International students who have a disability are entitled to the same protections as domestic students and the Australian government is fully committed to ensuring that support is provided.
If you’re thinking about studying in Australia, read on to explore the laws in place to protect you and get some tips on what to consider when applying for courses.
What is considered a disability in Australia?
A disability is any condition that affects a person’s mental, sensory or mobility functions. It could include:
- a physical disability, such as a loss of a body part or a malfunctioning part of the body
- an intellectual or learning disability affecting the ability to take in, process and retain information
- a mental illness, which may impact thought processes
- a sensory disability, such as hearing or vision loss
- a neurological disability that affects the brain and central nervous system, or
- a disease or illness.
Is it common to study with a disability in Australia?
According to AIHW, in Australia, an estimated 380,000 children aged 5–18 years with a disability go to primary or secondary school. In 2022, 187,000 people aged 15–64 years with a disability were studying for a non-school qualification across our education system.
What laws are in place to prevent discrimination in Australia?
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and Disability Standards for Education 2005 legislation states that it is against the law to discriminate based on disability.
As with all community members, international students with a disability have the right to equal opportunities to live, work and study in Australia.
It is against the law for education providers to:
- refuse admission to a student with a disability
- deny support or services to a student who needs them
- ask a student with a disability to meet requirements that do not apply to able-bodied students (for example, pay higher fees)
- deny or limit access to a student with a disability (for example, not allowing them to go on excursions, or having student common rooms or lecture facilities that are not accessible).
However, there are circumstances where education providers are unable to meet every need. This may include where the cost is extremely high, or if a change is difficult to implement. If the education provider believes this to be the case, legally they must:
- have direct discussions with the impacted student and seek expert advice first
- prove that the changes requested are unjustified.
Applying for courses in Australia with a disability
Each university or TAFE (public Technical and Further Education institute delivering vocational programs) has a University Disability Adviser or a TAFE Disability Adviser.
Whether you are a prospective or current student you can contact an adviser for a confidential conversation. The adviser will be able to give you important information about what support services are available and what documentation you may need to provide when applying for a course.
If you have a disability or a health condition, you may be wondering whether to let your education provider know.
Generally, you don’t need to disclose your disability to an education provider unless it is likely to risk your safety or affect your ability to meet course requirements. If you need any adjustments made to your on-campus circumstances you will also need to disclose your disability.
Click here for more information about disclosure rights and responsibilities.
Adjustments and support
Many education providers offer adjustments for students with disabilities such as voice-recognition software or note-taking services.
If you need adjustments or extra academic support, it is important to contact the disability adviser at your education provider as soon as possible.
You can contact an adviser and make requests for adjustments during your studies, but it is best to make contact before you start studying to give your provider more time to make any necessary arrangements. This will mean a better experience for you.
The disability advisor may be able to put into place any of the following depending on your needs:
- infrastructure adjustments, such as wheelchair access or devices to support your hearing implants
- academic adjustments, such as extra time to complete assignments and exams if your disability affects your capacity to learn and participate in your studies
- counselling services, if you are feeling stressed or concerned about your mental health.
What if you experience discrimination?
If you feel that an education provider is discriminating against you based on your disability, and you are unable to resolve the problem with them directly, you can lodge a formal complaint.
By law, education providers must have a process for students to register complaints. However, if you feel you have a legitimate complaint that is not being recognised by your education provider, you can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission.
You can make a confidential enquiry over the phone, but you must lodge a formal complaint in writing before the Commission can take action. Find out more about disability rights in Australia.
For more information about making a complaint, visit the ADCET website here.
Disability services and support
There are many support services available in every state and territory of Australia. Some of them include:
It is also a good idea to Google social groups for people with similar disabilities in your area. If you are into sport, contact Disability Sports Australia to find out what sports are happening near you.
In Australia, students, workers and community members of all abilities make wonderful, celebrated contributions to our society, and we are looking forward to welcoming you to campus and community life.