Issues Of Students With Disabilities In Australia

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Students with disabilities reflected 7.3% for all Australian university domestic undergraduates in 2018, an increase from 6.8% the previous year (Higher Education Statistics, 2020). Despite this increase, many students with disabilities pursue higher education, without the self-advocacy skills they need to withstand at university (Eckes & Ochoa, 2005) as many multifaceted factors are facing disabled students on their transitions from school to higher education. These deficits include their ability to overcome adversity, affecting confidence in their capacity to achieve a specific goal, recover from stress, conflict, or change (Eckes & Ochoa, 2005). Many students are unacquainted with support services by schools as they are uninformed of specific career advice, training, and knowledge on supportive measures for post-secondary education. Likewise, this is evidenced as a crucial factor contributing to the current issue, because the rising numbers of disabled youth pursuing higher education, require stronger transition programs between secondary and tertiary institutions (Eckes & Ochoa, 2005).

This essay seeks to address the factors contributing to poor transitions of students with disabilities entering university and the short-term and long-term consequences that this cohort face when they fail to transit effectively. To understand the importance of this issue, this essay offers a program that aims to assist a group of students with disabilities to prepare for their transitions to university followed by a justification of the program. This program is designed to support 20 students with special needs at Summerville Secondary College and planned to be delivered as a seminar. These students at Summerville are chosen because I have worked at the College for the last four years, so I can seek the support of the school’s relevant personnel and feasibly organize the session.

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Governments have recently been concerned about funding for disabled students. Under previous (2014–2017) arrangements, funding for students with disabilities was inconsistent across the nation. The Quality Schools funding arrangements focus on student needs with an SRS (school resource standard), as recommended by the 2011 Review of Funding for Schooling, led by Mr David Gonski. This review recommended students with disability loading be supported on a national definition of disability, with greater levels of funding for students with higher needs (Baik, Naylor & Arkoudis, 2015). Moreover, this issue is important as students with disabilities represent lower rates of completing school, obtaining employment, and accomplishing postsecondary education (Phillips, 2015). Thus, the following educational response provides students with disabilities to actively and equally participate in higher education, equipping them with the skills and qualifications to increase their psychological, social, and identity capitals, to achieve a successful life and employment outcomes.

Factors contributing to their problems on school-to-university transitions

Students with disabilities face many barriers in their schooling; and one significant factor that impacts how they prosper into adulthood is the transition program run by schools, which aims to necessitate stronger connections between schooling and further education (Cheryl & Lehmann, 2006). At the micro-level, students, families, schools and the community need to assist students in pursuing a rewarding post-secondary pathway education (Down, Smyth, & Robinson, 2018) as failing to do so will impact their psychological capital causing, decreased levels of student’s positive psychological resources, such as self-efficiency, hope, optimism and resilience (Eckes & Ochoa, 2005). Students need to know their options, be informed about the latest issues impacting the success of students with disabilities, and be confident about how to receive the right support. Often the educative function falls on students themselves, and predominantly, this will always be the case because each student has a unique and distinctive level and attitude toward their disability, and have ways of managing both (O’Byrne, Jagoe & Lawler, 2019).

At the meso level, schools need to be flexible and responsive to students’ needs if they wish to encourage learning, not prevent it (Down, Smyth, & Robinson, 2018). Inconsistency between numerous education providers and sectors hinders student’s ability to flourish as the challenge remains to create an effective transitioning system to support learning and identity formation (Hartley, 2015). It is important to provide these students with opportunities and pathways to explore and expand their interests post-school. Many high schools lack awareness of current policies and initiatives to provide updated course advice and assistance. This impacts students’ psychological and social capitals as both have been recognized as an important resource for organizational performance and effectiveness (Eckes & Ochoa, 2005). Education can be a tool to ensure that young people gain a livelihood or it can be a threat to belonging by taking them away from important relationships that can be extended and developed further when transitioning into university (Down, Smyth, & Robinson, 2018). Without the proper support, advice, and guidance provided to students from schools, their social and identity capitals will continue to suffer resulting in difficulties such as expanding their social networks and fostering relationships with other people (Trainor, 2008).

At the macro level, government policies and initiatives, need to be endorsed by schools. E.g. The NDIS Pre-planning Toolkit, which caters for diverse disabilities to ensure that the right access, opportunities, and information are provided to support students wanting to transition into higher education. This guide is made accessible to students, parents, and schools. The government also needs to be updated and informed as reviews of these policies are constantly under evaluation to ensure fairness, access, and equality. To entice this cohort and support them through their post-secondary transition, scholarships are made available for students with disabilities e.g. Victoria University Equity Scholarships, student Start-Up Scholarship, Justice Victoria’s Disability Scholarship Program, yet many aren’t endorsed by schools as many students are disengaged and unwilling to pursue tertiary studies. Likewise, “without effective and meaningful transition programs and experiences, disabled youth will remain a group of un-empowered, marginalized and impoverished people” (Kendall, 2016, p.56).

Short-term and long-term problems when they fail to transit to university successfully

When students with disabilities have poor university transition experiences, they have been reported to cope with numerous short-term and long-term problems.

Short term problems include: Hindering their psychological and social capital, which threatens their sense of resilience, self-efficiency, adaptability, networking, and participation, to survive within the tertiary domain (Bates & Davis, 2004). Barriers include trouble making friends due to a lack of confidence, and time-related pressures resulting from specific reading and writing difficulties, which can undermine academic progress, increasing stress and anxiety and contributing to further dropout rates (O’Byrne, Jagoe & Lawler, 2019). Higher education is responsible for educating students to meet social and organizational demands however, much more attention should be paid to students’ psychological capital (You, 2016). Many students with disabilities confess in their first year of university, that they face many challenges and pressures, such as the demand for classwork, preparing for jobs and confronting high unemployment rates coupled with low job security (You, 2016). Students with disabilities experience these setbacks during their tertiary studies and these ‘speed humps’ create obstacles for them to expand their social capital as they struggle to develop interpersonal relationships lacking in a shared sense of identity.

On the other hand, long-term problems that students with disabilities face when they transit to the university include: an insufficient education will severely impact their ability to cope for the remainder of their lives. Insufficient educational experiences, lead to unemployment, social isolation, and a lifetime of disadvantage. Their psychological capital will continue to suffer, damaging their learning, particularly their ability to adjust to the particularities and requirements of the academic environment hence, becoming prone to stress and anxiety (Liran & Miller, 2019). Also, student’s identity capital is then threatened, which impedes their ability to build themselves over time, as they struggle to develop a repertoire of assembled individual assets reflecting what they bring to the marketplace. Australian society as a whole will also be impacted as failing to effectively educate students with disabilities, impacts their ability to contribute as a worker. Beyond that, adults with a disability whose education inadequately prepared them for workforce participation, will also contribute to government income support spending. Without the proper support, advice, and guidance provided to students, their psychological, social and identity capital will continue to suffer, resulting in future complications i.e. their ability to find and uphold a job (O’Byrne, Jagoe & Lawler, 2019). 


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