Obligation to make reasonable adjustments
Adjustments are the things that education providers do that allow people with disabilities to participate in education on the same basis as other students. For example providing interpreters or note takers for deaf students, or providing extra time for exams.
If an adjustment can be made to allow a student with disability to participate in education on the same basis as other students and it is reasonable, then the education provider must make that adjustment. If they don’t make it, they will be acting against the law. However if an adjustment is judged to be unreasonable, or causes it unjustifiable hardship an education provider is not required to make it even if it means a person will not be able to enrol in a course or school or participate in an educational course.
There is more information about unjustifiable hardship in the part of the ‘ Exceptions’ section called ‘ Unjustifiable Hardship’.
The education provider also has an obligation to make the adjustment within a reasonable amount of time.
How do you work out whether an adjustment is reasonable?
In deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable an education provider must look at the benefits and disadvantages of an adjustment. The following points need to be considered in deciding if an adjustment is reasonable or not.
- In considering if an adjustment is reasonable, the education provider must consider the views of the student with disability and their associates. The education provider must think seriously about the adjustment suggested by a student or their associates. If it decides not to make adjustments suggested by students and their associates, it should give the student reasons as to why. The student may request these reasons to be in writing. If a complaint of discrimination is made to AHRC about this refusal, then the education provider will have to show reasons why they considered that particular adjustment was not reasonable and refused it.
- The education provider must think of the effect of the adjustment on all people who will be affected by it. This includes the effect not only on the student with disability, but also on the education provider themselves, the staff and other students. For example, re-locating a class to a student’s home, far away from the main classroom and school, may benefit the student with disability but would be a disadvantage for the other students and might cost the school a lot of money. This adjustment would not be reasonable.
- For an adjustment to be reasonable it must genuinely allow the person to participate in education on the same basis as other students. For example, if a student who uses a wheelchair asks her school to build an accessible toilet and the school builds it, but in a building that isn’t accessible for people in wheelchairs, this will not be reasonable. This is because the adjustment doesn’t achieve its purpose – that is, to make the toilets fully accessible.
- For an adjustment to be reasonable it must not affect the academic standards or essential requirements of an educational course. Education providers are allowed to protect the academic standards and essential requirements of an educational course when considering adjustments. This means that a certificate or award given to a student on completion of the course is proof that they have the appropriate knowledge and skills for that course. So if a student with disability wants to have some parts of the course taken out because they are too difficult, it would not be reasonable to do so if the part of the course taken out was one of the most important parts. However, if there was a part of the course that was not so important, and a different course component could be substituted, this might be reasonable.
- An adjustment needs to be made in a reasonable amount of time. For example a vision impaired student must receive large print copies of text in enough time to enable them to participate in classes and assessments on an equal basis.
- For adjustments to be reasonable, education providers must show that they have reviewed the adjustment with the student and determined whether it is working properly. Sometimes a student might have a condition like Multiple Sclerosis that gets worse over time. A person with a mental illness may require assistance only at certain times and for certain periods. Adjustments in such cases might have to change as the course progresses.In summary:
To determine if an adjustment is reasonable an education provider must properly consider:
- The barriers, needs or challenges confronting a student with a particular disability
- The views of the student or their associate
- Whether the academic standards or essential requirements of an educational course are affected by the adjustment
- What benefits or disadvantages the adjustment might have on other people affected by it
- The costs and benefits of making the adjustment
Do not accept that an adjustment or a support you have asked for is not reasonable simply because the education provider says so. Call one of the organisations listed at the end of this document if you are refused an adjustment and check that this is a reasonable decision.
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