Students with medical conditions or disabilities can offer a unique perspective of the placement experience, provide useful information to the organisation about working with people with disabilities and assist in raising awareness and reducing barriers
Students with a disability or medical condition may face additional obstacles when attending placement. Universities, supervisors and service settings all have a role to play in supporting students with a disability or medical condition. This is mandated under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
Students are not required to disclose their disability or medical condition/s to the University or placement site unless it poses a risk to the student’s health or safety or to that of others. Some students successfully manage their disabilities or health conditions with external support, and do not disclose their condition or disability to the University, supervisor or service setting. Other students will opt to disclose their circumstance to university disability support services who can then collaborate with placement facilitators, supervisors and services settings when planning placements.
“Where a student has not disclosed a disability, teaching and other staff are not responsible for providing education related adjustments (Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training, 2013).”
It is the student supervisor’s responsibility to be aware that all disclosures made to them by their student are confidential unless the student gives you direct permission to discuss with another named party (eg. the University representative). The only exception is to ensure Mandatory Reporting obligations are met.
Inherent requirements or fitness to practice requirements are developed for each university program. Inherent requirements are the core activities, tasks or skills that need to be demonstrated to award the program or course. They do not necessarily specify how a task or skill needs to be accomplished but describe the essential outcomes that need to be demonstrated in order for the task to be carried out in a safe and competent manner.
They can be used by universities to:
- Determine eligibility for entry into a particular program of study
- Assess medical conditions or disabilities
- Guide reasonable adjustment planning
They can be used by students to make an informed decision about whether they will be able to meet the requirements for the university program.
Coursework for a university program and student placements are quite different experiences. It is important to note that a student may be successful in completing their coursework requirements and may not realise that they will not be able to meet the inherent requirements for their chosen program of study until they have commenced on their student placement.
For some programs of study students may not be able to participate successfully in placements despite the implementation of reasonable adjustments, due to the inherent requirements of the program and the nature of the student’s disability or medical condition.
Within health professions, inherent requirements might include:
- Requirements for communication – for example, verbal, non-verbal, written
- Requirements for cognition – for example, reading, writing, number skills, concentrating, knowledge acquisition,
- Mental wellness, mental endurance and self-awareness
- Requirements for sensory skills – for example, visual assessment, observation, listening, tactile ability, smell
- Requirements for physical tasks - for example, gross and fine motor function
Reasonable adjustment is any modification (physical, intellectual, cultural, religious other) made by the university, supervisor or service setting to assist a student with a medical condition or disability participate or access something on the same basis as someone without the condition or disability. Reasonable adjustments may allow a program’s inherent requirements to be met. However, adjustments will not compromise the integrity of the academic program.
On placement, reasonable adjustment can be quite complex because each student will have different learning needs, and the placement site might also have it’s own inherent requirements for the health professional role. Some reasonable adjustments might include: placement timing and duration, adjusting hours, type of placement or placement model, aids to support sensory disabilities, decision making tools and templates to support cognition (for example checklists for planning sessions, subheadings to guide report writing, sample case notes).
The student is often the best resource when determining any barriers that might exist and potential strategies to overcome these barriers. The university placement coordinator will play a vital role in assisting you to develop strategies.
To support students to navigate the placement experience, it is important the student supervisor:
- Confirm with the university placement coordinator the university processes for planning and negotiating reasonable adjustments to a placement for a student with a disclosed disability or medical condition.
- Prior to the commencement of every student placement, identify support services offered by both the university and the service, so that they are ‘on hand’ should the student wish to seek further support.
- Establish the organisation’s capacity to accommodate university requests for reasonable adjustment to placement structure (for example, how to manage a part time placement with concurrent student placements and workload demands). Although not a ‘difficult situation’, you may find the steps identified in the ‘Framework for managing difficult situations’ useful when making this determination.
- Identify if there are specific adjustments that are not reasonable or practicable for your organisation or setting,(for example core contracted working hours, occupational health and safety) and inform the university of these limitations when you make your placement offers. (The Australian Human Rights Commission provides information relating to reasonable adjustment to support people to complete their duties effectively).
- Initiate early conversations with the student about their health and wellbeing to normalise and demonstrate the importance of establishing good self-care strategies. This might include a daily routine discussion about how the student is managing their health and wellbeing and the supports that they may need. Share strategies for wellbeing that you and your team have implemented. Alternatively, supervisors can create a ‘safe space’ for sharing of concerns.
- Identify processes to maintain the safety of the student and the client and provide immediate support for the student. Consider strategies that can be employed before, during and after a triggering event.
References: Supporting students with a disability or medical condition
Please Note: References remain valid until superseded by later research. The resources referenced here are regularly reviewed and are considered current and relevant to the topics presented.
- Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (2013). Disclosure of Disability. Retrieved from: http://www.adcet.edu.au/Student_Resources/Disclosure_of_Disability.chpx
- Australian Learning and Teaching Council (2010). A guide to supervision in social work field education. Retrieved from: http://www.socialworksupervision.csu.edu.au/resources/docs/CSU-guide-social-work-field-education.pdf
- Siggins Miller Consultants (2012). Promoting quality in clinical placements: Literature review and national stakeholder consultation. Adelaide: Health Workforce Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.adea.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Promoting-quality-in-clinical-placements-report-20130408.pdf
- RMIT (nd) Inherent requirements guide. Accessed June 2021 from: https://www.rmit.edu.au/content/dam/rmit/documents/about/policy/program-course/IR%20guidance%20material.pdf
- University of Technology Sydney (UTS)(nd) Inherent requirements. Accessed June 2021 from: https://www.uts.edu.au/about/faculty-health/clinical-practice/getting-ready/inherent-requirements
- University of Sydney (nd) Inherent Requirements for Physiotherapy Courses Accessed June 2021 from: https://www.sydney.edu.au/content/dam/students/documents/enrolment/course-requirements/inherent-requirements/physiotherapy-inherent-requirements.pdf
- University of South Australia (2019) Fitness to Practice in Professional Experience Placements Inherent Requirements. Accessed June 2021 from: https://study.unisa.edu.au/contentassets/c2ed49440edb420f9c53f7548f124e39/fitness-to-practice-in-professional-experience-placements-inherent-requirements_education.pdf
- University of Queensland (nd) Inherent requirements for education programs. Accessed June 2021 from: https://future-students.uq.edu.au/admissions/inherent-requirements/inherent-requirements-education-programs
- Sharby, N., & Roush, S. E. (2009). Analytical Decision-making Model for Addressing the Needs of Allied Health Students With Disabilities. Journal of Allied Health, 38(1), 54-62. Available at: http://ingentaconnect.com/contentone/asahp/jah/2009/00000038/00000001/art00009