity of the University's learning, assessment and academic accreditation processes.

Students with disabilities or health conditions may be able to have reasonable adjustments made to enable them to meet these requirements. There are two facets to inherent requirements in academic settings:

  • the inherent requirements to completing the academic components of the program or course
  • the inherent requirements imposed by professional associations for a graduate to be able to be employed.

Inherent requirements to completing the academic components

Some students may require reasonable adjustments in order to complete academic components  without compromising the academic integrity of their program. This may require some ‘out of the box’ thinking in consultation with the student and with the Disabilities Service.

Examples:

  • A student with anxiety may undertake examinations in altered conditions. They may be provided with additional time, a separate room, or completely different assessment items that test the same content in a different format.
  • A student with limited hand function may be provided with a scribe to dictate answers or to undertake their exam online using assistive technology.
  • A student who is deaf or hard of hearing may use an interpreter for oral presentations.
  • A student who has mobility issues may be provided with a participation assistant to assist with laboratory work, and/or modified equipment in order to undertake experiments.

Work-integrated learning may present a more complex scenario due to additional negotiation with a third party, for example a school or hospital. Nevertheless, the same principles apply—how can reasonable adjustments assist a student to demonstrate their practical application of skills and knowledge? Safety for the student, other employees, patients, clients and children is also a factor.

Examples:

  • A student with responsibility for a child with a disability needs flexible finishing times in order to collect their child from respite care.
  • A student with an allergy to latex gloves requires hypo-allergenic gloves in order to practise in a hospital environment, and would need a management plan in case of anaphylaxis.
  • A student who is undertaking Work-Integrated Learning and needs an Auslan interpreter in the workplace requires interpreters for the duration of their WIL placement.

Inherent requirements to completing professional accreditation

Some things to remember:

  • not all students are undertaking study in order to gain employment, or are undertaking practice in a particular area
  • professional accreditation bodies make adjustments for people with disabilities
  • people can be accredited in certain practice/work situations and not others
  • health and safety is an important aspect to professional accreditation.

There are some challenges for universities in outlining inherent requirements in a ‘one size fits all’ approach, which doesn’t recognise the abilities of students with disabilities to meet standards in other ways. Graduate employability and professional accreditation are important areas of discussion for academic staff to have with students.

Students need to understand the professional accreditation requirements for their program and be able to negotiate with the professional body in relation to reasonable adjustments, options and limitations for practice, and safety.

Deficit model thinking around disability and cultural attitudes undermines openness around reasonable adjustments and inherent requirements. Potential issues could result in negative outcomes that include:

  • direct or indirect discrimination
  • impact on course progression and graduation for students with disabilities
  • reputational damage to the University
  • internal and external complaints and legal challenges.

Useful links

Inherent requirements and employment

Employers must offer equal employment opportunities to everyone. This means that if a person with a disability can do the essential activities or ‘inherent requirements’ of a job, they should have just as much chance to do that job as anyone else.

An employer, however, is not obliged by the Disability Discrimination Act to change the inherent requirements of a job to suit an employee. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the employer to clearly spell out the essential duties of the position being advertised and what type of work the employee is expected to do.

Examples:

  • An applicant with low vision is not able to drive and one of their prospective weekly tasks is to ensure that materials are securely transported to another campus. The position advertised for someone with a licence and transport. However, the applicant can meet the inherent requirements of the job using public transport, taxis or secure courier services, and could therefore not be precluded from applying for the position.
  • An essential activity or ‘inherent requirement’ for a receptionist's job is the ability to communicate by telephone. But it is not an ‘inherent requirement' to hold a phone in their hand. Providing a headset would enable someone with hand mobility issues to perform the duties required.
  • A nurse who has a hearing impairment experiences difficulty in measuring patients’ heartbeats; this is an inherent requirement of the job. The nurse is provided with an electronic stethoscope that permits her to set volume levels, thereby allowing her to accurately measure a patient’s heartbeat as required. The accommodation of providing an electronic stethoscope enables her to perform the essential requirement of the job.

If a person is able to perform the inherent requirements of a job and is the best person for the job, they should be offered the position.

People with disabilities or health conditions must be assessed on their current ability to do the job—not on assumptions about how their disability or health condition may have affected them in the past or may affect them in the future.

Putting reasonable adjustments in place to assist in fulfilling duties is important. Managers and their employees should discuss adjustments that may be needed to allow inherent requirements to be met. This might include specialised equipment (adjustable desks, software, lighting etc), changes in work processes, or participation assistants.

Useful links