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Disability and education

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 education providers are required to make changes, known as reasonable adjustments, to allow students with disability to participate in education on the same basis as other students. There are also Australia-wide standards to help education providers understand their obligations to prevent discrimination.

How can education discriminate against students with disability?

Students with disability can experience significant barriers in education including:

  • buildings that aren’t accessible
  • not being able to follow exam requirements
  • not receiving the support they need to take part in class activities.

If you think you have experienced discrimination you can get help from the Commission. You can make a complaint to us or we can give you information about your rights.

Often, by making some adjustments, education providers can allow students with disability to participate more easily.

Types of adjustments

Adjustments will vary depending on the student’s disability, but could include:

  • modifying buildings, for example providing ramps, modifying toilets and ensuring that classes are in rooms accessible to the student
  • modifying or providing special equipment, for example lowering lab benches, enlarging computer screens, or providing specific computer software or an audio loop system
  • providing extra support, for example a teacher’s aide to a student.
  • changing assessment procedures, for example allowing for alternative examination methods, such as oral exams, or allowing additional time for someone else to write an exam for the student
  • changing course delivery, for example providing study notes or research materials in different formats.

When are adjustments reasonable?

Making reasonable adjustments requires an education provider to balance the need for change with the cost or effort required to make this change. If the cost or disruption is disproportionately high, the change is not likely to be reasonable.

To determine whether an adjustment is reasonable, an education provider should consider information about:

  • the nature of the student’s disability
  • the student’s preferred adjustment
  • the effect on the person if the adjustment is made
  • the effect on the person if the adjustment is not made
  • the consequences for the educational body if the adjustment is made, including the financial impact
  • if the educational body has an action plan under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the terms of that action plan.

This information might come from the student, their parents, the educational body, the teacher of a particular program, independent experts or a combination of these.

When are adjustments not reasonable?

There are no specific rules about what is or isn’t a reasonable adjustment because it depends on the situation. However, an adjustment is likely to be unreasonable if:

  • it has a very high cost
  • it will cause great disruption.

Educational providers should consider all the likely costs and benefits – both direct and indirect – for the institution, the student, the teachers, other students and the wider community.

These considerations can include:

  • costs associated with additional staffing, providing special resources or modifying the curriculum
  • costs resulting from the student’s participation in the learning environment, including any adverse impact on learning and social outcomes for the student, other students and teachers
  • benefits of the student’s participation in the learning environment, including positive learning and social outcomes for the student, other students and teachers
  • any financial incentives, such as subsidies or grants, that are available to the provider if the student participates.

Disability Standards for Education

You can learn more by reading the Disability Standards for Education.

These Australian-wide standards provide practical advice about the responsibilities of education and training service providers.

Related resources

Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools – Analysis paper – Jul 2017