Accessibility and inclusion
UTS actively fosters an inclusive environment for people with diverse abilities working or studying at UTS.
This is supported by our Access and Inclusion Plan 2020-2024 (Accessible PDF, 454KB). You can also view the webinar launch of the plan, featuring David Abello, President of People with Disability Australia, and Verity Firth, Executive Director of Social Justice at UTS, below.
VERITY FIRTH: We will begin. We have about 50 people. That's wonderful. Welcome, everybody, to today's event. Before we begin, my name is Verity Firth. I'm the Executive Director of Social Justice here at UTS. I acknowledge we're meeting today - well, at the least most or some of us based at UTS are meeting on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I pay respect to Elders past and present and extend that respect to other Aboriginal people online today.
So I am delighted to be joined today by David Abello to launch the Access and Inclusion Plan 2020-24. This event is being live captioned. So you need to click on the link now in the chat and you can find it at the bottom of your screen in the Zoom control panel. The captions will open in a separate window.
If you have any questions during today's event, you can type them into the Q&A box, which you can also find in your Zoom control panel. You can then up-vote questions that others have asked. So it's an opportunity to say, "Yes, I really want that question asked", but do please try to keep them relevant to the topic we will be discussing here today. I'll have an opportunity to put those questions later to David.
This is an online event so, as you know, sometimes there are technical issues and just be patient if that happens. We will resolve them as best we can quickly.
We are here today to launch the UTS Access and Inclusion Plan for 2020-24. It's our university's fifth Disability Action Plan and it builds on past progress to enhance our provision of inclusive education and employment opportunities. I really want to welcome - warmly welcome Professor Andrew Parfitt, who should be known to everyone here from UTS. He's our Provost and Senior Vice-President and he will officially launch the Access and Inclusion Plan. Andrew, since his arrival at UTS, has been a really driver of this access and inclusion plan. He really has taken it under his wing to make sure we are not only compliant but going further than just compliance. Becoming a best practice educational institution when it comes to access and inclusion. I'll hand over to you, Andrew, to do the honours.
PROFESSOR ANDREW PARFITT: Thank you, Verity and welcome, everybody. It is really good to see in a virtual sense everybody here for this quite important launch really. Hopefully, the continuation of some very important discussions that we have as a community around these issues.
Let me also, as Verity acknowledged, acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we are gathered. They are the owners of the lands that we have the privilege of working on and living on, and I pay my respects to their Elders past and present and look forward to a future where we can work collaboratively together to solve many of the issues that we face in Australia today, particularly relating to the ongoing issue about black lives mattering, and as we continue to progress that.
Access and inclusion, support for people with disabilities, is a critical part for any University of what we do. It can't be under-stated in today's world how important it is to address the issues meaningfully. The numbers speak for themselves in the plan. The number of people who have a form of disability and, fortunately these days an increasing number of people who are prepared to declare that they have a disability, and work with us to how we can support them in their learning or in their research or in their work is increasing, and the responsibility is not just, as Verity said, a legislative responsibility of the university to acquit the obligations that we have to ensure that they can study - people with a disability can study, can work effectively and make those contributions we know that everybody can make. It goes beyond that to finding new ways of developing a supportive environment and an environment in which we can be inclusive. After all, one of the functions of a university is to be the creator of new knowledge and new understandings and to bridge gaps that we have not been able to address in the past.
This is the fifth - I think you said, Verity - plan, so it's not as if this is new. I think what is new is that we need to move beyond the headline and get to the detail about the how, and the previous plan in place when I arrived four years ago was a great plan because it addressed the depth of issues we were confronting and highlighted where we were not doing what we should have been doing. The team that has been working on this, through various forms of Social Justice and inclusion committees and their prior names, which I have for got ten now, have taken this to heart. In the sense that in a very fiscally tight environment, the university still saw the significance of investing in making real meaningful change to areas we needed to. So there is resourcing behind the plan. The resourcing is there because we think delivering what the plan aspires to matters. It really is over to all of us to now engage in the conversation about what good looks like in the future going forward.
So it's a pleasure - I guess we're in the afternoon - yes, this afternoon, to launch the plan. But more importantly than just launching the plan, to actually endorse it from a senior leadership perspective because this is something that
we need from every level of the organisation to champion because it actually is part of the values we hold, that it characterises the nature of the organisation, so I hope you enjoy the presentation. David, thank you for joining us today to give a presentation. Unfortunately, I have to go to something way less interesting, attend a finance committee meeting, but I have to leave you but it is good to at least take a moment, and for many of you here who have joined us for this launch, thank you for taking the time out of what I know are very busy days to actually celebrate where we have got to and importantly commit to where we're going in the future. So thank you very much, Verity.
VERITY FIRTH: Thank you, Andrew, and we appreciate you taking the time out to come and launch this for us.
So what I will now is minimise this screen so I can see my notes. Thank you for that. It is now my pleasure to welcome David Abello to join us here today. David is the President of People With Disability Australia, where he has been an active member of the disability movement for over 30 years. David is a person with a lifelong lived experience of mental illness and he has also been involved in the mental health and MAD PRIDE movements. David has a background in social policy research and was admitted to a PhD at UTS, no less, in 2017. His research interests have included disability and disadvantage, evaluations of disability policy and programs, and the evaluation of integrated mental health disability support and accommodation programs. David has been active over the decades in the social movement intersections around disability, sexuality and difference. He's a 78er, which means that he participated in the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978. He says he is old enough to have seen every wave of disability policy reform and in governance he has always been in the kind - he has always - and in the governance, he has been in every kind of funding arrangement with government. So that's an enormous - oh, my gosh. David's organisation --
DAVID ABELLO: Bring back grant funding, that's all I say. Bring me X thousand dollars, I'll spend it.
VERITY FIRTH: We can talk that. David's organisation, PWDA, provides a range of individual and systemic advocacy services. It is part of Disabled Peoples Organisation Australia, along with the First Peoples Disability Network, Women With Disability Australia and the National Ethnic Disability Alliance. PWDA has participated in and supported the community sector responses to the bushfires and then again in the response to COVID. So welcome, David. We are really delighted. We thought we would start with a question about you, if that's alright.
I was really interested to hear about your activism over decades in the social movement intersections around disability, sexuality and difference, and I thought it might be quite nice to hear a little bit about what sparked your activism and tell us a bit about your own personal history.
DAVID ABELLO: Not a very happy story but I'm willing to share it with other people. My first serious relationship when I was young, which was a four-year relationship, ended with the death of my partner. He was a person with schizophrenia. He got - because of the system, his parents were able to admit him to hospital. It was an anti homo sexual gesture rather than anything else. I ultimately lost him.
That got me into activism around mental health in the days when mental health facilities were dark and dangerous places, where there's no proper care and, in fact, there wasn't even good psychiatric medicine and therapy at the time. If you wanted to survive, you kept away from the hospital. You certainly - like you can now, you didn't go up to the hospital if you were not well because you knew you would end up in grief.
So any first activism was around that and I got involved in broader disability activism through those activities. And it's a very long time ago but it's still - that loss still inspires me to push on, to change things, to demand things.
I am pleased to be able to say these days that I think we have quite robust mental health services that are fair, that they're equitable and accessible and that doesn't happen by magic or just by willpower. People will have to fight for those things and that's what we have done.
So I was early in the crossover, when I was becoming a psychiatric disability activist, there was no such thing as a psychiatric disability; it was just a mental illness, and people with disability regarded it that way. So through my good work and my own personal reputation, people did begin to understand and include people with psychiatric disability in that movement.
As far as my queer activism goes, well, I was a very lucky boy when I was young because there were homosexuals in every generation of my family and they were loved and highly regarded people. My mother lost her father when she was 10. It was her Uncle Bill who took the family in and brought them presents and made them feel better. No-one is free of homophobia, not even myself, I suppose, but it was in the times, it was a very positive environment to grow up in and to be able to bring boyfriends home and even have them stay the night, which is pretty outrageous back then. But that was alright.
I suppose I went looking for the gay movement when I started going to university. The first time I tried university. I started coming across queer activists in the student movement. So, yes, I was a 78er. But I was active from about 1974, so, again, also dark times. Dark times. A horrible relationship with the police. A strong hatred that moved people, I think.
So I got involved in the student movement, then queer politics through that. Yes, I was one of the people who actually organised that event, the 1978 event.
VERITY FIRTH: Did you march on the anniversary?
DAVID ABELLO: Yes. I shouldn't say this, I'll get into trouble for saying, it's a bit like Anzac Day in that you don't go for decades and decades, and when you get old, you go, so it's a little bit like that. But I do now because I think - and also things like mardi gras now, I have been able to walk with disability groups in mardi gras and been uplifted by the crowd, and, you know, the roar of the crowd, it sounds corny, but it's moving. I have stood on Oxford Street and cried on several occasions because I have been moved. The thing about social movements is you don't know where they are going to take you. You can never tell. You start something and you don't know where you're going to end up.
VERITY FIRTH: That sense of collectivism is always so both moving and empowering, isn't it?
DAVID ABELLO: Yes, very much so. Probably a good time to make the point that the universities were really important to social movements in the late 70s and 80s particularly. I know they still are, but I think social movements have probably changed somewhat in the way they operate and so on and the environments they're in. But I think that the universities - most of the 78ers who turned out on the streets were students. The vast majority of them. The average age: 20. So they were a very young crowd too. So it was part of a new thing, a new thing in the universities, a new thing in social movements.
Also, there were a few activists at the time and later - more activists who came out of the academy who supported movements with knowledge, resources, information.
VERITY FIRTH: Yes. So in the communication leading up to today's event, you
wrote that: "now is a critical time for people with disability to be represented at the table, making sure that their experiences and concerns and their access and support needs are not overlooked. This crisis, like others before it, has brought into sharp relief the social and economic disadvantage faced by many people with disability". Talk to us a little bit about that and about the specific nature of the COVID crisis and the impact that it has had?
DAVID ABELLO: I'll just start from - I'll go back in the time machine a little way to a very clever campaign that was run in New South Wales around housing, people with disabilities - and the population at issue here was people who could no longer live with their ageing parents, who were facing a homelessness crisis where people had no community housing options, and there was something like 8,000 people who needed this help. In the leaflet, they used an analogy about a natural disaster. If a tsunami came through Botany Bay heads, 8,000 people would be promising, there would be newspapers and helicopters promising relief. The point they were making is that crises affecting large numbers of people with disability can often be invisible, not seen. People with disabilities have lower labour force participation, higher unemployment and lower income, and these are still persistent factors and facts.
We hear a lot about Job Seeker, for instance, at the moment, formerly Newstart recipients, and even vilification - like, public and open vilification by people who shouldn't do it. What we don't hear is that 40% of Job Seeker recipients are people with disability or a chronic illness. So, again, bits are seen and bits are hidden. They're hidden in plain view, in a way.
That's what I meant by saying that the crisis, the COVID 19 crisis, brings the conditions of people with disability into sharp relief: they can't be hidden.
I was just going to move on and say that during this crisis, the expertise of people with disability has been invaluable, and we have been working with our colleague organisations to push all levels of government to make sure that people with disability are included and prioritised during this time. So we came together with the sector quickly to produce a document - and it's on our website - an immediate and proactive response to COVID for people with disability, the affect of the pandemic on people with disability, health services and implications for social policy.
We did a survey of our members - it's a small survey - for our members, some changes were regarded as good, like increased access to services online and on the phone. Other changes had a negative effect, such as increased
expenses, living expenses; less NDIS support; and less support from non-NDIS sources.
VERITY FIRTH: What do you mean by less NDIS support?
DAVID ABELLO: Of course, NDIS providers, like everyone in the country, have had to work around COVID restrictions. Now, people who need physical or attendant care - not that they won't receive it, but, of course, it throws it back on to the provider to work out how to do it. PWDA, we have about 50 staff. We had to work that out. We had to work out how people would work from home and how the work would get done, so there was a great deal of invention happening all over the place while people are trying to work out how we're going to assist that person to do this, that and the other thing.
So there was a hiatus at the beginning.
VERITY FIRTH: That was going to be my next question. The ways COVID has shifted our working and studies - that is interesting. What have been the consequences for people with a disability and what are the positives and you have sort of alluded to that already, some of the online health capacity and stuff, but the negatives as well. What has your observation been?
DAVID ABELLO: As I mentioned just now, negatives for our members were around access to services and changes in the services and changes in the way they're delivered, and that there was a creative moment while everyone tried to work that out.
VERITY FIRTH: Do you think that has been solved so a certain extent or is it still --
DAVID ABELLO: Yes, I think it has. If you can't deliver, you don't get your money. It's like universities.
VERITY FIRTH: That's incentive for you!
DAVID ABELLO: So everyone is in the same boat in industry. Trying to work out how a product gets delivered and so on. But that key one, that having access to goods and services online and on the phone, is the one that people mentioned particularly.
Our impression - because early in the pandemic - I was going to say "plague", sorry --
VERITY FIRTH: Well, there are similarities.
DAVID ABELLO: Early in the pandemic, we expected the worst, I suppose. It's easy to expect the worst because if you know what people's lives are like, then you know what they're going to confront or you can anticipate, and you can warn government particularly when it's around issues of policy. Our experience has been, on the other hand, that things didn't turn out as badly as we expected in terms of people being able to access the services and assistance when they needed it.
VERITY FIRTH: That's good.
DAVID ABELLO: Yes. But this is our impression. It's not been premised on any broad analysis of individual situations.
VERITY FIRTH: What about heightened anxiety, because that's something that we have been confronting - at UTS, both amongst our students and staff, and how can we make sure that those members of our community that are struggling with their anxiety are supported? I have noticed that even in my own family, like it's across the board, just this heightened level of worry and concern.
DAVID ABELLO: And reasonable, I suppose, when - thinking that's a reasonable worry, that's a reasonable danger, that's quite a strong prospect, so you work out what's going to happen.
Just before I move on to anxiety, I'll just say that we did note that the change to online learning has helped students and staff with disability, but, of course, that's in the presence of an accessible learning environment, online learning environment, and that takes people there and helps them to adapt to engaging in that way with people and getting them used to using the technology and so on. And, of course, people with disability, with issues with vision, for instance, need other kind of assistance and other kinds of modification in their online learning with whatever, captioning or --
VERITY FIRTH: Yes, it's a constant struggle - I shouldn't say "struggle", but it is a constant at universities, just keeping even our software and our capacity to both teach and communicate online up-to-date. I don't think we have perfected it in any way, shape or form yet.
DAVID ABELLO: Yes. Well, the virus keeps changing things, doesn't it, and the virus keeps changing the way it's being contained. What you might be able to do this week, you might not be able to do next week. A good deal of anxiety around that change.
VERITY FIRTH: What can we do to help people who are suffering with anxiety in our workplaces or students that we --
DAVID ABELLO: About that, I'd say that people with disability, like others, not everyone, but many, are experiencing anxiety around the virus, and, of course, they're not emotional or abstract problems. They're physical realities, like sudden unemployment, isolation from others, increased costs of living, financial hardship, housing crisis, changes with support providers, as well as risk, then vulnerability to the virus itself. So life has become more complex and uncertain, and the future has become harder to predict. So that course you were studying for, that you were going to finish next year, might not have an occupation to match it. These are the things which we don't know and which we'll have to wait and see.
On the other hand, some of us are quite experienced in surviving traumatic social, political and economic conditions or living through a pandemic, so we are experienced in precarious employment, social isolation, poverty. We have seen stigma and vilification. So we are also experts and we are a resource for ourselves and each other. So our organisations of people with disability are also a resource and a source of information, and if people do want and need information about COVID 19 in relation to disability, just Google PWDA and you'll find a whole lot of information and resources there.
Things like employee assistance programs and student support services, they're a constant; they're always there, but I suppose one of the ways to get information to people, and I think that's critical - that information, and anxiety often involves an unrealistic perception, and information can be really useful to put anxieties into perspective and so on. Just knowing that someone is making that information for you; someone cares.
VERITY FIRTH: I was thinking this is the 21st century, not the 1950s. It's about managers also being more cognisant of the stresses that their work force is under and that's not unusual, nor - it's not a thing with stigma, like you should expect your work force at the moment to be feeling anxious. That is normal and that should be part of how you manage those people as well, to be addressing those anxieties and seeing that as the responsibility of everyone in the work force.
DAVID ABELLO: Yes, I think information is good. Clarity around change. As I said before, some of these things cannot be predicted but some of them can, and the universities would be able to work out fairly quickly how they will work in their environment.
VERITY FIRTH: That's right.
DAVID ABELLO: Get their KPIs up.
VERITY FIRTH: One of the nice things I have noticed at UTS, and I am sure elsewhere as well, that people have come together to do things, so we had this group of people in DAB, one of our faculties here, who started manufacturing PPE masks and all of these sorts of - which I think also helps alleviate anxiety in a way. It's that way that when you give out and start looking after other people, again, it's almost what we were talking about, that sense of collectivism, and the support that comes from that, it helps.
DAVID ABELLO: Yes. I think that's important. That's why I wrote it, I suppose. It's corny but we have to look out for each other. There's no way of putting that into some scientific sentence. We have to forgive each other when we're too anxious or when we make bad decisions. So, yes, we have to look out for each other. On the other side of that, we have to call out things, like misinformation, particularly about Newstart. That's one of my bug bears this week. But vilifying public housing residents in town blocks. I am involved in community housing projects and I find that distressing to see, and I am not in public housing, but I still find it distressing to see that people have a shot, have a go, "Oh, look at them, they're all migrants anyway", Pauline Hanson, for instance. So I think we have to call out misinformation. We have to call out discrimination, vilification of people.
VERITY FIRTH: Yes.
DAVID ABELLO: Because we don't need to do that. People have no right to make themselves feel better by victimising others. I think when we do look out for each other and when we do act to protect each other, like I said, it's corny, but love has always been important, I think. It's one of the things that binds human societies. I think it is incumbent on all of us. I find it moving, I have to say. I may not look like a COVID danger but my partner is over 80 years old and is particularly vulnerable to infection and there's a knock at the door. I go to the door. There's no-one there but there's a little box with things in it and I cry. I think people can be extraordinarily beautiful things. And they can do majestic actions. That's what we have to do.
In terms of the workplace, you just have to work that out. Online learning is possibly more straightforward than certain kinds of social research. As a social researcher in the past, I can't think of one project I ever did that I could do now without face to face. Typically, my research in the past was with people who took a great deal of effort to earn their trust and I don't know how you would get people to trust you on the phone.
VERITY FIRTH: That is really interesting.
DAVID ABELLO: Or on a laptop screen. I don't know if we have stopped research, or that kind of research, qualitative research. People will work out how to do that and they will move ahead with it. But that's what I think.
VERITY FIRTH: So, the question I was going to ask next, and it flows quite well, which is lucky, is that - so, we are attempting to be bold with this Access and Inclusion Plan, and everyone who is watching, if you have not seen it already, it is now up on the UTS website so you can go and have a look. The idea behind it is we want to nurture the kind of community we aspire to be. As I said before, and as Andrew reiterated, we want to move beyond compliance to model disability inclusion. My question to you is: in an ideal world, what do you think the main criteria are for an institution like ours to be a leader for the wider community in this space? We were really were going to lead.
DAVID ABELLO: Apart from providing high-quality education, well, the things that occur to me in respect of that question are about transitions - school to vocational, school the higher education, vocational education to higher education. I think the university is part of the life cycle and that's possibly one way to sell it.
VERITY FIRTH: Yes.
DAVID ABELLO: But it will be a part of people's lives at certain times and I think those connections between school and university are fairly weak, and I think that's a problem of the school system largely.
VERITY FIRTH: I think you are right too about the transitions from vocational education and training - I don't think we have got that right at all.
DAVID ABELLO: A long time ago, these were all silos and you couldn't bring them together or integrate them in any fashion. I think we're much more accustomed to thinking about these relationships between organisations and so on. So that's one I thought I had.
Obviously, as I said earlier, high-quality education. That provides and promotes accessible learning options, and environments for people.
Another feature of university, an ideal situation would be - and I know this happens a lot, collaborative relationships with community, collaborative relationships around social policy are very important, collaborative relationships with disability organisations are also very important. Now, these things have been happening for decades. PWDA itself has quite a lot of relationships with universities around particular research agenda and where we become a stakeholder in that research or even put in funding. We use that research to develop our policy positions, so it's important, that work, and that relationship is apparent and clear to everyone.
Just at the level of ideas, if we think of something like the social model of disability, which is kind of materialist - historical materialist tradition that we first saw in mid-80s possibly, now, that very much came from the university and academics. A lot of our very complex ideas, critical theory, also would never have been clear or critical without that impetus in the universities. So universities are really important when it comes to knowledge and understanding life and ourselves.
The medical model of disability leads us really nowhere, except to be patients. And while we don't ever deny the reality of our bodies and so on, we recognise in the social model of disability that disability comes from institutions; it comes from histories of institutions, treatment of people and individuals, such that people are excluded in quite covert ways, rather than in really obvious ways.
It's still a hard thing to explain. People would call us "people with disabilities" often, and you don't get picky about these things but there's this strong difference between people experiencing a disabling and oppressive kind of social reality, and having an impairment. My impairment is just as important, I suppose, as the disabling environments I'm in, and so on. So that's one really important thing that the universities can make ideas and support, knowledge, outside of the universities, knowledge about self, about identity, about politics in that sense.
VERITY FIRTH: I love that answer, David. I have written it down. I might quote you later. "Universities are really important to understanding life and ourselves". I thought that was a beautiful point. And you're right, and that only works when there is that genuine collaboration, though. Like, it's also
about universities not being an ivory tower in this respect and seeing that knowledge as something that is shared and, in fact, the relationship itself produces new forms of knowledge, from people with lived experience and people who are studying and so forth, back and forth, back and forth. Gosh, I love that answer.
DAVID ABELLO: One other thing I was going to mention was the university supporting networks, networks of academics and others.
I am not sure when it might have finished up but there was quite a strong network of academics and disability activists from across Sydney campuses but meeting at UNSW, the social relations of disability research network. Now, that for some 10 years had a really important relationship with PWDA. We supported it with some resources. That was a fantastic network for people who would do a presentation, people who would talk about their latest research - not all academic researchers; sometimes community researchers as well. So those sorts of networks are really important for creating that connection. And they're useful relationships in the sense that we can pursue each other's objectives.
VERITY FIRTH: It is interesting having you talk about it because it's - I am not saying this is the case, but as universities enter a more fiscally difficult environment where we're having these massive reductions in our revenue and - I shouldn't be too political but the Government is a bit indifferent at times to the fate of the universities --
DAVID ABELLO: It is deeply worrying.
VERITY FIRTH: Because there is such an important role that universities can play in that.
DAVID ABELLO: At the end of the day, they are very, very small margins. It is not like they are selling product. They're not selling couches or toilet renovations or something. They're selling process. The margins are so slim. When the margin gets slim, you can't then be generous and say, "Oh, we'll give you $10,000 for that to support your network for a year", "We'll offer you a meeting room" or whatever. If universities stop having any spare cash, I think the relationship with people and communities is going to change, like I think we already rely on volunteerism from people who are paid not for all the hours they work and then they work some more, not just writing journal articles and the like, but doing extra work that no-one is going to pay for. The margins can't get too tight or there will be nothing. The universities will lose their capacity to help and to be innovative and put up ideas that might bear fruit further down the track.
VERITY FIRTH: We'll be fighting it.
DAVID ABELLO: You asked about anxiety before. Well, if I read the paper yesterday and I was working in a university at the moment, I would be quite worried. I would be quite anxious. , given the impact of the virus on university income. I really think - it is my personal view that the sector should be supported like other sectors have been. I understand the universities are not eligible for job keeper, whereas nongovernment organisations are. It has to come from somewhere. We might end up with a giant deficit but that's all paper money anyway. There's always money. It's a wealthy country.
VERITY FIRTH: So, this next question is - we assume it's a good news story but I would be interested to hear your thoughts about it. So between 2013 and 2018, the enrolment of undergraduate students with disability grew by 50% nationally, and that was enormous because that was compared to an overall growth of 12.6% in undergraduate students, so it was well above the proportion of students that were increasing. We assume part of this was because at the time there was a demand funding model, but it's still an enormous rate of growth for students with disability coming to universities. So what is your sense of these figures? Is this something to celebrate or is this because we started at such a low base that it's not that amazing? What do you think?
DAVID ABELLO: I had a quick look at the literature in the last few days on this question. There's quite a bit of stuff and material that has been written about that increase of students are disability in higher education. I am not sure what the answer is, of course. That's a complex research question, trying to isolate all the factors and then weigh all the factors and work out what the most co variant factors are and so on. People know what I mean by that.
I don't think it's about the school system. While there's an increase in the prevalence of disability in the school system, in the same period, the completion rates in schools for people with disability are still quite low.
VERITY FIRTH: That's interesting.
DAVID ABELLO: Just a bit over a third. About a third of students with disability in schools finish, complete their schooling.
VERITY FIRTH: I wonder if the those new figures are coming out of school or whether they're mature age entry?
DAVID ABELLO: I couldn't find. I looked in the literature, some kind of deep composition of that population and where it was coming from. So in the absence of having that kind of data, I would say on reflection - I mean, we have done a couple of - we have put in a couple of - I am just having a little trouble with my English. It still happens sometimes. PWDA is in the business of putting demands on government for human rights and the needs of people with disability, and we made submissions to an inquiry into school education just a couple of years ago so we looked at quite a lot of data there. So not only are the completion rates for students with disability low; there's also a pervasive low expectation.
VERITY FIRTH: Have you heard that term "the soft bigotry of low expectation".
DAVID ABELLO: That's good. I'll write that down.
VERITY FIRTH: It's quite good.
DAVID ABELLO: I suppose, bigotry - not always done on purpose or intentionally or even self consciously. I don't think teachers in schools are bigots.
VERITY FIRTH: Yes.
DAVID ABELLO: They're just operating in the way they do, like we all do, based on what we understand the world to be. The low expectations, and I would say it's probably not driven by schools. It could be driven by the change in the funding model. It's often what changes things the most. For instance, when the DSP, the disability support pension, when the panels were changed, reducing the number of people being granted DSP, obviously the number of people with a disability on unemployment benefit went up as well. What's the point I was making there? Sorry.
VERITY FIRTH: So people basically shifted from the disability support pension to unemployment benefit?
DAVID ABELLO: Yes, that's right, funding models. So that was just a funding model change. But it has an enormous impact in terms of people with disability and their lives.
VERITY FIRTH: It caused enormous stress at the time. I remember. People suddenly had to do reassessments for lifelong conditions and things. It was horrible. It was really quite brutal.
DAVID ABELLO: Yes, and biannual reviews and the like. So a change in the funding model can produce a material effect in terms of what happens to people. So it could be that. It could be that you do have something to celebrate. When I went to university the second time, I only really applied because I came across the inputs scheme, if that's what it was called. So I was recruited into the student body as a special needs person. So it could be about that. I doubt about a lot of things.
VERITY FIRTH: I'm going - it's 25 past. We have now got questions. I am going to - it's more of a comment than a question but I will read it out, which is from Steven Yates. I'm an example of someone with disability who failed primary school and high school but entered an online degree in community health/ageing and disability in my 40s my lived experience of disability is the great textbook I can have. I have been employed by UTS. Thank you for joining us today and sharing your story. Is there anything you would like to say to Steven, David?
DAVID ABELLO: When I was talking about low expectations in the school system, and I think, Steven, you have just touched on the same point, there's kind of paternalistic position people might have once taken that, "You will never make it", "You will never be suitable for university", "You will never be able to study", but then - based on people's IQs or something, but what happens when you example individuals in the present who are in a university course or completed one, and look at the history, you will find that it's not all the bright kids who went to university and that it can be quite surprising and unpredictable, that I didn't dream once that I could do a PhD, but here I am.
VERITY FIRTH: Yes. The role that - really honestly privilege in our secondary education plays in those who get their ATARs who are able to matriculate straight out to university is enormous and highly documented. That is why we need a range of pathways because people with all sorts of abilities don't necessarily get here via the rather restricted processes that currently exist.
DAVID ABELLO: So good on you, Steven, for defying expectation and your achievement.
VERITY FIRTH: As Andrew Downey says, social expectations are the greatest
barrier faced by people who have disability, so that is what we are trying to eliminate here at UTS. That is what the Access and Inclusion Plan is all about. So what I might do now, we're two minutes from 1.30, so I think I might draw this to a close. I want to thank you, David. It's been a really lovely conversation. I really appreciate you coming and launching our Access and Inclusion Plan today.
DAVID ABELLO: Thank you for having me, Verity.
VERITY FIRTH: Thank you to everyone, to the 50 people who stayed with us. Thank you for joining us all today. As I said, the Access and Inclusion Plan is now available on the UTS website. If we haven't sent around the link, we will soon. We will definitely tweet out the link. So please check it out and, of course, as usual, if you have any issues at all, please just reach out, so the centre for Social Justice and inclusion, we're here to help. It's part of our job to make UTS the most accessible, best, inclusive university we can possibly be so reach out if you need any help, and thank you again, David.
DAVID ABELLO: Thank you, Verity, thank you, everybody, for watching.
VERITY FIRTH: Thanks, everyone.
(End of session).
The resources and information here are for both staff and students. For students, your main source of information and assistance is the UTS Accessibility Service in the Student Services Unit.
- UTS Accessibility Service is the University’s central contact point for all students with a disability, medical or mental health conditions.
- Disability at UTS: What you need to know contains information for students about disability rights and the university’s responsibilities.
- Inherent Requirements fact sheet for future and current students.
- The Accessibility Resource Guide supports staff with access requirements.
- JobAccess is a free service for employers, people with disability and service providers. It also operates the Employment Assistance fund.
- The Access Guidelines for UTS Events and Training Sessions and the Accessible Events and Training checklist support more inclusive event planning.
- The UTS Access and Inclusion Plan outlines our commitment to honouring the unique contributions of people with diverse abilities.
- Inclusive Education Principles at UTS describes key inclusive education principles, and how we put them into practice.
- We have created a number of simple fact sheets to help ensure an accessible, inclusive and safe environment here at UTS.
- Top Ten Tips for Creating Inclusive Learning Environments - offers easy ways to ensure learning is accessible to all.
- Top Ten Tips for Supporting Mental Health in the Classroom - provides and information recognising signs of stress in students and accessing appropriate supports.
- Accessibility Support at UTS: The Top Ten - lists the 10 most useful resources to support accessibility and student health and wellbeing more broadly.
- Top Ten Tips for Holding Inclusive Social Events - Tips to ensure no students miss out on accessing the social and extra-curricular activities on offer.
Accessible facilities at UTS
Access ramps, accessible parking and accessible toilets can be found on the UTS campus map (select the ‘Access and amenities’ tab).
The UTS accessible environments policy ensures that all new facilities are designed to be accessible, and remedial works are carried out where required. The Accessible Environments Advisory Group assists UTS to identify, prioritise and resolve built environment access issues. This includes:
- Design, construction and maintenance of physical facilities
- Access, egress and circulation, continuous accessible pathways of travel, and satisfactory linkages with transport
- Amenities, such as toilets, furniture and equipment
- Communications, including hearing augmentation, lighting and signage
Accessible parking at UTS is enforced by UTS Security, which is authorised to issue parking tickets under an agreement with the NSW RTA and Police. This ensures the accessible parking is available to the people with disabilities who require it.
To park in accessible parking at UTS you need to get a UTS accessible parking permits:
- UTS staff: Complete and submit the UTS accessible parking permit application for staff. Instructions are provided in the form.
- UTS students: UTS Accessibility Service
- Visitors: Contact the UTS Security Office on 1800 249 559
If you have a disability or illness, the University will assist you to carry out your work efficiently by making reasonable changes to the job itself, your work environment or even your work conditions. This is known as ‘workplace adjustment’.
See working with a disability on the StaffConnect for detail on how to apply for a workplace adjustment.
Workplace adjustments can be permanent or temporary and may include:
- Provision of adaptive or modified equipment
- Job redesign
- Modification of a work area or common areas
- Training or retraining (yourself or your colleagues)
- Changes to a staff member’s work hours
In the workplace, assistive technology makes tasks that were previously challenging and difficult for some people with disability, far easier. Assistive technology can include screen readers, mobility aids, hearing aids, lifts and moving stairs, sensor-based switches and extendable reaching devices. This technology is often inexpensive and may be eligible for reimbursement through the Employment Assistance Fund, run by JobAcess.
Staff members with disability mostly know about specific assistive technology that will best suit their needs. However, not everyone will be up to date on the range of equipment available for use in the workplace. Every year, new supports and technology become available. There are many companies and organisations that sell and distribute assistive technologies and these can often change. The best place to start looking for information about communication and assistive technology, is the National Equipment Database, on the Independent Living Centre Australia website.
Costs of implementing workplace adjustment, depending on the nature of the adjustment, will usually be funded through:
- JobAccess Employment Assistance Fund
- Faculty or unit budgets, within an agreed budget limit
- UTS Workplace Disability Fund
- Facilities Management Unit minor works program.
However, bear in mind that some workplace adjustments may have no cost. Even simple tools or human interactions can make the work environment more accessible.
It is important to remember that workplace adjustment is important to think about in terms of all kinds of disability – those that are visible and those that are not. Whether or however someone with a mental health condition chooses to identify or talk about their situation, exploring and identifying access requirements is part of offering support. JobAccess can also provide assistance with access requirements in relation to mental health.
Supporting staff with disabilities
Making your work environment accessible may involve a number of environmental considerations, flexibility of work practices, and specific access requirements in your team systems and processes.
Accessibility is not something you can set and forget. Technologies change, new facilities are built, and staff and students with different access requirements join our university. Accessibility is an ongoing agenda which needs to be revisited.
Any one of us may not know the specific access requirements of the staff and students we work with, which is why we focus on universal access, safety and respect at UTS.
Policies relevant to access and inclusion at UTS:
- UTS Equity, Inclusion & Respect Policy
- UTS Student Rules
- Course Related Work Experience Policy
- Coursework Assessments Policy
- Handling Staff Grievances Policy
- Handling Student Complaints Policy
- Health and Safety Policy
- Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy
- UTS Student Charter
- UTS Workplace Adjustment Procedures
Complaints and grievances
If you believe you are being discriminated against or harassed in your work or study because you have a disability you have an equity-related complaint .You can contact the Equity and Diversity Unit within the Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion on 9514 1084 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.