In the modern workplace and in a large training organization, you will be working with and teaching all sorts of people. They will have many cultural or racial backgrounds or have many kinds of limitations. This topic is about:
treating them fairly
acting without discrimination and
creating and maintaining acceptance.
By improving the implementation of access and equity principles for students, you will be able to respond better to their needs when language, disability, or culture could hinder their optimum achievement. This will:
provide a better learning environment,
comply with relevant legislation and standards,
minimise discrimination complaints, and
manage related risks should they occur.
This also affects your teaching; you will need to create a learning culture so that potentially marginalized people feel accepted as equals and learn as effectively as possible. This applies to the place where you work in VET, which could be a campus, a business’s training program, or an on-job practicum.
Your RTO must have an access and equity policy in place, and you will be expected to know what it says and comply with it.
Implementing access and equity enables you to respond better to the needs of students and provide them with a better learning environment. It applies to your relations with:
Students, both in and out of training sessions
Colleagues, supervisors, anybody you supervise, and other support staff
People from other organizations with whom you deal
Any other people with whom you work
The general public
The principles of access and equity especially apply to people who are potentially marginalized because language, disability, or culture hinders their optimum achievement.
Some community groups are under-represented or disadvantaged when particpating in voctional education. They include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people with disabilities, people from cultural or linguistic minorities, women, mature-aged people and people in rural or remote areas.
Of the kinds of people that are easily marginalized, many have one or more of the following characteristics:
Intellectual disability. This group tends to take longer to achieve their goals, but they can learn all they need to hold a job.
Physical impairment or disability. This group have the normal range of intelligence and could include your brightest and most determined students. Their disabilities might include hearing, vision, voice, or mobility. Some might tire quickly or move more slowly than normal. Some have poor physical coordination.
Intellectually gifted. These people get bored easily through lack of challenge and can easily drop out.
Hidden disability. People might not tell you that they have a hidden disability, and for most of the time it might have no effect. Hidden disabilities include arthritis, epilepsy, diabetes, asthma, mild deafness, and heart problems.
Learning difficulties. Students can suffer from a very wide variety of learning difficulties, which might not already be diagnosed. They are not necessarily related to intelligence; people with some kinds of learning difficulties could also be highly intelligent. Diagnosis of some kinds of difficulties is a highly specialized skill, and you need to know when to refer students to experts.
Psychiatric or psychological disability. Students in this group might not tell you that they are in treatment, and will often be indistinguishable from the non-disabled. Although, they might need to take a VET course to prepare for a job, they might be unable to take stressful situations or suffer drowsiness from medication. They might also interpret situations or respond in ways that you do not expect.
Language barriers. Many people may not speak English very well. Many Australians have the curious habit of speaking loudly, as if the person were deaf.
Cultural barriers. You don't need to be an expert in intercultural relations but you must treat people from different cultural backgrounds fairly and without prejudice. You will need to be sensitive to give them a fair chance of participation. This is especially the case if language is also a barrier. The same approach applies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who are culturally different from non-indigenous people.
Literacy and numeracy needs. People might appear to be quite literate or numerate, but fail to perform well in those skills. Their needs might be hidden and might still be undiagnosed. (They might think they are quite proficient.)
Socioeconomic background. You might react negatively to people from much higher or lower backgrounds.
Gender. This is still an issue. While most discrimination has been against women, it is also possible to discriminate against men.
Age. It is easy to let much younger or much older people be excluded or made to feel that they don’t fit.
At-risk young people. These have not done well in mainstream education and might have behaviour problems. They might be unable to gain or hold employment.
Other. Other differences are religious and spiritual observances, pregnancy, and sexuality.
Access: Prospective applicants
"Access" refers to admission to a course. Access issues affect you mostly when advertising courses and when interviewing prospective applicants. You need to:
give students appropriate information
address cultural and linguistic needs
provide information for RPL
ensure students are not disadvantaged by distance or location
If any issues of access or equity are apparent, then you should ask the student and get an accurate picture of their needs.
By law, you may not exclude an applicant only of the basis of a disability. You can, however, refuse an applicant who does not have the published prerequisites for admission.
If the prospective applicant has a disability that would affect participation, the following avenues are open:
Advise the applicant of the risks and limitations and let them decide.
Provide information about other courses that meet their goals and in which they will have a greater chance of successful completion
Utilize the applicant’s strengths. In humanities and culture-related studies, students with "disabilities" are at a distinct advantage because they have a view of the world and social network that is distinctly different from the mainstream, and you should encourage them to explore it.
Avoid making promises that you are not authorized to make. (For example, don’t commit to providing resources that you might not have.) It is easy to be dishonest by promising something that the student needs but that you cannot deliver. Get advice if you necessary. For example, you might need to confer with the person who will teach the student, then get back to the applicant.
They may still choose to apply, and might still complete some useful units. This needs to be tempered with consumer rights. RTOs have been de-registered for enrolling prospective students and taking fees when those students could not do the course due to lack of English or intellectual disablity. In some cases, they did not know that they would incur a debt and did not know what they were enrolling for.
In the US, this is known as the “ability to benefit” test. That is, it is unethical to enroll students in a course when it is evident that they cannot benefit from it.
The lowest levels of inclusiveness are:
Simply complying with various anti-discrimination and privacy laws, such as the access and equity details above.
Use your organization’s policies to guide your work practices. These include access and equity and code of conduct.
Respecting individuals' rights and confidentiality.
Using verbal and body language that is inclusive and non-discriminatory.
You can be expected to know the basic principles of the instructor’s and RTO’s duty of care for the student and anybody else who might be affected by their actions.
You can also be expected to know: the Equal Opportunities Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, and your state’s racial vilification law.
These are provided in codes of practice, national standards, and legislation (both federal and state/territory).
Your RTO’s code of conduct should already have general rules. The next step up is to set more specific ground rules for participation and behavior. The procedure should be cooperative, and the process should be agreed upon.
In practice, this usually means that the staff meeting talks about it and makes a decision, but it is important that students and other people give their viewpoints and ideas. Some RTOs have a student representative in the decision-making process. Alternatively, you might need to discuss it in class with students.
Either way, you should encourage people to express themselves and to contribute to the work and learning environment.
Ground rules might include:
setting guidelines for behavior and acceptance
establishing common understandings between students about group interaction, respect and acceptance
defining expectations of the learning experience and its requirements
safety and comfort
making physical environment adjustments
Your attitude: Practice inclusiveness yourself
The real place to start is to set an example in your work performance. Accept other people around you, and acknowledge and respect individual differences.
You need the right attitude so that potentially excluded students really get your help and encouragement. Check your personal perceptions and attitudes about difference. By revising them, you'll improve communication and increase your professionalism. The main principle is being learner-centered. The program is for the students’ benefit, not yours. It is not how well you teach that counts, but how well they learn.
Be sensitive to different cultures and backgrounds, and to differences in physical and intellectual abilities. Your language (including your body language) should not de-value people or suggest fear, mistrust, or lack of understanding. You might need to discuss with them various alternative ways so that they can achieve their learning goals.
It’s another step again to integrate inclusive principles into work practices. But it is perhaps more important to promote the right kind of learning culture. Obviously it should value learning and support learning initiatives. But the learning culture can also encourage inclusivity by creating opportunities for participation and success.
Respond to diversity. You can actively acknowledge and respect differences. In some cases, you can get students to exploit their differences when comparing viewpoints.
Help students to work together by using cooperative approaches. A school doesn’t really happen unless people connect with each other. Encourage individuals to express themselves and make a contribution, and give equal opportunities for participation. Let them know that their opinion is valued. This is especially important in group discussions.
Give your students extra encouragement if they need it. Show them that you have a supportive rather than a begrudging attitude.
Sometimes you won't understand the problem and will need to get access to information such as different cultures, particular kinds of learning problems, or how to cope with particular physical or intellectual difficulties.
Develop supportive work strategies
As an individual and as a staff group, you should develop work strategies and practices that deliberately support inclusiveness, and integrate them into all your work practices.
Some general principles are:
support equal opportunity for participation
foster and advocate independence
ensure cooperative approaches to learning
use client-centred approaches to learning
support, encourage and value individual contributions
create opportunities for participation and success
make reasonable adjustments to procedures, activities and assessment for equity
acknowledge student's current strengths and skills as a basis for further learning
Find out what else you need to do
First, find out what you work practices you need to incorporate. Get information that will help in the inclusion of students and workers with particular needs. Look up information in books, periodicals, guidelines, research, or on the Internet. Some states produce guidelines and support materials on access, equity, disability, and inclusive practice. You might also find family members who give you good advice.
Identify professional support services that are available to you. Your own RTO or a partner organization might have staff to help you. RTOs are required to identify the support services they normally make available to students. Check that as your first option. After that, government agencies might also provide some kinds of help or advice.
Try to include support personnel in the process. They might be quite helpful, but there should be an agreed way of bringing them in.
Support personnel might include professional experts, specialist support liaison officers, advocates for a person or group, or peer support. They could also be interpreters note takers, library, technical HR and administrative staff, career counselors, student services officers, or equity liaison officers.
Take note of any support needs that are part of the physical environment. You might need to modify the layout of premises or equipment, use adaptive technologies; changes work schedules, or modify job design. When you find realistic adjustments that can be made, go ahead and incorporate them into work practices.
After implementing new work strategies and practices, you will need to monitor them, and then later review their effectiveness. What works? What doesn’t? Ask people what they think and listen to their answers. You should deliberately plan to improve anything that was ineffective.
As part of continuous improvement, you should regularly review your inclusiveness strategies. Put any proposed changes in writing and report them to higher management.
In assessment, you should make allowable adjustments on equity issues. Equity does not mean treating everyone the same. "Equity" refers to fair treatment while studying and being assessed. It involves making allowances or adjustments so that all students have a fair chance of successful completion of studies.
Give students an opportunity to indicate any specific needs. Students might need adjustments to learning and assessment activities or have their own OHS issues that need to be addressed. Let them feel free to mention any language requirements. Some students will be embarrassed, and you will need to coax sensitively to even discuss them.
Fair asessment involves making allowable adjustments. Adjustments are allowable if they do not compromise program requirements. Most incur little or no financial outlay, but do take time, effort and thoughtfulness on your part.
A reasonable adjustment is one that does not cause you "unjustifiable hardship", which means:
You don't have to give an adjustment if it won't make any significant difference. This applies to cases where an adjustment provides little benefit for the student, or where lack of an adjustment provides little detriment for the student.
You must give an adjustment that provides significant benefit for the student, as long as it does not incur unfair expense to you. If the adjustment imposes unfair financial cost, then it is not required (e.g. hiring an extra personal tutor or providing specialised extra equipment, producing a special edition of texts.)
If the disability is so serious that the student cannot perform the program outcomes within allowable adjustments, you don't need to make unrealistic allowances. (You must give the result "not yet competent".)
The following adjustments are all allowable:
Fitting into family schedules
Allowing work to be done in languages other than English (if you can speak that language and if English is not part of the requirement)
Allow other teaching-learning styles
Identifying different cultural expectations in learning
Selecting of assessment activities that fit their needs or backgrounds
Using the same activity for both practice and assessment
Allowing student to take practice assessments before the actual assessment (e.g. peer assessment or self-assessments).
You may schedule classes in a non-wheelchair location, but if a wheelchaired person applies, you must be willing to accept the applicant and move classes to a wheelchair-access location with wheelchair-access toilet facilities.
Perhaps no single assessment strategy is equally fair for all students, although the same assessment strategy can be fair for all members of a particular class.
In some cases, the assessment strategy is not particularly flexible. If the skill is to write a report, then the appropriate assessment strategy is a written report. However, the allowable adjustment might be that the report relates to a topic in which they have some expertise.
The disabled usually have considerable experience in coping strategies and compensating for their disabilities. As they probably know their limitations, you should ask them what they can or can't do.
Consider student needs in your planning. Some might need personal support services such as an Auslan interpreter, reader, interpreter, attendant carer, or scribe. When communication is affected (Auslan, interpreter etc.) the way you record and report assessment results might need to be modified. For example, you might give them orally or through an interpreter.
Others might need adaptive technology or special equipment.
The health, safety and welfare requirements of some disabled patients can be important, and you should consider them in your workplace health and safety procedures. For example, there might be specific tripping risks for blind students, or falling risks for people using walking aids.
Some students might need shorter or more flexible assessment sessions to allow for fatigue or medication. Psychiatric patients might prefer self-assessment or peer assessment to reduce stressfulness of summative assessment.
You could schedule classes in a non-wheelchair location, but if a wheelchaired person applies, you must be willing to accept the applicant and move classes to a wheelchair-access location with access to wheelchair-access toilet facilities. (The other alternative is to carry people up and down stairs; it happens but it’s not a popular alternative.)
Linguistic and cultural groups
If there is a language barrier, speak clearly and simply in plain English. Gestures can be helpful. Do not speak too loudly; they are probably not deaf. Remember that the language barrier probably frustrates them as much as it frustrates you. Work on the assumption that they are nice people who want to learn. (You might occasionally be wrong, but to presume otherwise would be to disadvantage them.)
Avoid making assumptions about their capabilities. For example, you cannot assume that people with poor English language skills are less intelligent. (It sounds silly, but some people actually presume that.) You should assume that they are equally intelligent, but cannot easily express themselves in English or according to Australian cultural norms.
The ability to speak a language other than English is an asset. Even if they have little experience in Australia, they might have valuable experience of living in other regions or cultures.
Everybody appreciates a friendly tone, although some cultures value politeness more highly. (Some cultures also prefer formality to Australian informality.) You will usually need to use direct eye contact, although some cultures try to avoid it. You might find that it is better to be indirect that direct in your approach and communication.
Listen carefully and actively try to understand people by seeing life from their viewpoint. Be respectful and sensitive. They might be under various pressures on them that you do not easily understand, not least of which is embarrassment or shyness talking to you.
In the Australian workplace, culture affects ways of greeting and parting, levels of formality, work ethics, family structure and obligations, religious observances, customs, social values, and dress and grooming.
Cultural differences create many frustrating misunderstandings that can bring about conflicts. While you must try to resolve difficulties or misunderstandings, realize that confrontation might be counterproductive.
It's natural for you to think that your culture is superior to others and that your way of thinking makes more sense, even if you don’t realize it. However, it is a safe assumption that the other person’s culture makes perfect sense to them; it’s just that you don’t understand it.
Try to understand cultural differences, for example:
Communal relationships. People from many cultures are more communal than those of white Anglo Australians. This reflects their relationship with other family members, close friends, community members, or local elders. In some cases, they will not attend classes without a friend or family member no matter how much they want to come. They might want others to participate in major decisions or in their learning program. Or they might want to be interdependent rather than independent.
Knowledge. They might see interpersonal knowledge or rote-learned knowledge as more important than the kind of knowledge you are teaching.
Time. The way people in other cultures view time might be quite different from you. They might be less driven by the clock, or their schedules might be structured in ways you do not expect. They might have priorities that you do not know. They might value people more than time.
Beware of stereotypes or labels, which people naturally tend to create of other cultures.
"Everybody from country X is hard-working"
"Everybody from country Y is arrogant."
"Everybody from country Z is dishonest."
Stereotypes are always rather inaccurate. In our example, the fact is that country X has some lazy people, country Y has some humble people, and country Z has some honest people. (And probably in the same proportions as your own culture.)
In cases of cultural conflict, the first question is "Are we facing a cultural pattern in the other person, or are we facing a personal characteristic of the individual?"
Examine and revise your own perceptions and attitudes about differences. If you’re honest with yourself, what you find will help you improve your communication and professionalism.
The intellectually impaired
The main point is your attitude. Remember that they are real people and trust them as equals. Be yourself and avoid speaking down to them. Treat them as you would treat other students.
Give them extra time if possible. They tend to learn more slowly than average.
Concentrate on their abilities rather than their disabilities. Encourage them to try new things and take a risk. Offer help, but wait for them to accept before giving it. Allow them to be independent.