Sharon Kerr talks to Cathy Easte, one of the outstanding disability service officers in the Griffith University Disabilities Service Team
In a recent article for the L. H Martin Institute I highlighted the achievements of Samantha Alexander, a young Darug woman who graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at a grade point average of 6.5/7. Samantha started to lose her sight at 21 and if it were not for outstanding support, guidance and training in the use of assistive technologies that she received from Cathy Easte and the university’s Disabilities Service, her dreams and hopes for an education and career would have been diminished.
Why was it that Griffith University was able to support Samantha on her pathway to success and achievement, while other universities appeared unable to offer similar backing?
In many ways, Cathy Easte’s own story supplies a large part of the answer. During our talk it became clear that Cathy had walked the path of being both a student and an employee with a disability. With a severe hearing loss, Cathy was in the first group of deaf people in Australia who graduated as teachers in the 1980s. Her aim to be a teacher, however, was thwarted by regulations and administrators of the day in Queensland who were not open to having deaf people be teachers of the deaf.
In short, Cathy’s sense of understanding and commitment to serving students has grown out of her personal, lived experience. She knows what it is like to have others act as the gatekeepers to life opportunities, their focus only on a disability, and closing their eyes to ability, potential and the human right to participate fully in society. Continue reading
By Sharon Kerr and Kylie Colvin
First Published on the L H Martin Institute Insights Blog (based at the University of Melbourne) on the 1st September 2014
Recently Samantha Alexander made international headlines. Stories in Australian and British media told how the young Darug woman started to lose her sight at 21, and battled through disadvantage to excel academically, graduating with a Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice from Griffith University with a GPA of 6.5/7.
We, like others, were inspired by Samantha’s story, and after an interview with her came away even more impressed by her wisdom, tenacity and intellect. For what the headlines and inspirational articles did not reveal was how Samantha had been denied the opportunity to succeed at another Australian university, which failed to provide her with accessible versions of her learning materials.
In a recent speech Apple chief Tim Cook described people with disabilities as locked in a struggle “to have their human dignity acknowledged”. All too frequently, he added, they were left “in the shadows of technological advancements that are a source of empowerment and attainment for others”.
He is right. Yet it need not be so and there are solid reasons to believe this situation is set to change. To be sure, obstacles remain – as witnessed by Andrew Trounson’s recent article that Government funding to help universities to support students with disabilities has fallen to less than half the actual cost (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/more-uni-disability-funding-needed/story-e6frgcjx-1227010315296) – nevertheless, much can be done within the existing framework.
People with disabilities will find it easier to study university courses thanks to a practical new service developed by a team of higher education accessibility specialists. It is also designed to help universities meet their obligations in ensuring all students can access their resources.
The Global Access Project (GAP) is the work of the Sydney-based Higher Education Consulting Group, which will launch the service on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, May 15 2014.