Disability support crucial for hundreds of UWA students

03 Dec 2020 | 2 mins

Across the University, more than 2,000 students have a disability or condition that may affect their studies. That’s nearly one in ten.

With challenges ranging from mental health conditions and chronic illness to various disabilities and short-term injuries, it takes a diverse skillset to ensure students can achieve their academic potential.

The team charged with supporting these students is UniAccess – a group of six staff with backgrounds in health and social care, social justice and welfare, nursing and psychology.

UniAccess Manager Hayley Hutchison is a passionate advocate for accessibility in universities, and believes that education is a powerful tool to reduce boundaries and inequities.

“UniAccess is currently working with more than 950 students. We see ourselves as strong advocates for the right adjustments to help these students navigate their time at university,” she said.

“We organise all sorts of adjustments – everything from alternative exam and assessment arrangements, through to adaptive technology, ergonomic equipment, support staff such as academic note takers, and individual orientations.

“A lot of students tell us they wouldn’t have been able to complete units or achieve their goals without this support. It’s hugely rewarding to know what a difference we’re making.”

"As a team, we are committed to challenging the stereotypes of disability and helping to break down barriers. We champion the rights of all students to an equitable learning environment.”

Hayley Hutchison
Manager, UniAccess

This year, the transition to online learning created new challenges – including needing more transcripts for students who are deaf or hard of hearing – but students continued to be supported. Within a week of moving online, classes were being provided in an accessible format for all students.

A Specialist Mentoring Program, delivered in partnership with the School of Psychological Science, offers peer support to students on the autism spectrum.

Meanwhile, construction will soon begin on a Library Sensory Room, designed to provide a safe place for students with neurodevelopmental, mental health and physical disabilities.

Made possible by an Alumni Fund ‘Student Activate’ grant, the room will be filled with sensory regulation equipment, assisting neurodiverse students to optimise wellbeing and academic performance.

Supporting students with disabilities requires a holistic approach, with Counselling and Psychological Services, Student Welfare, International Student Support, unit co-ordinators, Student Advising Offices, Library staff, the Careers Centre, Campus Management and other teams all playing a role.

While Hayley enjoys collaborating with staff across UWA, she says her favourite part of her job is spending time with students.

“We enjoy spending time with our students and they always appreciate someone taking the time to listen to and value their story,” she said.

“As a team, we are committed to challenging the stereotypes of disability and helping to break down barriers. We champion the rights of all students to an equitable learning environment.”

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