The AEU has welcomed the final report from the parliamentary inquiry into access to TAFE for learners with disability, released on 30 September 2021. The union made a submission to the inquiry, which was announced back in May 2019.
The report details the additional challenges and obstacles faced by Victorians who live with disability when compared to those without a disability, particularly regarding study opportunities and meaningful work prospects. The inquiry found that these barriers could be removed, giving people with disability significantly greater access, independence, choice and control over their future.
Its findings showed that young people with disability were more likely to plan to attend TAFE than university when they finished school. A combination of smaller class sizes, hands-on learning, and greater contact hours was seen to better suit the learning needs of young people with disability.
However, there are still many areas for improvement towards making TAFE accessible and inclusive, regardless of a person’s ability. These are detailed in the report, which includes 31 findings and 44 recommendations.
Among the recommendations are simple changes such as making enrolment processes inclusive; ensuring digital technologies meet accessibility standards; flexibility in course delivery; helping with the transition into employment; and emphasising wellbeing, mentoring, and peer support networks.
There is also a focus on the need for increased funding and improved training for all TAFE staff, a general review of processes, and an audit of all procedures and campus layouts. The report also supports the reintroduction of Disability Liaison Officers (DLOs), a role that has almost disappeared altogether as a result of extensive marketisation and repeated funding cuts within the TAFE sector.
Refreshingly, the report sets out ways to ensure that TAFE teachers have the requisite training to build their confidence in accommodating disabled learners. It also emphasises the importance of prioritising support for students’ mental health as a way of ensuring better outcomes.
The AEU welcomes the focus on reducing the stigma that can lead to discrimination, and the acknowledgement that many students will have suffered years of ill-treatment. It also recognises that shared resources across the sector will ease the burden on individual TAFEs, and that positive change will come from improving the TAFE funding model itself, making it fairer and more collaborative.
Importantly, the report addresses the rights of students with disability, and the ways greater inclusiveness at TAFE fits with the Victorian government’s inclusion agenda. It also acknowledges the many people involved in improving disability access at TAFE, and the level of flexibility required when ensuring the inclusion of a broad range of abilities and disabilities.
Encompassing a diverse number of submissions, the report is impressively rigorous, and the AEU hopes the Victorian government will implement all 44 recommendations. It is essential that all students with disability receive the wraparound support they need to maximise their learning experience.