Bringing order or creating exclusion: systems for managing disability in a university

Publication Type:
Journal Article
JOURNAL OF DOCUMENTATION, 2021, ahead-of-print, (ahead-of-print)
Issue Date:
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PurposeClassification schemes make things happen. The Australian Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which derives its classification system from the World Health Organization's International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), legislates for adjustments to support the inclusion of people with disability. This study explores how students with disability enrolled in a university experience the systems intended to facilitate their studying “on the same basis” as students without disability.Design/methodology/approachThrough an online questionnaire and interviews comprising open and closed questions made available to students registered with the disability services unit of a university and follow-up interviews with a small number of students, students’ views of their own disability and effects on their participation in learning were gathered, alongside reports of their experiences of seeking support in their learning. Interview data and responses to open-ended questions were analysed using a priori and emergent coding.FindingsThe findings demonstrate that students are aware of the workings of the classification scheme and that most accept them. However, some students put themselves outside of the scheme, often as a way to exercise autonomy or to assert their “ability”, while others are excluded from it by the decisions of academic staff. Thus, the principles of fairness and equity enshrined in legislation and policy are weakened.Originality/valueThrough the voices of students with disability, it is apparent that, even though a student's classification according to the DDA and associated university policy remains constant, the outcomes of the workings of the scheme may reveal inconsistencies, emerging from the complexity of bureaucracy, processes and the exercises of power.
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