BY WILLIAM HUYNH
Disabled students enrolled in Australia’s largest university have hit out at the lack of support they have received during both on-campus and online semesters.
Students who rely on Monash University’s Disability Support Services (DSS) have said they are frustrated the university is failing to accommodate their study needs.
Bachelor of Arts and Law student Natasha Ockenden has bilateral severe hearing loss and said the university has failed to provide her with adequate learning materials.
Ms Ockenden relies on lip-reading, sentence context, body language and other visual information to aid her learning.
However, she said many of her lecturers have foregone PowerPoint slides when teaching via Zoom, choosing to solely deliver information orally, which is “a deaf person’s nightmare”.
“A normal semester was already challenging for me as a deaf student, but online learning has left me drained and unable to access key information,” Ms Ockenden said.
DSS supports Ms Ockenden by providing note-takers to assist her during lectures, however the student said relying on note-takers this semester “has been stressful”.
“I appreciate my note-takers so much,” she said.
“However, [they] are not always in my course and do not have subject-specific knowledge regarding relevant notes to take down.”
While DSS is currently in the process of arranging further assistance for Ms Ockenden, she said educators should not be delivering learning material that is “inherently inaccessible” for disabled students.
“Universities and educators should strive to deliver material in multiple formats, provide adequate live captioning, transcripts, and even AUSLAN interpreting for those who need it,” Ms Ockenden said.
According to a Monash University spokesperson, more than 2,400 students are currently registered with DSS.
According to the MSA survey, many students have not been provided the subtitles and transcriptions for their classes in a timely manner, causing students to fall behind.
The survey also revealed students with disabilities want extra working time (93 per cent), flexibility in attendance (72 per cent) and rest or movement time (72 per cent) during online learning.
Ms Ockenden said the pandemic has exacerbated accessibility flaws in Monash University’s teaching approach that were present prior to COVID-19.
“I appreciate the workloads of my lecturers and tutors, but I have found that online learning during this pandemic has really highlighted how disabled people like myself are often left behind,” Ms Ockenden said.
“[I’m] tired of being my own advocate.”
She stressed the onus to find accessible education should be on the university, not on disabled students.
Psychology student Caitlin L’Hotellier transferred from Monash to Deakin University after becoming frustrated by Monash’s inability to cater for her chronic spinal pain.
Ms L’Hotellier said her condition made it “too painful” to attend her multiple-hour labs and Monash University’s unwillingness to make alternative arrangements contributed to her failing some units.
She added DSS was reluctant to source her appropriate seating for her exams and she was forced to quote the Disability Act to get an appropriate response.
“I needed a soft chair [because] plastic chairs put extraordinary strain and pressure on my spine,” Ms L’Hotellier said.
When Ms L’Hotellier posted her experiences on Facebook group Monash Stalkerspace, other students messaged her to recount their own challenges.
“I had floods of people telling me their stories of being treated badly by Monash and then moving to smaller universities and being treated far better.”
In contrast, Ms L’Hotellier praised Deakin University for the support the Disability Resource Centre has provided her.
“I just wanted to go somewhere that would treat people with disabilities correctly.
“I [have] more amazing support than I had ever dreamed of.”
When MOJO News approached Monash University for comment, a spokesperson said the university “takes the wellbeing of its students very seriously”.
“[Monash] welcomes all feedback, including complaints, and will work with the student to resolve their issue, or refer them to the appropriate process and student advocacy support,” the spokesperson said.
“If a student is registered with DSS and requires additional support, they are encouraged to speak to their Disability Adviser.”
The university confirmed disabled students should receive ongoing support as long as they are registered and require the assistance.