Student resources

What is disability?

Disability is a name given to the barriers that exist for some people, because their bodies and minds work differently. We need to remove these barriers so that everyone can be included. Here are some examples of how barriers can be removed:

  • Some people find it difficult to see things that are really far away or too close and this can make life difficult. Wearing glasses can help to remove this barrier.
  • A person who uses a wheelchair may not be able to access a building with steps. Add a ramp to the building and everyone can use the same entrance.
  • Some people learn by reading information, others learn by listening to it, others require pictures or diagrams. When information is presented in more than one way, barriers are removed and everyone has the opportunity to learn.
  • Some people find it difficult to make decisions about things when they are rushed, but can do it more easily when they have support and time to think. Making sure that everyone has time to think and ask questions means that everyone can make decisions about their own lives.

Disability facts

Here are some facts about disability:

  • Disability includes a variety of barriers, because there are many ways in which people are different.
  • People can face more than one kind of barrier at a time.
  • Some barriers are physical, some relate to how we communicate, some relate to how we can access information, some relate to how we educate people, and some relate to people’s attitudes.
  • You cannot tell if someone has disability just by looking at them because many impairments are not visible.
  • One in five people in Australia has disability. You, or someone you know, might be one of these four million Australians.
  • The United Nations developed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. This document is an agreement to help make sure that people with disability are treated fairly and can participate equally in all aspects of life.
  • People with disability make many contributions to the community. Some contributions are well known and make people famous and others are everyday, ordinary contributions. Here are some well-known people with disability:
    • Kurt Fearnley — Paralympian
    • Marlee Matlin — actor
    • Rudely Interrupted — rock band
    • Temple Grandin — professor of Animal Science
    • Jacqueline Freney OAM — Australia’s most successful Paralympian at a single Games following her haul of eight gold medals at the 2012 London Paralympics and patron of the 2014 International Day of People with Disability
    • Adam Hills — comedian and DJ.
  • Did you know that inventions such as the telephone, spectacles (glasses), curb ramps and speech/sound on a computer were all originally designed to improve accessibility for people with disability? Today we take all these things for granted because we use them so often.
  • Some, but not all, people with disability use special equipment. For example, people with mobility impairments may use a use a power chair or wheelchair to get around or play sport, some people with dyslexia wear glasses with coloured lenses to help them read, and some people use screen readers that read aloud pages of the internet or books.
  • Some people with disability use Auslan, which is an Australian sign language. Auslan is a complete language, just like English or Chinese or Spanish. The deaf community developed Auslan so they could talk and sing and joke with each other using their hands, arms and faces. Some people with disability use Braille. Braille is a writing system that was adapted by a fifteen-year-old French boy so that he and other people with vision impairments could read by running their fingers over carefully arranged raised dots.

Tips for making your school accessible

Is your school accessible to everyone? There are lots of ways that an environment can be inaccessible. Sometimes it is the more obvious physical barriers, such as stairs, but there are many other barriers which may not be as obvious. It is important to try and remove as many barriers as possible so that people with disability are fully included in our community and can exercise all their rights. We need everyone to pay attention to how disability might be happening in your community.

Here is a list of questions that you can answer to see how accessible your school is:

Around the playground:

  • Do you play games that everyone can play?
  • Do you include everyone in your conversations and games?
  • How many friends do you have who do something different to you?

In the classroom:

  • Does your school have ramps or elevators, as well as stairs?
  • Can the chairs and desks in your classroom be rearranged easily so that everyone can use them?
  • Where do you store your bags and equipment? Can everyone access everything they need to learn?

When you do a class presentation:

  • Do you always make sure that any print-out has big letters so everyone can read it?
  • Do you always make sure you describe photographs?
  • Do you consider the learning styles or needs of your classmates when deciding how to present your information?

Your blog or school web page:

  • Do you have a web page for your school?
  • Does it have descriptions of all the images, so screen readers can read them?
  • Does it have text in a large, clear font?

Tips for getting along

People with disability go to school, like having fun, and are part of families. You probably know at least one person with disability or maybe you have disability yourself. Remember that we are all different, so not all the following tips will apply to everyone:

  • Just be yourself, say hi and make friends as you would with anyone else.
  • When you talk to a person with disability, face them and talk to them. Their support person, parent or carer is a different person.
  • When you talk to someone who is deaf or has a hearing impairment, make sure they can see your mouth.
  • Always introduce yourself when you are approaching or saying hello to someone with vision impairment.
  • Some people may have plenty to say but need more time to respond in a conversation, so be patient.
  • Do not hold onto a person’s wheelchair or move someone in a wheelchair without their permission, because their wheelchair is part of their personal space.
  • Do not pat or speak to someone’s guide dog or service dog. The dog needs to concentrate when working, so always ask the owner first if it is okay to say ‘hello’ to the dog. If they say no, respect their wishes.
  • When sending an email to a person who is blind, use text rather than pictures.
  • If you are not sure whether someone needs help, just ask.

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