Shaping the next generation of people with disabilities

Cathy Easte
Cathy Easte is Student Disability and Accessibility manager at Griffith.

A burning desire for her job to be no longer required is the wish of Cathy Easte, a disabilities service officer and student at Griffith University.

Cathy is passionate about one day ruling out the need for disability officers for students with special needs and instead empowering everybody to champion the needs of future generations of people with disabilities.

This is the topic of Cathy’s presentation ‘Disability Dialogues’ which she has been selected to present at the upcoming Pathways Conference in Perth.

The ATEND Pathways Conference, held 3-5 December 2014, brings together a range of professional and academic staff to identify and remove barriers for people with disabilities participating in higher education and training.

With a hearing disability herself, Cathy is currently studying part time for a Graduate Certificate in Disability Inclusion at Griffith’s Logan campus.

“As a society, we need to become far more involved in shaping the next generation of people with disabilities,” says Cathy. “Not just the doctors, nurses, teachers or other professionals with disabilities, but also those who will further the rights of the future generations. They may sit on future boards of National Disability Insurance Scheme boards for example.

“Our daily practices are embedded in an individual and highly medical model governing our practice, the university policies and rules for meeting our students’ needs. Students are currently asked to seek out a separate, segregated service; they must disclose and ‘prove’ their disability according to medical terminology, then the disability officer will negotiate adjustments to meet the student’s needs.

Policies are not empowering

“Strong medical models underpin this process and reinforce the ‘difference’ of the needs of students with disabilities. Such processes and policies are not empowering.”

Cathy says she is advocating for academics within the higher education sector to take more of a lead in meeting the needs of students with disabilities. “We need to explore a more complex understanding of disability, to challenge assumptions, beliefs and actions of everyone within the university environment — so inclusion is seen as a whole of university approach. Disability must be viewed differently, with new approaches that will enable us to seize the educational opportunity we have with the rich diversity of people that reside currently within our campuses.

“Far greater numbers of students with disabilities are now entering higher education programs than ever before. We should be preparing them to enter the world not just suitably qualified in their professions but able to positively negotiate and challenge for change in the community.

“These are the individuals who may sit on boards of decision-making power, who will advocate change in government policy to reduce the social oppression that works against their greater inclusion in society.”