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Information about disability

Information about disability

The following information is a general overview of the more common disability. It is intended only as a starting point for getting to know and understand an individual with disability.

Common Physical Disability:

  • Cerebral palsy (CP) - difficulty fully controlling body movement and muscle co-ordination. It does not get worse and occurs from damage to specific areas of the brain before, during or shortly after birth, or in infancy.
  • Spina bifida - failure of the spine of the foetus to close properly resulting in varying degrees of paralysis of the legs, loss of sensation and difficulty with bladder and bowel control.
  • Arthritis - a range of chronic diseases that cause pain, stiffness and loss of movement because of degeneration in joints. The cause is unknown although recent studies show that many people inherit the disorder.

Common Neurological Disability:

  • Acquired brain injury (ABI) - an impairment in brain functioning commonly caused by trauma, tumours, brain infections, ingestion of toxic substances or exposure to toxic chemicals. ABI can lead to difficulties with memory, attention, organisation, sensation, movement and interacting with others.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) - progressive degeneration of the sheath surrounding nerve fibres that causes a loss of smooth, rapid and co-ordinated movements. Everyone with MS has a different set of symptoms that vary from time to time and can change in severity and duration, even in the same person over a day.
  • Epilepsy - a short, sudden electrical disturbance in the brain that alters a person's consciousness, movement or actions. The physical changes are sometimes called seizures. Seizures can range through periods of involuntary movement of the arms and legs or 'fainting spells' followed by excessive fatigue, confused memory or 'blackouts' or periods of staring and unresponsiveness without loss of consciousness.

Common Sensory Disability:

  • Total blindness - a person who has no vision at all.
  • Legal blindness - a person who cannot see at 6 metres what a normally sighted person can see at 60 metres, or whose field of vision is 10 degrees or less (as opposed to the normal 180 degrees). 95% of legally blind people have some useful vision.
  • Macular degeneration - loss of central vision caused by disease to the retina (layer at the back of the eyeball). Side (peripheral) vision remains.
  • Glaucoma - a rise in pressure in the eye that may lead to narrowing of the field of vision (tunnel vision remains), total blindness, or misting of vision or halo-ing of lights (glare sensitivity).
  • Diabetic retinopathy - patchy vision of varying degrees of severity resulting from ruptured blood vessels in the retina (layer at the back of the eyeball).
  • Cataracts - clouding of the focussing lens of the eye that results in clouding of vision (milky), blurriness and eventual blindness.
  • Hearing impairment - very few people are totally deaf. While some people benefit from using hearing aids (amplification), the sound quality is still affected and for many the sound is still unintelligible. At best only 25% of spoken English words are clearly identifiable with speech (lip) reading, even when combined with residual hearing.

Common Developmental Disability:

  • Intellectual disability (ID) - intellectual functioning (as measured by an IQ test) that falls within the bottom 5% of the population and occurs before the age of 18 coupled with functional limitations in two or more of the daily living skills (e.g. self-care, communication, mobility) needed to independently live, work or recreate in the community.
  • Down syndrome - an extra chromosome that leads to a recognisable physical appearance and varying degrees of intellectual disability. Usually, but not always, co-ordination and language skills develop more slowly.
  • Learning disability (LD) - a difficulty in understanding or using language, whether spoken or written, where there is no other type of disability. It may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or do mathematical calculations. Dyslexia (a profound and persistent difficulty learning to read despite intelligence, motivation and education) is the most common form of learning disability.
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (AD/HD) - characterised by forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, poor attention span and impulsiveness. Both disorders may lead to disorganisation, difficulty following rapid conversations, low self-esteem and a reduced ability to keep track of one's own belongings and of time. Some of the behavioural characteristics that distinguish between the two related disorders are as follows. People with ADD can be very sensitive to criticism, tend to not have close friends, be overly polite and be under-assertive. People with ADHD can be hyperactive, can make friends more easily, be intrusive, be rebellious, be bossy, be irritating and be inclined to show off.
  • Autism - difficulty with understanding what is seen, heard and otherwise sensed that results in problems with learning normal speech and communication, and appropriate ways to relate to people, objects and events. As is the case with most developmental disability, there are usually uneven patterns of intellectual functioning. People with autism may have below average, average or above-average intelligence.

Common Psychiatric disability:

  • Schizophrenia - a complex group of mental illnesses that have in common a loss of touch with reality (at least for some time) to a serious degree. Symptoms may include: delusional thoughts, hallucinations, confused thinking or speech, inappropriate moods, flattened emotions, bizarre behaviour and/or social withdrawal. Schizophrenia does not mean multiple personalities.
  • Depression - feeling down, numb or empty or a sadness that is out of proportion to any external causes, which leads to a noticeable loss in the ability to feel pleasure about anything. It is a condition in which a person experiences a marked change in their mood and in the way they view themselves and the world.
  • Bipolar disorder (manic depression) - a condition involving swings from being overly 'high' and agitated, to sad and hopeless, and then back again, with normal mood in between. It tends to run in families and often goes unrecognised.
  • Anxiety disorders - illnesses that cause people for no apparent reason to feel anxiety (feelings that may include being frightened, distressed, agitated, uneasy). Includes illnesses characterised by repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often without warning (panic disorder), repeated unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviours that seem impossible to stop or control (obsessive-compulsive disorder), an extreme disabling and irrational fear of something that poses little or no danger and that leads to avoidance of objects or situations (phobias).

Myths about students and employees with disability

Myths about students and employees with disability

  • People with disability have proven themselves to be competent students and workers in a wide range of qualifications and occupations regardless of the type or severity of their disability.
  • Having disability does not mean more time off, nor does it make people less reliable. Research shows that attendance and turnover records of workers with disability are better than those of the general workforce.
  • People with disability are generally very careful about their safety and well being and are not prone to accidents. Research shows that workers with disability are less likely to have an accident at work or to cause an injury to a fellow worker.
  • Workers compensation premiums are not based on whether there are people with disability in the workforce - rather they are based on the nature of the work being done and the claims history of the company.
  • People with disability are equally productive. Being aware of employer's concerns often means that they are keen to prove themselves to be productive and valuable employees. The difficult part is getting a job in the first place.
  • The best way to help people with disability obtain meaningful careers is to focus on their abilities and life goals rather than on identifying and correcting their deficits.
  • Whilst people gain their jobs because of their skills and abilities, they more commonly lose their jobs because of an inability to fit into the workplace. The same applies to people with disability and it is important that they receive good training and support in both.
  • Very few people with disability need assistive equipment, adaptations to existing equipment or workplace modifications to complete their studies or work safely and independently. Where individual accommodations are needed they usually involve minimal or no cost to any party.
  • People with disability do not outgrow them. However they do learn coping mechanisms to lessen their impact or even mask them.

Institue (formerly TAFE) Disability Services Officers

Institue (formerly TAFE) Disability Services Officers

Institute Disability Services Officers are available to co-ordinate the support and assistance that will help students with disability to participate more effectively and achieve better vocational and employment outcomes for students with disability.

Services offered to students with disability by Institute’s Disability Services Officers can include:

  • Representing students' individual needs, circumstances and aspirations to the Institute’s teaching and administrative staff.
  • Approaching lecturers about alternative arrangements for examinations or alternative forms of assessment.
  • Arranging access to certain lecture theatres, tutorial rooms, workshops and other facilities.
  • Identifying the availability of assistive equipment such as communication aids, audio loops, wheelchair adjustable desks, customised keyboards and ergonomic furniture.
  • Directing students with disability to computing facilities at each college.
  • Liaising with library staff for services such as photocopying, retrieving items from inaccessible shelves and interpreting small print on screen displays.
  • Organising sign language interpreters, note takers or scribes.
  • Arranging alternative formats, large screen magnification software or tape recorders.
  • Advising on course selection, enrolment procedures, and general information concerning Institutes.
  • Identifying student learning services to develop reading, report writing and computing skills.
  • Organising personal carers or support workers/tutorial support.

Adjusting training delivery and assessment

Adjusting training delivery and assessment

It is important to make sure that your training and support does not limit students with disability from participating in full or achieving their best. This means that you may need to make reasonable accommodation to your training delivery and assessment. Common accommodations made include, but are not limited to:

  • Advising prospective students on unit selection by describing the academic and practical requirements (including equipment and materials used) of a unit.
  • Accommodating the use of assistive equipment such as communication aids, audio loops, wheelchair adjustable desks, customised keyboards, large screen magnification software or ergonomic furniture.
  • Working with sign language interpreters, note takers or scribes so that the student can keep up with you.
  • Providing any course notes so that they can be converted in alternative formats (such as Braille, enlarged print or colour contrasts).
  • Considering alternative methods for evidence gathering and recording (such as questioning, observation of students performing their jobs or simulated tasks).
  • Considering alternative arrangements for examinations (such as extra time, oral responses, use of scribes or keyboards).

It is usually best to talk with the student to find out all the relevant and necessary information concerning their disability and any related participation issues. Many students do not volunteer this information because of fears that it will be used to exclude them.

You should reassure them that you are seeking this information to assist you to provide them with appropriate training and support. Information may also be available from the Institute (formerly TAFE) Disability Services Officer and other service providers associated with the student, such as secondary school staff, Group Training Organisations or disability employment agencies.

Traineeships and Apprenticeships for people with disability

Traineeships and Apprenticeships for people with disability

In 2000, the Australian National Training Authority published 'Bridging Pathways: A Blueprint for the National Plan of Action for Increasing Opportunities for People with Disability in Vocational Education and Training'. Bridging Pathways found that:

  • There is a significant under-representation of students with disability who are needed to match their participation rate in the VET sector.
  • Students with disability who do participate in vocational education and training are not experiencing the same training outcomes or recording the same progress or satisfaction as other students.
  • VET students with disability are less likely to be enrolled in higher-level courses (Certificate III and above) than other students.
  • VET students with disability are twice as likely to be enrolled in multi-field programs (pre-employment, pre-vocational, language and literacy) than other students.
  • Participation of people with disability undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships is significantly lower than that of other students.
  • The module pass rate of people with disability is lower than that of other students.

Apprenticeships and traineeships can provide an ideal learning environment and career development opportunity for many people with disability. Among the growing number of traineeships that are offered, some that are popular amongst people with disability include: automotive, business administration, building and construction, community services, food, hospitality, information technology, land care, light manufacturing, process manufacturing, office skills, retail, small business, transport and warehousing.

Some apprenticeships that people with disability are currently successfully completing include: auto mechanic, auto panel and paint, boilermaker, bread maker, cabinet maker, chef, electrician, hairdresser, mould and core maker, optical mechanic, plasterer, plumber and horticulturalist.

Many people with disability undertaking traineeships and apprenticeships are benefiting from the supports available through disability employment agencies and/or Group Training Organisations. The disability employment agency and the Group Training Organisations work together to support the trainee or apprentice, the host employer and the lecturing staff by:

  • Establishing that the apprentice/trainee has the commitment and basic skills to complete the course.
  • Determining which traineeship/apprenticeship best meets the skills and interests of the apprentice/trainee.
  • Locating a suitable host employer.
  • Locating a suitable Registered Training Organisation.
  • Negotiating the Training Program Outline (TPO) and clarifying the duty statement.
  • Exploring flexible training delivery and assessment options.
  • Providing the apprentice/trainee with individualised on and off-the-job training support.
  • Checking training progress and liaising with the Registered Training Organisation.
  • Identifying note takers, interpreters, assistive equipment and individualised tutorial assistance for the off-the-job training for the apprentice/trainee.
  • Coordinating assistive equipment, adaptations to existing equipment and modifications in the workplace.
  • Securing funding through programs such as the Disabled Australian Apprenticeship Wage Subsidy (DAAWS) to help cover wages, equipment and possibly a mentor.

Who else can help?

Who else can help?

Students with disability are often overlooked in the fierce competition for graduate positions despite being as talented as their peers. They face greater difficulties because they often have low self-esteem, lack suitable working role models and do not have a network of people who could help them to establish a career.

Having a mentor who works in their area of interest increases their confidence, improves their morale, enhances their self-esteem and makes their transition to work speedier and smoother. It also increases the likelihood of them finding employment in their field of study and being fully included in a new organisation and work role.

Some disability employment services can assist students with disability to find a mentor whose own training and experience most closely matches the career of interest to your student. They can open the doors to their register of current employers of people with disability, as well as facilitate the mentoring relationship by providing knowledge in the personal and professional strategies that will assist students to establish a career in their field of study.

There are more than 30 disability employment services operating in Western Australia. They are located all around Perth and in regional centres such as Broome, Port Hedland, Karratha, Newman, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Albany, Bridgetown, Narrogin, Busselton, Bunbury, Collie and Mandurah. Your local Centrelink office will be able to provide you with information and contact details for disability employment agencies that operate in your area.

For further details contact ndco@edge.org.au.

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