NZ Code of Practice 2021-22

Building a partnership with disabled learners

“We have a human-centred approach, in that we treat the students as the experts in their disability and they contribute actively to our focus groups or to our testing or to our buildings. And I think that’s really, really important, that we acknowledge them and what they have to contribute in terms of their lived experience.”

- Manager disability services, tertiary institution

Tertiary providers need to work with disabled learners from the start of the process. This includes the design of buildings, course content, teaching practices, information and communication processes and support.

It is essential that disabled learners with different impairments are active partners in the development and review of these activities and the overall development of the DAP. It is also crucial that providers remember that disabled learners may experience additional barriers arising from membership of other equity groups. Groups such as Māori student associations, Pacific people’s student associations, and international student associations should also be involved.

Valuing their expertise will save you time and money and provide you with valuable insights you may not have considered in your design and planning. Disabled learners are key partners in this process.

There are multiple ways of partnering with disabled learners and their representatives in the implementation of this toolkit. Disabled learners should have representatives on a reference group/s overseeing the development of a DAP and discussing wider equity and diversity issues. When reviewing a particular area or activity, it is important to hear from disabled learners through the use of focus groups or by membership of project teams. Those responsible for property or facilities, for instance, could work with an ongoing focus group of disabled learners who meet regularly to discuss the design of buildings, facilities and access routes. This group could also have a wider brief, used by other staff to get feedback about other areas or activities.

In acknowledgment of the work that disabled learners do, they should be compensated for their involvement. A meaningful partnership will also require equitable engagement, and therefore the process of partnership and consultation itself needs to be accessible. More information about moving from learners “voice” to learners partnership can be found in Whiria ngā rau, (available via Ministry of Education late August 2021). This was developed for and by learners and is conscious of the equity barriers facing disabled learners.

Some tertiary providers have representative disabled student associations that are equipped and mandated to co-develop these plans, such as the Victoria University Disabled Student Association. Otago University also has a representative disabled student association, and some providers have positions in their mainstream student union for disability representation, such as the Otago Polytechnic’s Disability Representative and the AUTSA Disability Representative.

Ideal partnership would not be with ad hoc learners, but those with a mandate to represent the whole learner body. Providers should support these student leaders and their associations to engage in meaningful partnership. We would encourage tertiary providers that don’t already have a disabled learner group to help establish these.

It is important that these groups are learner led and learner developed so they have the independence required to advocate for the learners’ body. However, tertiary providers can help support the development of the groups through resourcing, training and shouldering some of the administrative burdens which act as barriers for these associations. When the learners’ voice is valued by providers in these ways, it already creates the foundations for a partnership based on mutual respect and trust. Providers could do this by identifying and supporting learners who may be interested in creating these associations. They could provide administrative support by offering accessible meeting rooms, helping out with food costs for events and meetings, and providing governance training to student leaders.

Regular engagement surveys with disabled learners are also essential for hearing from the wider population. This is a great way to identify and resolve barriers to their participation and achievement, especially when done in partnership with already established disabled student groups.

Nationally, building a disabled learner voice is seen as a priority. At the beginning of 2021, a National Disabled Students Association (NDSA) was established. NDSA is led by disabled learners and advocates on their behalf with the Government, TEC, NZUSA and other networks to better meet the needs of disabled learners. The NDSA hopes this will eventually lead to all tertiary providers having a representative disabled learners association. Students and staff from institutions without an association can ask the NDSA about the process of establishing disabled student groups.

NDSA and other disabled persons organisations and groups such as I.Lead provide a great way to work in partnership with and get feedback from disabled learners and their key networks.

This page is current as of November 2022 Print this page