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RMIT supporting staff and students with disability in the remote working world

The shift to remote working is presenting opportunities and challenges for all members of our community, especially for the one in five people in Australia with disability.

RMIT is committed to providing an equitable experience for all staff, students and visitors and has been supporting all members of the community to build an inclusive, flexible and accessible place to work and learn, throughout the transition to remote operations.

Diversity and Inclusion Project Officer Chrissy Beling said that as a RMIT staff member and student, remote learning and working completely flipped her experience upside-down.

“I study an intensive course, and it was quite difficult to be able to get everything done, be able to talk about concepts with others like you would during class time, and also to find that general support among peers,” she said.

Chrissy said as a staff member the most notable difference was her own increased pressure to be productive.

“Think back to before COVID-19, how much of your day was spent actually in transit or going to get that coffee?” she said.

“I’ve now learned to be kinder to myself, to allow breaks and accept that not every waking moment needs to be productive.”

She said that for staff who are supporting students or colleagues with disability, a small degree of empathy and understanding can really go a long way.

“My supervisors and teachers’ understanding of disability and chronic illness really did help to understand that while we were both online working in the same way for most of the day, it was causing me a lot more physical stress due to my illnesses,” she said.

“They allowed me to have the extra breaks I needed without that discrediting the work I am capable of doing.”

Supporting our student community

Manager of Equitable Learning Services (ELS) Rick Boffa said ELS had been working hard to make the transition to remote learning for students with disability as smooth as possible.

“Students with disability often require complex support arrangements so they can engage with their studies on the same basis as their peers,” he said.

“We’ve had extensive contact with Program and School staff, as well as colleagues in RMIT Studios and Information Technology Services (ITS), to identify challenges and find workable solutions.

“ELS has also proactively reached out to all registered students to check in with them on how they are finding the transition and address any issues.”

In this new remote environment, staff may need to work with individual students requiring Equitable Assessment Arrangements (EAAs), to discuss the best arrangements, address any challenges and agree on solutions. Academic Development Group should be the first point of contact, but staff can also contact ELS at els@rmit.edu.au. 

The ELS team has also developed three short training modules to help academic, teaching and professional staff respond effectively to the needs of students with disabilities, long-term illnesses and/or mental health conditions, as well as students taking on primary carer roles for someone with a disability.

Set up for flexible working success

Rick said, as a staff member with a disability, he found it was important to ensure assistive technology used on campus, could be made to function correctly in his home office.

“ITS were really helpful in problem-solving several challenges, which have all now been resolved,” he said.

“My advice for staff with disabilities is to do a checklist of what reasonable adjustments they require in the remote working environment and then methodically work through the checklist with relevant key staff within the University like ITS, HR, and Property Services.”

The RMIT Workplace Adjustment Passport Form is a tool to document any assistance or adjustment  to eliminate or minimise barriers at work for employees with a disability or long-term health condition.

Staff with disability can contact the Accessibility at Work team for information, support, advice and help with work adjustment requests at hr.assist@rmit.edu.au.

For managers, the Accessibility Manager’s Guide also provides detailed information on how you can support accessibility in your team and at the University.

In the virtual world, staff can further support equitable access by using accessible platforms, like Microsoft Teams, meetings, conference calls and collaboration.

Teams has a range of features that support accessibility, like live captions in any call or webinar, the Immersive Reader function, or the ‘background blur’ feature in video calls, which can make lipreading easier.

This article originally appeared on the RMIT Staff website.