Learning Support Responsibilities Preparation

Access to general and specialist support services


Disabled learners and tauira have equitable access to appropriate support services. 

Best practice standards

  1. Disabled learners have access to the full range of support services available to their non-disabled peers.  
  2. Where existing services are not accessible, alternative services and/or arrangements are made. 
  3. Services to all learners are regularly reviewed, ensuring that they meet the emerging requirements of learners with different impairments.  
  4. All support services are culturally appropriate to tauira Māori disabled learners, and to other diverse groups of disabled learners.  
  5. General and specialist support staff have the skills, experience, support and networks to provide effective advice and support to people with different impairments, their whānau/families and other staff. 
  6. General, specialist and other support staff receive guidance and training on the use of non-discriminatory practices so staff are aware of their legal obligations under the Human Rights and Privacy Acts, HDC Code of Rights  and other relevant legislation. 
  7. General, specialist and other support staff meet their obligations related to the Health and Disability Commissioner Act, 1994 and other relevant legislation such as the Human Rights and Privacy Acts.
  8. Disabled learners have access to, are aware of and are offered independent advocacy services from either the student association, HDC advocacy services or Human Rights Commission when they have concerns about the learning supports or reasonable accommodations being offered to them by the tertiary provider.  

“University was a time where I was having to learn how to advocate for myself – very helpful to have someone in the disabilities office that I could talk to – it is always important if we move away from relying on the disabilities office, that we still have one-on-one relationships.” 

“General support and pastoral care should be there for everybody – educating staff about how that could apply when the learner has a disability.” 

- Current Disabled Learner.

Ideas and resources

  • Specialist staff includes disability support staff, sign language interpreters, note takers, readers, writers and specialist tutors. 
  • General support services can include all health services, student learning services, student associations and those services providing academic, administrative and general support. 
  • By developing and promoting a wider range of general services that encompass disabled learners, institutions can reduce the costs of specialist services.  
  • Accessible support services have:  
    • A location that is easily identified, physically accessible to those with sensory and mobility impairments and safe for people concerned about confidentiality.
    • Appropriate communication access, for example faxes, access to interpreters, email, private rooms, alternative contact points that are advertised.
    • Service information is in accessible formats.

Engaging disabled learners

  • Developing a survival guide for disabled learners and hosting a specific individual orientation for learners with different impairments, with the support of senior or previous disabled learners. 
  • Mentoring for specific groups of learners.
    For example, those with autism where learners may struggle with social interactions, group work, lockdowns, change etc. Some tertiary providers have also set up mentoring programmes for those with mental health issues.  
  • Disability support networks for disabled learners. 
  • Having peer mentoring where senior disabled learners contact new learners.
  • Consulting disabled learners and their whānau about service improvements.

Feedback from the special interest groups includes:

  • “(In Trades) we get a lot of learners who don’t even know or even understand what they need for their disability yet.”
  • “I think we need to do a lot more research as to why some learners are not accessing disability support services. If disability support services is going to be the fund holder for support around accessibility within the tertiary system, then we’ve got a huge population in the tertiary system that potentially has unmet needs... and might be failing, might be not meeting their academic potential within the system.”

What you need to know

The Health and Disability Commissioner Act4, the associated Code of Rights and the complaint process, cover all health and disability services, including those in tertiary education environments such as student health and  counselling services. The aim of this Act is to “promote and protect the rights of health and disability service consumers”, including those with impairments.

Under the Code of Rights:

  • Service providers must provide services that comply with these rights, inform consumers of these rights and inform consumers how to make complaints;
  • All people, including those with impairments, when they use a health and disability service have the right to:
    • Respect, dignity and independence
    • Fair treatment, not discrimination
    • Service of a proper standard
    • Effective communication
    • Be fully informed and give informed consent
    • The support they choose, and to complain. 

These rights also apply to teaching or research that involves health and disability services. The Health and Disability Commissioner’s Office has developed a brochure that provides an overview of obligations that relate to specific rights outlined in the Code of Rights, including the complaints procedures that all health and disability services must follow when a complaint is received.  

The mechanism used to resolve complaints or issues is generally informal discussion and mediation using an independent advocate from the health and disability advocacy services. There are also legal processes for cases of a serious nature. 

Case studies

Some key themes from special interest groups about general/specialist support services: 

  • “We’ve made a real push this year to try and get more exposure awareness over the campus for what we do… lots of posters around dyslexia awareness, workshops for first year learners and workshops for learners about to go out into  the workforce.”
  • “Some learners have started contacting us about setting up, I guess, Facebook groups to connect with other learners. In the past, it was hard to set up... there  seems to be more and more learners and they’re needing or want to connect with each other, which could actually lead to some useful stuff.”

Support services for disabled learners can be enhanced

  • Establishing a staff network to coordinate support services for disabled learners. 
  • Disability support services staff being a resource to assist other staff. 
  • Note takers, specialist tutors, reader/writers receive adequate training and appropriate remuneration, so that they have effective skills. 
  • Effective independent advocacy for disabled learners. 
  • Those involved with the spiritual, cultural, sporting and social areas of the learner environment considering the needs of disabled learners in planning and developing specific strategies to involve them. 
  • Marketing services among community networks that disabled learners access. 
  • Disabled learners, especially those with complex academic or personal needs, are contacted early enough to arrange appropriate and effective support. 
  • Students have frequent opportunities to discuss their learning support needs. 
  • Support services assist disabled learners to become independent members of the academic and learner community. 
  • Support services have effective networks and co-operate with other institutions and agencies to enhance services and gain access to specialist advice when required. 

Your organisation may wish to consider guidance around emotional support animals, which are becoming common in some overseas jurisdictions. 

Useful networks and links

Supporting learners with mental health issues seems to be growing in demand. The Australian University Mental Health Framework provides guidance for mentally healthy university settings that support learners to thrive educationally and personally.

4. Health and Disability Commissioner’s Office. (1994). Code of health and disability services  consumers’ rights. Auckland, New Zealand: Health and Disability Commissioner’s Office Brochure.  https://www.hdc.org.nz/disability/the-code-and-your-rights/

This page is current as of May 2022 Print this page