Disability and education

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 education providers are required to make changes, known as reasonable adjustments, to allow students with disability to participate in education on the same basis as other students. 

Reasonable adjustments in education

Making reasonable adjustments requires an education provider to balance the need for change with the cost or effort required to make this change. If the cost or disruption is disproportionately high, the change is not likely to be reasonable.

To determine whether an adjustment is reasonable, an education provider should take into account information about:

  • the nature of the student’s disability
  • the student’s preferred adjustment
  • the effect on the person if the adjustment is made
  • the effect on the person if the adjustment is not made
  • the consequences for the educational body if the adjustment is made, including the financial impact
  • if the educational body has an action plan under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the terms of that action plan.

This information might come from the student, a parent or associate of the student, the educational body, the teacher of a particular program, independent experts or a combination of these.

Types of adjustments

Adjustments will vary depending on the student’s disability, but could include:

  • modifying educational premises, for example providing ramps, modifying toilets and ensuring that classes are in rooms accessible to the student
  • modifying or providing equipment, for example lowering lab benches, enlarging computer screens, or providing specific computer software or an audio loop system
  • changing assessment procedures, for example allowing for alternative examination methods, such as oral exams, or allowing additional time for someone else to write an exam for the student
  • changing course delivery, for example providing study notes or research materials in different formats.

For example, a school makes a voice recognition software package for computers available to assist students with learning or physical disabilities.

When are adjustments not reasonable?

Under Victorian law it is up to the education provider to establish whether or not it is reasonable to make certain adjustments for a student with disability.

Educational providers should consider all the likely costs and benefits – both direct and indirect – for the institution, the student, any associates of the student, the teachers, other students and the wider community.

These considerations can include:

  • costs associated with additional staffing, providing special resources or modifying the curriculum
  • costs resulting from the student’s participation in the learning environment, including any adverse impact on learning and social outcomes for the student, other students and teachers
  • benefits of the student’s participation in the learning environment, including positive learning and social outcomes for the student, other students and teachers
  • any financial incentives, such as subsidies or grants, that are available to the provider if the student participates.

Disability Standards for Education

The Disability Standards for Education (Education Standards) provide practical advice about the responsibilities of education and training service providers.

They aim to make sure students with disability enjoy the same rights, and can achieve equal outcomes, as other students.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some exceptions, which mean that discrimination will not be against the law in particular circumstances.

Positive steps can also be taken to help disadvantaged groups using special measures, which is not discrimination under the law.

If an exception or special measure does not apply, in some circumstances an exemption from the Act may be sought from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

There are also some specific exceptions in relation to disability access to education.

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