Study for students with disabilities will become easier this year, with the launch of major accessibility reforms at Victoria’s Deakin University.
This will include new minimum standards of accessibility, called “The Everyday Accessibility Basics” (EAB), which will be built into the new “One Deakin” template for all unit sites.
The reforms are part of the “Inclusive Education Toolkit” developed by Deakin’s Accessibility Champions Project, and will begin being rolled out at the start of Trimester 1. Danni McCarthy, a staff member involved in the project, said: “The most important thing that we could do for every single student at this university was at least get base-level accessibility right.”
The standards were launched on the university’s Inclusive Education website in July last year, and underwent a “hygiene test” conducted by students with disabilities over the summer in the lead up to their implementation.
“Lived experience really mattered when we were designing it,” McCarthy said. The EAB identifies six fundamental accessibility techniques that all academic staff will be expected to apply and which will be built into the new unit templates.
However, McCarthy warned that “turning around a great big university like this, it’s not quick”. “The reforms are only “a small part of a much bigger conversation.” she said. “We need to know what questions to ask of our vendors … so that things all the way down the line are accessible before an academic even gets them.”
In 2022, Deakin’s Disability Resource Centre reported that 6932 of the 57,643 students enrolled at the university self-identified as having a disability.
Husna Amani is a student with multiple disabilities currently studying a Bachelor of Social Work at Deakin. “When issues about accessibility arise, the onus is often on me to come up with a creative solution,” she said. “(It) takes up time where I could be more focused on my studies.”
Overcoming accessibility issues can also trigger “flare-ups” of her symptoms, “which becomes a bit of an ongoing cycle”.
While the reforms are designed for students like Husna, she points out that they will “benefit not only students with disabilities, but students who may have different learning styles, or international students who may be adjusting to using English as their main language”.
In its most recent report on Australians with disabilities, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that in 2018, only 16.1% of those over the age of 15 had attained a Bachelor degree or above. For the general population, that figure was almost double at 31.4%.
“These things are important. They’re not going away anytime soon,” McCarthy said.