Deaf students withdraw from TAFE Illawarra

• Employer removes apprentices from TAFE

TAFE Illawarra has refused to explain changes to its disability support services which have resulted in at least two deaf students withdrawing from courses.

The students include Mangerton's Donna White, who was provided with interpreters and a note-taker for three years while she studied a certificate qualification.

She enrolled in a diploma-level course in community services after an employer told her it would guarantee her a job, but recently withdrew from the course when TAFE Illawarra withdrew the services of a note-taker.

Students with a hearing impairment regard note-takers as essential because they cannot take their eyes off their interpreter in order to take their own notes.

The Mercury sent nine questions to TAFE Illawarra on the issue, asking why note-takers were no longer being made available to deaf students, and whether access to any other aides had also been restricted.

These and other questions, including asking how deaf students could participate without note-takers, went unanswered in TAFE Illawarra's response.

"TAFE NSW provides a high level of support for students with a disability by developing appropriate educational pathways to support vocational course completions for equity groups," a TAFE Illawarra spokeswoman said.

"TAFE Illawarra teacher consultants provide consultative and educational support to students, employers, employment services and communities within our region. At TAFE Illawarra, teacher consultants provide support and are responsible for a range of disabilities services, including for the deaf.

"Support within available resources is allocated to students based on discussions between the individual student and the teacher consultant and encompass a wide range of educational strategies and technologies.

"Teacher consultants also work with community support organisations and non-government organisations to provide a range of wrap around services to support students with disabilities."

The Deaf Society of NSW's South Coast branch is bracing for TAFE to become less accessible under incoming Smart and Skilled reforms, which are expected to introduce a 10 per cent loading for students with a disability - an amount the society estimates will cover little more than several days of an interpreter's services.

Cathy Perkiss, Donna White and Maria Roccon-Merritt. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Cathy Perkiss, Donna White and Maria Roccon-Merritt. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

The TAFE spokeswoman said: "With the introduction of Smart and Skilled, all training organisations will be required to deliver qualifications within the funds available through government subsidies and student fees. The details of the implementation of Smart and Skilled has not been finalised or released."

A spokesman for the Department of Education and Communities said: "Under Smart and Skilled there will be loadings for providers to support the provision of services to students with a disability. The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has provided advice on Smart and Skilled prices, fees and subsidies to the NSW government. The government's response ... will be announced later this year."


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