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More for those who need it most – Dignity for Disability launches education policy

Dignity for Disability today launched its education policy, which is designed to help the children who need it most. Party Leader Kelly Vincent MLC says the policy has a dual focus on providing better support for students with disabilities and child protection.

“In certain areas South Australia’s education policies lag years behind the rest of the world,” says Ms Vincent. “We need to bring our state up to speed and give our children the best chance of fulfilling their potential.”

Dignity for Disability identifies South Australian children with disabilities as one of the most under-serviced groups in the state and proposes four ways to address the situation:

– Compulsory training in disability for all teachers. “Given that many students with disabilities are educated in mainstream classes, it defies logic that our teachers are not compelled to do any study in the area,” said Ms Vincent. “It should be made compulsory for all South Australian teachers to study disability and gain at least a basic understanding of how different disabilities could affect a student’s behaviour and learning process. Incentives should also be offered for teachers to gain expertise in disability support and learning.”

– Offer Auslan in more schools as a Language Other Than English (LOTE). “Offering Auslan as a language option to students will not only improve the ability of students to communicate with people with hearing loss, it will also dispel stereotypes about disability and deaf people by increasing understanding of Auslan as a language like any other,” said Ms Vincent.

– Ensure interpreters are available in Deaf units. “Under the current system, deaf children are sometimes expected to learn from teachers who have limited means of communicating with them in Auslan,” said Ms Vincent. “Dignity for Disability is calling for guaranteed provision of interpreters to facilitate communication in such situations.”

– Provide support based on need, not diagnosis. “The education department’s allocation of extra funding for students with disabilities is an outdated model that relies on assumptions about particular disabilities,” said Ms Vincent. “Individual students should be assessed and funding should be allocated by need, not by diagnosis. Every student is different, and every person experiences disability differently – it is ridiculous to make assumptions about need from reading a diagnosis on a bit of paper.”

The second area of education Dignity for Disability identifies as requiring urgent attention is child protection. The party’s policy outlines two main strategies to bring about significant change:

– Create cultural change. “It seems that many of the education department’s child protection issues can be traced back to a lack of accountability and a culture of covering-up for colleagues,” said Ms Vincent. “This needs to be targeted by strong management of the department that prioritises the wellbeing of children over the wellbeing of careers. Strategies to ensure transparency and responsibility must be enforced by the Minister of the day, who is ultimately charged with overseeing the department.”

– A non-partisan approach. “Dignity for Disability firmly believe that the momentum belatedly gained by the Department of Education in dealing with child protection matters must not be lost should there be a change of government. Children’s lives should not fall prey to political point-scoring and cross party bickering. We have been heartened by meetings with the education department that indicate successful systemic change will see a vast improvement in the management of employees who are before the courts,” said Ms Vincent. “It is essential that such innovation continues regardless of who forms government after the election.”