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Studying With A Disability

17 November, 2023

Embarking on your tertiary study journey can be a thrilling experience, but for individuals with disabilities, it often comes with unique challenges. Fortunately, the landscape of educational support has evolved, and there are now lots of avenues available to make sure that every student, regardless of their abilities, can flourish on the same basis.

In this guide, we aim to empower you with all the information you need to make sure you have the right support you need throughout your study journey.

There are a number of great places to start when looking for intellectual disability support while studying:

A Student With A Disability in wheelchair in a library.

Support From Your University or TAFE

What The Law Says About University and School Students

Australia has a robust legal framework in place to ensure that students with disabilities are afforded equal opportunities in education. The Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 set the groundwork for fostering inclusivity in educational institutions.

These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and require educational providers to make reasonable adjustments to support students with disabilities. As a result, all education and training providers must make sure disability students have access to learning on an equal level to other students who don’t live with disability.

Student who receives personal care supports for assistance with eating

Reasonable Adjustments To Support Students

Reasonable adjustments could include modified exam conditions, additional support in lectures, or the development of alternative formats for course materials. The focus is on ensuring that students have an equal opportunity to succeed in their academic pursuits.

The Australian government provides funding to educational institutions to support students with disabilities. This funding helps in implementing necessary accommodations, supporting students, improving infrastructure, and providing training for staff to effectively support students with diverse needs.

Speaking To Your Institution About Quality Differentiated Teaching Practice

Virtually every University has a Disability Support Services (DSS) department. Reach out to them early in your academic journey to discuss your specific needs and explore the available accommodations. These services can include exam modifications, note-taking assistance, and access to specialised technologies.

You can work with the disability support team to create an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) tailored to your unique needs. An IEP outlines the specific accommodations and support services you require, ensuring that your academic experience aligns with your abilities and that you can develop the strategies required to study at the highest level.

Support Through The NDIS

How the NDIS Supports Studying With a Disability

The Australian Government provides the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) which can be used to access study support for individuals with disabilities.

The NDIS is designed to fund support only when it is not better funded or provided by another program or service. When it comes to study, that other program or service is usually your university or TAFE.

As a result, it is always advisable to engage with your institution directly before turning to the NDIS. However, there are some instances where the NDIS can provide support that is unavailable through your educational institution.

What The NDIS Can Fund For Students

Through the NDIS, the Australian government offers funding for four main areas of support to facilitate your participation in tertiary education and ensure you can participate to your full potential.

Teacher Training

If your learning environment requires unique supports unfamiliar to your teachers, such as the use of microphones connected to hearing aids or assistance from a support worker during lectures, the NDIS can finance training sessions for your teachers. This ensures they comprehend your specific support needs and the most effective methods for your learning.

Personal Care

While enrolled in university, TAFE, or an approved placement, you may require personal care supports, such as assistance with eating or toileting. Funding for these supports allows you to access your tertiary education in the same environment and at the same time as your peers, ensuring equal access to learning opportunities in spite of physical impairment.


For individuals who do not drive or cannot independently use public transport to reach their university or TAFE, the NDIS can provide funding for transportation. The funding is tiered, with eligibility based on the number of hours of study you are undertaking, ensuring that your transport needs are met according to your educational commitments whether you're seeking a bachelor degree or other qualification.

Assistive Technology For Those with Physical and Intellectual Disability

The NDIS can fund various assistive technologies that facilitate learning for individuals with disabilities. This may include specialised computer equipment, software, and other assistive devices that help with academic tasks.

Focus Care is a registered NDIS provider and can assist you with everything related to the NDIS and your study journey, from assessment to support coordination.

What the NDIS Cannot Fund For Students

The NDIS typically does not approve funding for certain disability-related and mental health supports and services.

This includes physical modifications to study locations, such as the installation of ramps and lifts for building access. The expectation is that your TAFE or university will bear the cost of adjustments necessary for you to study safely and have equal access, just like any other student.

Funding for training of specialist staff not directly involved in your teaching, as well as additional supervision, learning support, or tutoring, is also unlikely through the NDIS.

Equipment and resources utilised by all students, including textbooks, computers, stationery, or printing, are not specific to your disability and thus will not be funded in your NDIS plan.

In addition, the NDIS will not finance supports for tertiary education if it is improbable that you will derive any benefit from the study or if the likelihood of successfully completing the course is low. It's important to note that there is no strict timeframe for course completion, and you can take extra time as needed, as long as you eventually finish the course.

State Government Support

Different states have different programs to assist people with disabilities with their studies. In NSW, the Smart and Skilled Program ensures that individuals with disabilities have enhanced access to training opportunities through fee exemptions.

Eligible individuals will not be required to pay fees for any Smart and Skilled training they choose to undertake.

You qualify for a fee exemption if you have a disability and are in receipt of the Commonwealth Government Disability Support Pension.

Student with disability studying with friend in library.

Support from NGO Organisations

Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) work to support individuals with disabilities in their educational pursuits. These organisations provide a range of services, including advocacy, information, resources, and sometimes direct assistance. Here are some prominent NGOs in Australia that focus on helping people with disabilities in their studies:

Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (ADFO)

The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations is the national voice representing people with disabilities in Australia. While their primary focus is on advocacy and promoting the rights of people with disabilities, they can also provide information and resources related to education and skills.

IDEAS (Information on Disability Education and Awareness Services)

IDEAS is a not-for-profit organisation providing information and support services for people with disabilities, including resources related to education.

JFA Purple Orange

JFA Purple Orange focuses on social inclusion and rights for people with disabilities. While their main focus is on broader issues, they may provide information and resources related to education.

Inclusion Australia

Inclusion Australia advocates for the rights and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. While their focus is broad, they may provide information and resources related to education.


Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) is a not-for-profit community organisation. They are the peak organisation representing the rights and interests of children and young people with disability in Australia.

How Focus Care Can Help

Securing support for studying with a disability involves a proactive and multi-faceted approach. By engaging with disability support services, utilising assistive technologies, and fostering open communication, you can create an environment conducive to your academic success.

Accessing the NDIS can be a valuable component of your study journey and Focus Care is here to help. Contact us today.

Remember, you are not alone – there are resources, technologies, and a supportive community ready to empower you on your educational journey. Embrace these opportunities, identify and advocate for your needs, and thrive while studying.

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