An Open Letter to Bond University

 

justice1
Graphic is a collection of words that focus on equality and equity such as fairness, justice, equal etc

A friend contacted me recently. My friend lives on the Gold Coast in close proximity of the Bond University. He was excited to enroll in a Bachelor course offered by Bond University. He is deaf and requires support to access the course. He requires Auslan interpreting and possibly some note-taking. This is standard and offered by universities to deaf Auslan users throughout Australia. But not it seems by Bond University.

Let me begin by telling you my story. I am a bit old now. I started University a long time ago. I started at a time when Universities did not offer support such as Auslan interpreting, let alone the live captioning that is also provided today. I fought very hard to get my university, indeed all universities in South Australia, to accept responsibility to support deaf students. I, along with several other deaf students, lobbied over a number of years to get the support we required.

There was much heartache. There was much struggle. I repeated subjects. Withdrew in frustration, returned and finally graduated. It was not until 1993, my final year that, my university accepted its responsibilities to make its courses accessible to deaf students. This was in 1993, the year following the introduction of the Disability Discrimination ACT in 1992.

Access to university, indeed any study, is a subject very close to my heart. I worked for over a decade as a National Disability Coordination Officer. One of a fantastic network of 31 that work hard to make tertiary education and employment successful for people with a disability. I did much work on accessibility for students who are deaf. Particularly in regard to online education and delivering Auslan interpreting/captioning to remote universities to save costs and ensure students in regional areas received the support that they required.

A highlight for me was working on a Webinair with the Australian Clearing House on Disability (ADCET) to deliver an accessible Webinair. The Webinair had not just Auslan interpreting but live captioning. It was ground breaking stuff. I am no slouch, I know my stuff. You can take a look at this here.

While TAFE is still very much a dinosaur and underfunded in terms of disability support uiniversities have generally led the way. Even the small University of Ballarat, where I worked, accepted its responsibilities to provide Auslan interpreting through both its University and TAFE arms. You see education is universal and every person with a disability should be able to access it, wherever they want.

And I know it is not cheap to support students with a disability. Indeed it is a cost that Universities bear. Even though they can claim reimbursement through Additional Support for Students with Disabilities (ASSD) they generally only recoup around 50% of the cost. No matter, they accept their responsibilities. But not Bond University it seems.

And Bond University are not broke either. Indeed your 2016 annual report boasts increased revenue and increased operating surplus. Indeed Bond University is a very successful university. It ranked second in student satisfaction and skills development in 2016. Your annual report boasts proudly that, “In the 2017 Good Universities Guide, Bond University was awarded more 5-star ratings in the student experience category than any other university in Australia for the eleventh year in a row.”

By all accounts Bond University is a very successful university. It’s teaching is first class and its outcomes world class. Yet if you are deaf, sadly, you will not be able to benefit from the world class teaching and outcomes that Bond University offers.

My friend has been told that Bond University, this brilliant and clearly innovative institution, cannot afford to support students who are deaf. Indeed Bond University, that prides itself so much for its student outcomes, appears not to care at all about students with a disability.

In fact this hugely successful university, and seemingly with a healthy surplus, has invested in just one FM system. In a letter to my friend the University claims it has just the one FM system and that – and I quote – “ We don’t have scribes, hearing loops, sign language interpreters.. “

If I were a world class university that boasts the best teaching experience in Australia for its students, that boasts a health operating surplus, well I would be very embarrassed by this fact.

And then your disability support unit has the nerve to advise my friend to consider, and again I quote, “ .. larger (and more generously funded ) public universities as a potential destination.” It seems to me that Bond University are shirking their social responsibilities and seeing disability, or deafness at least, outside their remit.

One cannot imagine a non-disabled person who is considering attending Bond University  being told by Bond University that they should be considering going to a larger and public university. No that would be laughable. It just would not happen. Yet somehow deafness and disability is not valued by Bond University in the same way. Are people with disability or who are deaf second class citizens who are not worthy of Bond Universities world class facilities and teaching?

What is worse is that the Bond University web pages that advertise disability support claim to follow Australian and University guidelines for disability support. Indeed to quote your information you say that disability, “ …support will meet University and Australian guidelines. Support is provided on an individual basis and is consistent with proven appropriate levels of support.”  

I fail to see how not providing Auslan interpreting is an appropriate level of support. I looked through the guidelines and nowhere did I find a guideline that stated it was acceptable to handball responsibilities for disability support to other universities either. I did, however, find this:

It is assumed that approaches to the development, delivery and evaluation of teaching and services for students with a disability should be:

  • Inclusive – Core activities of the University are designed and implemented in order to accommodate the needs of all students including those with a disability.
  • Comprehensive – Provision for students with a disability should cover all core university activities in recognition of the right to participate fully in the academic and social life of the University.
  • Equitable – University responses to the needs of students with a disability should recognise the rights and responsibilities of all parties and ensure that solutions are equitable for all concerned.
  • Explicit – Policies should clearly identify student and staff responsibilities in relation to provision of services and adjustments, the procedures whereby these will be implemented and the mechanisms for resolving disagreements.
  • Systemic – Consideration of the needs of the diverse student population should be embedded within University-wide planning, administrative support and quality assurance processes.
  • Respectful – Universities should ensure that all their interactions with students with a disability are characterised by respect for their rights to dignity, privacy, confidentiality and equity.
  • Consultative – Students and staff should be engaged in planning and evaluation of teaching and support strategies.
  • Resourced – Universities should provide adequate resources to enable the provision of learning environments and services that address the needs of students with a disability.

Judging by the letter that was sent to my friend Bond University have failed nearly all these guidelines particularly its obligations to be inclusive, resourced, respectful, consultative and systemic. Particularly the SYSTEMIC requirement. To be SYSTEMIC the needs of students with a disability have to be embedded in your quality assurance and planning. Certainly having one FM system to assist the deaf and no budget to support the provision of Auslan interpreting and or captioning should it be needed would suggest you have let yourself and students who are deaf down badly on this one.

Note that these Guidelines were developed by the Australian Vice Chancellors’ Committee that prides its self on self-regulation. Certainly in terms of disability support Bond University does not appear to be regulating anything unless handballing responsibility for disability support to another university counts for something.

The Bond University response to my friend is wrong on so many levels. My friend, and all potential students who are deaf, should have an equal right to access the quality programs of the Bond University. To deny them this though the lack of provision of resources or support is clear discrimination. My friend wishes to attend your university because he is aware of its teaching quality, it is close to his home and the degree he wants is offered over two years instead of the usual four. Why should he be denied this wish?

For him to be denied this opportunity is wrong. I urge you to revamp your approach to disability support. I urge you to accept your full responsibilities under the DDA. I urge you to provide the opportunity for my friend to study at Bond University as is his right of choice.

I urge you mostly not to use the old worn excuse of financial hardship to not support people with a disability. Supporting my friend will not make Bond University bankrupt except if you are considering a clause of being morally bankrupt.

Bond University might not be the biggest university in Australia but it offers quality programs. My friend, anyone who is deaf and anyone with a disability should not be denied access to these programs. Please do better.

Advertisements

The Xmas Present

I am lucky in my work. I get to meet lots of people with a disability. I meet all types and it is a great privilege to develop supports for them and with them. I hope these supports make a great difference to their lives. Of course there is no guarantee that supports will be successful. Lots of factors come into play. Bureaucracy, life, markets and just plain old circumstances all impact. As they say, The best laid plans of mice and men.

Last week I met a young lad with his mother and little brother. The lad has Autism. He is a big fellow. He finds it hard to meet new people. He finds it difficult to express himself. He is shy and withdrawn. Questions to him are met with a grunt or a shrug of his shoulders. His answers are given with minimal eye contact. He looks down and just gives furtive glances out of the corner of his eye.

As I walked into the waiting room my client sat slumped in his chair looking at his feet nervously. His little brother, in contrast, was a bundle of energy. He had a baseball cap on back to front and when he saw me he beamed me a bright smile. I tend to do things a little left field sometimes. To try and lighten the mood I went straight to the little brother. I shook his hand and said, “I’m Gary, I’m here to help you develop your supports.”

He laughed and said to me, “I’m not Sam, that’s him over there.” The mother picked up straight away what I was doing and  laughed. Sam, my client for the day, looked at me out of the corner of his eye. I fancy I noticed a small but sheepish grin from him as well. I hoped that my little ploy had worked in assisting to lighten the mood a little.

Of course these sorts of meetings are serious and very formal. I led the family into the meeting room and addressed Sam directly. I explained to Sam my role and told him that I would like to hear from him about what sort of support he would like if possible. He looked down at his feet and shrugged his shoulders. Little brother, perhaps wanting to be centre of the attention again, informed me that Sam, “Don’t talk much.” Mum verified this and said that Sam was not likely to offer much to the process as he rarely said more than two words.

I assured Sam that this was fine. I let him know that anything he did say, even if it was just one word, would be taken seriously and would help me to develop his supports. Even so it was hard to get anything from him. As these meetings go, mum did most of the talking.

Being deaf I have to explain to my clients  how we will communicate. For these types of meetings I use Live Remote Captioning. I explain how the system works and that the captioning is also my notes. I let them know that because I get a transcript emailed to me of the whole conversation I have no excuses for forgetting anything. I show them the screen of my computer and they see how everything that they say gets transcribed. Little brother was fascinated. “COOOOOL” he said. Even Sam looked up from the floor to see what was happening. I sensed he might be beginning to thaw a little.

During the course of the conversation mum explained that Sam gets anxious. He thinks people are staring at him and talking about him all the time. This sometimes causes panic attacks. Sometimes in meetings I recount some of my own experiences. I looked at Sam and told him I used to feel like that. I told him how that when I was his age I used to think everyone on the school bus was talking about me. I told him that because I couldn’t hear them I thought they were all talking about me. I told him how I would be constantly glancing around and how this would make me have panic attacks. I explained how my heart would race and my head feel light. I asked if he felt like this sometimes. He looked up at me directly and nodded.

I sensed that I was starting to break the ice a little. I asked Sam if he could tell me of something that he really wanted. He said, ” I want a drivers licence and I want a job. But I think if I get a job ill be fired.” Little brother said, “WOW” mum just smiled like proud mothers do.

And slowly but surely Sam began to talk a little more. One time we were talking about recreation and Mum was telling me how he liked War Craft. “It’s not War Craft” said Sam, “It’s War Hammer.” He then whispered something in his mum’s ear. “What was that?”, I asked, “The captioner didn’t hear you” Sam obliged to share, “I like history”, he said.

He and I had a little conversation from there. It turned out he liked the history of war. We talked a little of different wars, WWI and II. He said he knew of the Korean war and Vietnam too. Just for that minute or so he spoke directly to me and not at his feet. Little brother exclaimed that he never got on the XBox cos Sam was always playing his war games. I said, “Do you know your caps on the wrong way?” Sam let out a little chortle.

And you know, sometimes when we have clients like Sam we always tend to talk through their carers. We do this because we are time hungry. We do it because we think it will be easier. We often forget the person that it is all about. But sometimes if you make a little effort it is worth it.

As the meeting came to an end I led the family back to the lobby to say good bye. I shook every ones hand. Sam shook my hand while looking at his feet. Little brother ran back to the meeting room cos he forgot his cap. Mum thanked me and wished me a happy Xmas. As the family walked out of the office Sam looked back and gave me a little furtive wave and a small smile out of the corner of his mouth.

I smiled too. I think that was my Xmas present. Just a little reminder that the work we do sometimes can make a difference, no matter how small, on someones life.

Happy Xmas everyone!