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In this year in review wrap-up for Global Access Project (GAP), we will be looking at four disruptors of 2015 that will continue to impact on institutions into 2016 with regard to facilitating access for students with a disability. We will share how GAP has been working with Universities, TAFE’s and Colleges in equipping them to respond effectively to the learning and support needs of a diverse student cohort and provide you with links to resources to help you prepare for the new year.

Move to private providers – leaves students behind (disruptor 1)

David Wright, HECG Managing Director and Executive Chair of GAP provides an excellent summary of the impact of VET Fee Help being made available to private providers and the subsequent growth that this has fuelled in the sector. At GAP we have seen different impacts from this growth:

  • TAFE’s, who have been the largest providers of education to students with a disability, have  experienced a dramatic drop in overall enrollments and are being forced to explore new methods of supporting students with a disability.
  • Private providers are needing to quickly acquire core capability to support students with a disability with some private providers being caught out unprepared .
  • Some unscrupulous operators targeting people with a disability purely for the purpose of exploiting VET Fee Help.
  • From a student’s perspective, their choice of provider will increasingly be determined by whether an institution has a positive response to students with a disability.
NDIS trials drive self identification (disruptor 2)

NDIS trials have been rolled out throughout the country. Of key importance to the Higher Education Sector is the blow out in numbers, (and subsequent budgets), that have been experienced in all trial sites with people coming forward and identifying as having a disability.

As people become comfortable with declaring that they have a disability and expecting assistance rather than discrimination, GAP believes that universities, TAFE’s and colleges will also experience greater numbers of students with a disability registering for support.

Further as student’s are equipped with assistive technologies and are aware of their rights they will have the expectation that all learning materials will be delivered in a manner that is accessible by these assistive technologies.

Time for change is now (disruptor 3)

The Commonwealth Government has conducted a review of the funding of support for students with a disability in universities. GAP was a key contributor to this report conducted by KPMG which clearly sets out the responsibilities of education providers to make adequate provisions for students with a disability.

The report suggests that it is now time for institutions to ensure that curricula is accessible at the point of development so that students using assistive technologies can access their learning without the need for expensive adjustments and that performance based funding be considered.

Government signals higher expectations (disruptor 4)

The independent Review of the Education Standards 2005 that support the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 has been completed and released by the Commonwealth Government. This report was conducted by Urbis and by invitation from the Government GAP provided input to this review.

Of key importance both with the recommendations coming from this review and the response from the Government is that access to education for students with a disability remains front and centre with the Government’s agenda and it holds high expectations for the sector to deliver quality education to all students.

GAP’s Response

At GAP one of our key goals is to help institutions understand that the market segment of students with a disability is large, valuable and full of students with tremendous potential. As a member of the Liberated Learning Consortium and in partnership with our international colleagues including IBM Accessibility, GAP has been providing a number of key services to support universities, TAFE’s and the gold standard private providers. These services have included:

  • Launching online professional development courses to enhance the capacity of all staff to respond effectively to the needs of students with a disability, (rather than the traditional model of a dedicated disability support team taking carriage of responsibility for the entire organisation). These courses cover areas such as universal design of curriculum, assistive technologies, disability awareness and communications, developing a playbook for responding to student needs and responsibilities under the legislation .
  • Converting learning materials into accessible formats for individual students.
  • Auditing of online courses for accessibility and usability.
  • Reviewing communication strategies in order to enhance the capacity of support networks (i.e. family and friends) to assist students.

This year I have been overwhelmed with the openness of the higher education community to the services and vision of GAP.   We now work with over 25 institutions, some of our webinars have been attended by over 500 people globally and our social media community is regularly being shared with more than 30,000 people in a week.

As we approach the end of our second year of operation, GAP would like to wish all colleagues globally a peaceful festive season. We have included below a number of links to resources,  some of which have resulted from our international webinars and conference presentations.

Sharon Kerr

CEO, Global Access Project.

Resources

Assistive Technologies Improving Learning Access – Organised by the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia The webinar was led by Sharon Kerr, ODLAA Executive Member and CEO, Global Access Project, Sydney, Australia, and Peter Fay from IBM Accessibility, Cambridge, MA USA.

Webinar: Meeting the Challenges: Serving the Students

This webinar, hosted by ADCET in partnership with ATEND, was held in March, 2015.

Sharon Kerr attended and spoke at CSUN in California – the largest technology and disability conference in the world.  For this webinar Sharon provided an update of some of the latest assistive technologies and innovations. She provided examples of how to use these technologies to create efficiencies and answered a number of questions from attendees.

GAP’s Linkedin Page – This page has latest updates from the sector as well as a series of 30 second Hot Tips from issues as diverse as appropriate behaviour around a guide dog to creating accessible documents. There are also handy memes that can be used as mail outs to staff.

GAP’s Toolkit for Accessibility – This page contains a number of tools that can be downloaded and distributed throughout your institution without charge to assist staff develop and deliver courses in an accessible manner and learn about assistive technologies.

Impact of accessible eBooks on learning outcomes of Indigenous students This 5 minute video of an OLT funded project provides an excellent example of universal design of curriculum assisting students who do not necessarily identify as having a disability.

IBM Accessibility  Here IBM provides links and information about their latest assistive technologies.  Some of these applications that are in beta version are able to be accessed and trialled by your institution without charge.  GAP is able to assist with facilitating trials.