Directions for South Australia – Tertiary Education and Disability

“Students with disabilities are students…think of the young person as a person and a student first … you will see that this is not about disabilities.” – Kelly Vincent MLC


The tertiary education sector reflects inequity for specific groups of people.  Students with disabilities are recognised alongside Indigenous, low socio-economic, remote and CALD[1] groups as facing equity issues in relation to tertiary education.  Dignity Party recognises the layered experience of disadvantage which can occur for people who fall into more than one of these categories.  According to the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training, students with disability continue to be disadvantaged in two ways – with access to, and participation in, higher education in Australia:

  • People without disability are almost twice more likely to have completed a Bachelor degree as people with a disability. According to the ABS – 17% of people aged between 15 and 65 years who have a disability have completed a Bachelor degree compared to more than 30% of the population without disability.
  • In 2014, the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education found a range of shortfalls in relation to the accommodation of students with disabilities in tertiary education settings. This resulted in seven key recommendations including the need for –
  • Clear transparent standards which reflect the Higher Education Standards Framework, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, and Disability Standards for Education 2004
  • Using data collection to better understand the needs of students with disabilities in higher education
  • Teaching approaches, materials and technology to align (wherever possible) to principles of universal design
  • Broad, compulsory disability awareness training.
  • More flexible study options.

In recent years initiatives to support equity and fairness in research have emerged.   These include ‘Nothing about us without us’ and ‘Participatory action research’ a sociological methodology that recognises people with disabilities as key partners in the research process (Whyte, 1991, McIntyre, 2008).  Although taken up by some studies, overall there are currently no formalised standards or policies compelling research to adopt these approaches.

An international study of participatory action research found evidence of its effectiveness yet only just over a quarter of the participatory projects investigated exhibited characteristics of high level of participation within the research (Stack and McDonald, 2014).


Dignity Party believe in South Australia we must ensure:

  • Tertiary settings meet requirements of the Higher Education Standards Framework
  • Compliance with standards is reflected in the detailed strategic planning, performance management and evaluation of strategies implemented
  • The incorporation of participatory action research is included within research standards and guidelines as well as in researcher training across all settings and relevant faculties
  • Effective relationships between tertiary education and disability sectors including the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to ensure the best possible outcomes for students with impairments.

Dignity Party PROPOSES that South Australian tertiary settings are held accountable for the establishment of a detailed, evaluated strategy which ensures the fulfilment of relevant legislation and practice standards in relation to students with disabilities.



ABS (2015) ABS

Australian Disability Clearing House accessed 22nd August 2017.

Curtin University Student Equity Performance in Australian Higher Education: 2007 to 2012.

McIntyre, A. (2008). Participatory action research. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Stack, E, and McDonald, K. E. (2014). Nothing About Us Without Us: Does Action Research in Developmental Disabilities Research Measure Up? Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities. Vol.11(2), pp.83-91.

Whyte, W. (1991). Participatory action research. Newbury Park: Sage.

[1] CALD Culturally and Linguistically Diverse