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A Disabilities Officer for the Union

Ever had difficulty accessing a lecture or tutorial? Finding a toilet that accommodates your needs and requirements? Had your body and mind medicalised and stripped of autonomy; poked and prodded by individuals with an air of pity for what you cannot do and who you cannot be? This is how wider society tends to treat those who are disabled. The vocal proponents of “disability activism” tend to approach the matter as a tragedy, and a pitiful existence for anyone so unlucky as to have the infliction.

But here’s the problem; People with disability are not “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection but “subjects” with rights, capable of claiming those rights, able to make decisions for their own lives based on their free and informed consent and be active members of society.

Disability activism should not be about denying the reality of neither impairment nor its impacts on the individual. It should challenge the physical, attitudinal, communication and social environment to accommodate impairment as an expected incident of human diversity.

The onus should not be in the disabled individual to assimilation and accommodate able-bodied and neurotypical society. These people are entitled to be fully participating citizens of the world.

At the moment the situation for disabled students at Monash is one that doesn’t offer much security. Currently Monash reserves the right to exclude or suspend students with disabilities if they deem them to be a danger to themselves, other students or staff or Monash property. Rather troublingly, this language isn’t better defined in the Monash Statute papers or the Vice Chancellor Regulations, nor does the deliberation process require any actual medical consultation.  The decision to exclude a student for health or safety reasons does not require any professional or informed medical input; it is merely on the recommendation on the Dean of the faculty.

Hypocritically though, in order to appeal the decision the student would have to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Dean of their faculty that they are medically able to complete or enter their degree. Students require documentation from a related specialist to substantiate their claim. This is a double standard that puts an already vulnerable section of society at risk and somewhat ironically requires that they jump through more administrative hoops to retain the same status as their able bodied peers.

Disability services need to extend beyond their current myopic scope. Delivery of content is the most pressing of needs for those with mobility or mental impairment, and fixes are far from the realms of the extraordinary to find. The simplest solution would be for each faculty to implement policy that requires all lecturers to record and film their lecture material to be made available to those in need of this service. Many of you will no doubt have some lectures that are recorded (this was policy pushed from your student reps at the MSA) but recordings from some lecturers are sporadic or non-existent due to some faculty resistance. Some lecturers even deliberately avoid recording their lectures (particularly exam revision) because they think they are only accessed by lazy students who can’t be bothered coming into University. This is an intolerable display of ignorance from University staff as to the needs of some of their students.

It is – to be blunt – unacceptable for university management to languidly point to implementation difficulties and the fact that no one has thought to bring these changes up before as an excuse for these short fallings. For a University that seems to desperate to be at the forefront of everything it can be, a lot of the positive innovation has only come from lobbying of the student body through its Student Union. The way forward then is quite clear; the MSA should adopt a Disabilities Officer to advocate for the needs of students with disabilities on and off campus.

To this end, we are proposing the creation of an autonomous disabilities collective to advocate the creation of a Disabilities Officer within the MSA. If you’re keen to get involved, please do not hesitate in emailing Edie on edith.shepherd@monsah.edu or Andrew at andrew.r.day@monash.edu.

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