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Supporting Indigenous Students with Disability in Higher Education

Students from Indigenous backgrounds who also have disability are doubly disadvantaged at university and require better and more culturally appropriate support, new research shows.

Funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) and led by researchers from the University of Canberra, the study examined data collected by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, and survey input received from the Disability Units (DUs) in 17 Australian universities.

“It has long been acknowledged that particular groups of students are under-represented in Australian higher education,” Chief Investigator, University of Canberra Dean of Students and Director of Student Engagement, Associate Professor Michele Fleming said.

“Of the six equity groups identified by Lin Martin in 1994, none are as disadvantaged as students with disability and those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. Doubly disadvantaged, then, are students who identify as coming from Indigenous backgrounds and also having disability,” Associate Professor Fleming said.

Associate Professor Fleming stated that Indigenous students with disability were an under-researched cohort and her study, conducted with UC colleague, Assistant Professor Diana Grace, sought to add to the literature and offer disability and equity practitioners guidance on how best to help.

“The participation of students with disability and Indigenous students in education remains an important focus, not only for practitioners but as part of broader moral and socially inclusive imperatives,” Associate Professor Fleming said.

“Subsequently, students with disability are entitled to forms of adjustment to their study to enable their participation, as are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.”

“What our study found, however, is that while all Disability Units (DUs) are governed by disability and human rights legislation, not all units are staffed and resourced equally, meaning students at different universities receive different degrees of support.”

“In addition, when Indigenous students with disability seek support, they’re often treated just like any other student, which, from a cultural perspective, isn’t the most appropriate way to support these students,” A/Prof Fleming said.

NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad emphasised the importance of university disability units working closely with Indigenous education units when providing support to Indigenous students.

“More needs to be done to ensure that university support units communicate with one another and that universities across the board are responding appropriately to the diverse needs of their cohorts.”

The report, Best Practice in Supporting Indigenous Students with Disability in Higher Education, released to the NCSEHE website today, offers six recommendations for improved university processes and practice.

Posted 1 September 2016 Posted in Disability, General, Indigenous