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August 31, 2011 / the speech monster

What does the law say?

I thought this post might be of interest to both parents, educators, and Australian speechies alike. I’m not sure if speechies here have to know about state or commonwealth laws related to students with disabilities or additional needs as part of their speech pathology degree, but I certainly had to do my own research as nobody else seemed to have the answers.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 by the Commonwealth Law:

Division 2—Discrimination in other areas

22  Education

(2)  It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of the student’s disability:

                     (a)  by denying the student access, or limiting the student’s access, to any benefit provided by the educational authority; 

Under the Disability Standards for Education law put out by the Australian General Attorny’s Department:

An education provider must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate a student with disability. An adjustment is a measure or action taken to assist a student with disability to participate in education and training on the same basis as other students. An adjustment is reasonable if it does this while taking into account the student’s learning needs and balancing the interests of all parties affected, including those of the student with disability, the education provider, staff and other students.

In determining whether an adjustment is reasonable, an education provider should take into account information about:

  • the nature of the student’s disability
  • his or her preferred adjustment
  • any adjustments that have been provided previously
  • any recommended or alternative adjustments.

This information might come from the student, an associate of the student, independent experts, or a combination of these people.

An education provider should ensure that the student, or an associate of the student, has timely information about the processes for determining whether the proposed adjustment would cause unjustifiable hardship to the provider.  The provider should also ensure that these processes maintain the dignity, respect, privacy and confidentiality of the student and the associates of the student, consistent with the rights of the rest of the community.

The provider may consider all likely costs and benefits, both direct and indirect, for the provider, the student and any associates of the student, and any other persons in the learning or wider community, including:

  • costs associated with additional staffing, providing special resources or modifying the curriculum
  • costs resulting from the student’s participation in the learning environment, including any adverse impact on learning and social outcomes for the student, other students and teachers
  • benefits of the student’s participation in the learning environment, including positive learning and social outcomes for the student, other students and teachers, and
  • any financial incentives, such as subsidies or grants, available to the provider if the student participates.

What does disability encompass? Apparently, it includes

(f)    a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction; or

(g)   a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment or that results in disturbed behaviour

Of course, as the law suggests, the provider (i.e., school) needs to consider likely costs and benefits, and weigh what is more important for the child’s needs at the school. However, they need to be realistic and stop blowing smoke in parents’ eyes by suggesting that the ONLY way their child can be assisted in schools is through an integration aide (which often means a glorified babysitter). If the child does not have the biggest safety concerns, why do they need an aide to sit with them in class? Shouldn’t the teachers be responsible as well for assisting the child? What if they have speech difficulties where nobody can understand them, shouldn’t that be taken into consideration?

Parents of children with special needs need to look more closely into their rights. There’s also a great working document put out by experts in the field of special ed., that I found really helpful when thinking about integrated classroom environments. It’s put out by the Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations, called “Successful Programs and Strategies for Children with Learning Difficulties”. The argument for support for students is in this paragraph:

Support for Students

Maintaining a motivating and rigorous first wave teaching program that meets the needs of as many children as possible will continue to be a high priority. Despite effective first wave teaching as well as early intervention, there are some children who will continue to struggle with literacy throughout the middle and upper primary school years. It is important for schools to make provision for those children who will need continued assistance with literacy learning throughout their school lives, as well as for those children who will benefit from early intervention programs.

The entire document is worth reading especially if you’re an educator or speechie (or other supporting professionals).

Whilst there is no explicit suggestion that a speechie needs to be involved, parents need to fight for their child’s rights to have access to the service they think is necessary. I have witnessed situations where kids who are clearly funded by the government under a “severe language disorder” (a funding that is rare to come by these days in Victoria!) with selective mutism or dyspraxia, who have full time aides. Now, CLEARLY their funding is for language…why isn’t the funding going to a speech pathologist?

Sharynne McLeod, a prolific Professor of Speech Pathology here in Australia, has written an excellent document about the prevalence of children with comm. disorders, advocating for more services for children with communicative disorders. She quotes the UN conventions on disabilities:

Access to appropriate health care and education for children with a communication impairment is a basic human right.
Access to appropriate health care and education is a basic human right. There are many documents that incorporate the human rights of children including the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (1989) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). These documents state that children have the right to extra assistance in order to fully participate in society. For example, Article 23 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states
“3. Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development.

There is no doubt that more needs to be done to ensure these students receive the services they deserve at school. We need more consistency across schools. We also need more accountability from the government, the schools, and speechies, about the services these students are receiving, and whether we are working cohesively for the best outcome for them. We need data, good meaningful data from schools and researchers. We need to know how many schools are providing extra support to their students and HOW. We need to know if students are making gains, where, and how. We need honesty from educators and speech pathologists.

When will this come to fruition? Do enough people care to do something about this, soon?

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