Publication Details

Gosden, R. & Hampton, G. R. (2000). Academic Standards versus Disability Rights. ultiBASE Journal,


A simmering controversy has been running in the United states since 1995 over the perceived conflict between the maintenance of academic standards and the rights of disabled university students. Recent developments are set to raise the same issue in Australian universities. The first of these developments is the shift in the emphasis of academic standards with the implementation of the Generic Skills Assessment (GSA) program. The second is the release of draft disability standards for education to streamline enforcement of the Commonwealth's Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). The DDA protects disabled people against discrimination in education. Amongst the many types of disabled people protected are those who are unable to read, write or communicate effectively because of learning disabilities; and others who are unable to concentrate and pay attention properly because of mental disorders like attention deficit disorder. Hitherto, universities have found ways to comply with the DDA without compromising academic standards by providing these types of disabled students with accommodations that take the form of alternative methods of examination, extra exam time, technological assistance, scribes, readers, etc. However, the GSA has been designed for standardised implementation and doesn't allow for this type of flexibility. Further, generic skills testing specifically discriminates against students with learning disabilities and some mental disorders because it is the inability to master particular types of generic skills that defines these types of disabilities. The conclusion is that if discrimination is to be avoided either the GSA must be adapted to suit the needs of disabled students or universities must consider ways to foster the capacity of students with disabilities to develop and utilise generic skills in an independent manner.