May 9, 2014
Unaffordable: Community worker Paul Nordheim. Photo: Steve Lunam
The Education Department will face legal action for discrimination if deaf and disabled students are unable to attend TAFE because of cuts to Auslan interpreters and notetakers, disability groups have warned.
Disability support staff were given until last Friday to come up with ideas to save jobs at Northern Sydney Institute, which faces an 89 per cent cut in disability funding next year – from $1.2 million to $138,632.
TAFE reforms, starting in January, will offer a 10 per cent loading for each disabled student, according to draft pricing. The Northern Sydney Institute has predicted it will receive just 12 per cent of its current budget to help disabled students attend classes.
This year, it cost the institute more than $240,000 to provide support for hearing-impaired students, but a leaked document shows this funding will drop to less than $10,000.
Support for mental illness will fall from $250,000 to $25,000; physical disability from $225,000 to less than $10,000; and vision impairment from $125,000 to less than $10,000.
South Western Sydney and Illawarra TAFE teachers have told a Senate inquiry the proposed 10 per cent loading for disabled students won’t cover support services, which would be ‘‘destroyed’’.
Paul Nordheim, a community worker with the Deaf Society of NSW, completed his TAFE certificate IV in community services work in 2009, studying at Northern Beaches and Meadowbank TAFE.
He said an Auslan interpreter was ‘‘vital’’ for him to participate in class as a ‘‘normal student’’ and increase his career potential.
‘‘Without this access, it’s like banging your head against a brick wall trying to comprehend what is happening,’’ he said.
It wasn’t affordable for students to pay for interpreters themselves.
‘‘Why should we pay when other students who study do not have the added expenses? Six months of study, four days a week, works out to be around $54,000,’’ Mr Nordheim said.
He said he fears funding cuts will affect thousands of deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and legal action under the Disability Discrimination Act is likely if students cannot enrol in their chosen courses.
Study gave disabled students the skills to work and support themselves in the long term.
‘‘The education part is always the expensive part,’’ he said. Without classroom support, the government risked ‘‘delegating bright deaf people to menial jobs’’.
Greens MP John Kaye, who obtained the document, said the figures for Northern Sydney were typical of what will happen across NSW.
‘‘Next year’s competitive market for training is going to slam the door on students with additional needs,’’ Dr Kaye said.
‘‘TAFE’s impressive track record of assisting hearing-impaired students to become electricians and vision-impaired people to embark on careers as social workers is about to succumb to impossible budget constraints.’’
NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli is expected to release final details of the TAFE reforms ahead of the June budget.
An Education Department spokesman said TAFE would also receive Community Service Obligation funding to meet the needs of disabled students, but would not specify an amount.
All training organisations are required to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, which states students with a disability are to participate in education on the same basis as other students, he said.
‘‘This includes provision of any necessary specialised equipment and appropriately trained support staff,’’ he said.
Mr Piccoli had heard from peak disability groups, and a disability reference group had been established.