A fair go in education for students with disabilities

I have been pondering the comments made by people who encourage the exclusion of children with autism (and other disabilities) from the education system.

Accompanying my son, Mitchell aged 17, out into the mainstream community has its own set of challenges, that others have trouble grasping and understanding. Mitchell has autism and as his father, I bathe in his joy. Those who know me understand this. On the other hand I also have the responsibility as a community support and the lived experience as a carer for Mitchell.  And this is where ongoing challenges lie ahead for him as he stares down and challenges the many faces of arrogance and ignorance.

The Position Paper by the Productivity Commission into the NDIS costs was released in June 2017. It highlighted the interface between the NDIS and other disability and mainstream services, as well as how critical mainstream unity is for participant outcomes and the longevity and financial stability of the scheme. As the NDIS rolls out in full from July 1st 2017, the disability sector awaits the many challenges from accessing mainstream education, health and transport systems.

The tenor of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has always promoted choice and inclusion. We do not need people, to vent their arrogance or ignorance in a public forum, as happened recently in the Senate.  Simply put, policies encouraging the use of segregation are archaic and of no benefit to the future of the full roll out of the NDIS.

Commenting on this last week, SA Dignity Party MP Kelly Vincent said it’s distressing for parents of children with autism:
“South Australia has a legal obligation to provide an inclusive education to students with disabilities. So I think it’s not only offensive but it’s actually ignorant to hear from a parliamentarian comments that go against our existing legal obligation.”

Examples of existing law and policy demanding that every student in Australia has the fundamental right to access ALL schools include the Disability Discrimination Act, the Disability Education Standards, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Some time ago, the Dignity Party took the initiative to establish a South Australian Parliamentary Select Committee into Education.  This came about because we hear of far too many incidents in schools where the rights of students with disabilities are not upheld. Such incidents included practices by some educational settings of placing children with autism in cages, as part of their ‘learning syllabus and positive behaviour policies.’

Families, educators and representative groups from across the state made their views known through the committee hearings, and the recommendations will now go to the Department of Education and Child Development (DECD) for action. Through these hearings and submissions, this Parliamentary Select Committee heard some parents and their children for whom they constantly advocate for, were feeling excluded from the education system, and schools were struggling to cater to the needs of students with disabilities.

Dignity Party MLC Kelly Vincent, who chaired the committee, said while some schools were supportive of special needs students, the system had failed others. The extensive recommendations outlined in the report seem to represent a rather bleak picture of how the South Australian education system caters for students with disabilities. It proposes changes in almost every aspect of the education system to allow those students greater access to their right for education. Kelly Vincent handed down the Committee’s report which makes more than 90 recommendations.

“What is lacking, according to the real lived stories of those who presented to the committee, is an awareness of those rights and obligations, and an understanding of how to implement them to benefit students, families, and school communities alike.”

“Too often we heard about practices that exclude students with disabilities, when there are clear legal obligations to include them,” Kelly Vincent added.

“Unfortunately I think, because of those attitudinal issues, where we don’t expect the student with disability to achieve as much as a non-disabled student, we don’t invest in them as much. And because of the lack of resourcing available, we’re not currently meeting our very serious obligations to these students.”

Schools need the resources to provide ways to assist students to learn positive behaviour methods. It’s time to review the behaviour support procedures of schools to ensure that, for example, students with autism are not continually suspended from school based on their behaviour.

Further recommendations included that South Australian schools should face tangible consequences for unnecessarily restraining students with disabilities and avoid using suspension or exclusion to manage challenging behaviours. Under the recommendations, schools could also be audited to find out how they are accommodating children with disabilities, and teachers would need undertake compulsory special needs training.

Kelly Vincent added: “Importantly, too, we know that so many parents are forced out of the opportunity to earn a living because they are called on too frequently to collect their child from school due to their disability.  We want the state-wide economic impact of this to be assessed.”

It is crystal clear that many students with disabilities experience ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations,’ and as a society we must take responsibility and support educators to raise expectations and deliver a more positive experience to all students.

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Ps You’ll realise we are just days away from the end of the financial year, please help Dignity Party by making a donation.
Dignity Party are working hard to ensure our hard working MP – Hon Kelly Vincent MLC – is re-elected at the March 17th election, just nine months away.

Election campaigns are expensive, we are booking stalls at events, arranging printing and training our team of candidates already (next session 1st July).  Making a donation today to the Dignity Party will support this campaign, and ensure we can present the candidates and all of our volunteers in eye-catching gear (Dignity Party purple caps, t-shirts, badges) and have professionally designed how-to-vote cards and other election materials printed.  We appreciate your end of financial year contribution to the Dignity Party.  This is the “bare-bones” campaign, and the more we can gather in generous donations, thanks to people like you, the more we can build on this basic campaign to include traditional and online advertising to increase our electoral impact and results.  Well- resourced campaigns succeed, we need your help through a donation today to get there.

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0431 704 074