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A Guide to Catholic Education Disability Support Available

6 June 2024 | Posted in Inclusive Education

A Guide to Catholic Education Disability Support Available

Amanda Holden

By Amanda Holden

Amanda Holden

Inclusion Capability Specialist

Catholic schools are committed to fostering cultures of inclusion that respond to the educational needs of students regardless of their abilities, backgrounds and aspirations. This commitment to inclusive practices is supportive of both Catholic Church teaching and Australian Government legislative requirements. 

Students with disabilities make up about one fifth of our student population. In 2023, 19.7% of our students received an educational adjustment due to disability. This means that around 1 in 5 students and approximately 5 students in every classroom are being provided with individualised support due to having a disability. Whilst this represents a large number of students in our schools, it also does not account for the number of other students who also receive support to access learning due to other factors unrelated to disability. Catholic schools recognise that a large section of their students have diverse learning needs and are committed to providing them with a quality education on the same basis as their peers. 

To enable students with disabilities to be able to access learning and participate in all aspects of school life, including events beyond the classroom such as in assemblies, school excursions, sports, concerts and other extracurricular events, Catholic schools provide additional support or make adjustments. Each of our schools has staff whose role it is to ensure that students with disabilities are appropriately supported at school. 

Types of Disability Support in Catholic Schools

Catholic schools aim to make our schools places where people feel welcome and seen and heard. They do this by celebrating diversity and eliminating discrimination and barriers to all students learning together. The language used by staff in our Catholic schools is welcoming and inclusive and consideration has been given to the physical layout of the school environment.

Modern Catholic schools are embracing Universal Design principles which aim to make spaces as accessible and comfortable as possible. This can often be seen in the layout of the school with wide concrete paths leading to buildings, playgrounds with accessible play equipment and classrooms with wide doors and flexible furniture. Many schools have soundfield systems (voice amplification systems) installed in their classrooms which makes the teacher’s voice clearer and more easily heard. This reduces the stress on the teacher’s vocal cords and makes it easier for all students to hear and pay attention to the teacher.

In addition to these general adjustments, schools also provide more specific support for students with disabilities. These may include:

  • Differentiated classroom instruction.
  • Adjustments to teaching and learning, assessments, communication, physical environment, health/personal care that enable access to learning
  • Personalised Learning structures e.g. Individual Education Plans
  • Participation in focussed and intensive instruction
  • Support with medical, self - care, behavioural or social and emotional needs and clear plans to manage these.
  • Collaboration with TCE specialist staff such as Guidance Counsellors, Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists,, Advisory Visiting Specialists for Hearing Impairment and Inclusion.  
  • Outside agencies - such as Government funded agencies (e.g. Autism Queensland) and collaboration with NDIS providers

Inclusive Education Staff/ Personnel

School Based Personnel:

Classroom Teachers

Teachers, in collaboration with parents and students, are making adjustments to their teaching and delivery style, classroom environment, resources and materials, and assessment processes to be inclusive of every student. 

The Inclusive Practice Teacher 

Inclusive Practice Teachers have extensive knowledge of inclusive teaching and learning strategies that will support students with disability to engage purposefully in learning. IPTs work cooperatively and in collaboration with school leadership, teachers, other student support services team members and parents/carers to ensure that students with disability are supported effectively in the learning environment.

The School Officer 

School Officers, whose role is to assist student learning, work collaboratively with teachers to provide support and guidance to all students. This may be in a variety of ways both within and outside of the classroom.  

Townsville Catholic Education Office Personnel:

The Advisory Visiting Specialist:Deaf/Hard of Hearing (AVS:D/HH)

The AVS:D/HH offers specialist educational support for students who have a hearing loss. They work alongside teachers and students to assist with building capacity to ensure our students can succeed. 

The Advisory Visiting Specialist: Inclusion (AVS:I)

The AVS:Is work collaboratively with TCE and school personnel to ensure that students with disability have equal access to learning that will optimise their learning potential. 

The Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)

Our SLPs are dedicated to providing specialist support in the areas of communication and literacy development within the classroom for students and capacity building for teachers, parents and other staff of our Catholic schools. 

The Occupational Therapist (OT)

Our OTs are dedicated to delivering high-quality occupational therapy support within the classroom, which addresses barriers to student learning and enhances education outcomes. 

The Guidance Counsellor 

Guidance Counsellors are dedicated to providing specialist support to the school community in the development, implementation and evaluation of plans and programs to assist students in achieving positive educational, developmental and lifelong learning outcomes.

Queensland Department of Education:

The Queensland Department of Education supports non-state schools by providing a range of disability specific supports and services. 

For students with physical and/or vision impairments this includes: 

  • Advisory Visiting Teachers (AVT)— The main role of the AVT is to support school staff to make reasonable adjustments to support the student's education program so they access, participate and achieve. 
  • Students with disability equipment loan and trial service—provides a collection of specialised equipment that schools can loan to support students to access and participate at school.
  • Vision impairment services—provide expert, advisory and direct services to schools to support the educational achievement of students with vision impairment. 

For students with Autism this includes:

  • Schools and parents can access the Autism Hub for advice about support for students with Autism. 

Inclusive Classroom Practices 

One of the most important things that our teachers do is to get to know their students. This ensures that teachers know and consider the learning, emotional and environmental support needs of their students when setting up their classrooms, establishing a class culture and planning lessons. In doing so, teachers are creating an inclusive classroom where their students are supported to participate in learning regardless of their abilities. When students are supported, they are more likely to engage in learning and less likely to be distracted or to display unhelpful behaviours.

The Australian Curriculum is designed to be flexible and to cater to the learning needs of students of all abilities. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an inclusive approach that our teachers use to deliver the Australian Curriculum in a way that is flexible and uses students’ interests and strengths. Lessons planned in this way give students options for how they access and use information and show what they know.  For example, if the class is learning how to write an information report, the students can choose what topic they would like to learn about, how they do the research (reading, listening to or watching information on a laptop) and how they present it (a written report, a verbal report, a detailed diagram, a PowerPoint presentation etc.).

Individual Education Plans (IEPs)

Students requiring ongoing adjustments are provided with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that sets out the adjustments and support they need. These plans are developed together with the student and their family, where students and families are consulted on the functional impact of the disability and the reasonable adjustments a student requires. They are then reviewed regularly to evaluate the effectiveness of different strategies to ensure the teacher, family and student are satisfied with student progress. They are typically reviewed twice per year. 


To enable students with disability to participate in education alongside their peers, reasonable adjustments are often needed. Reasonable adjustments are strategies or supports that help students with disability to attend school, learn, participate in school activities and support their wellbeing while at school. As well as being essential for the student with a disability to access their learning, adjustments will also often benefit all of the students in the class.

In providing an adjustment, schools, in consultation with the student and/or their parents, assess the functional impact of the student's disability in relation to education. This includes the impact on communication, mobility, curriculum access, personal care and social participation. Other areas that might be considered for some students are safety, motor development, emotional wellbeing, sensory needs and transitions. 

Some examples of adjustments include:

  • Providing additional time to complete a test.
  • Using visual pictures or signals to support instructions about “what to do and how to do it”
  • Follow tasks with which a student struggles with a preferred activity.
  • Providing concrete materials, for example, counters when doing Maths.
  • Praising students for on-task behaviour and preparedness.
  • Providing movement or calming breaks/activities.
  • Providing a scribe for a student who struggles with handwriting or typing.
  • Using books with enlarged and/or textured writing or braille for students with a visual impairment.
  • Using a variety of seating arrangements within the classroom.

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology provides a range of supports that can make learning and lesson participation more accessible to students with disabilities.

Townsville Catholic Education schools use a range of assistive technologies based on individual learner needs. Options may include:

  • alternative access for students who have limitations in physical strength, movement and coordination (for example pencil grips, switches, supportive seating)
  • alternative keyboard for students who find a conventional keyboard challenging (for example keyboard with larger or smaller keys, remote keyboard, onscreen keyboard)
  • alternative mouse for students who have difficulty using a regular mouse (for example trackball, joystick, smaller mouse)
  • alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) systems for students with complex communication needs (for example speech generating devices, communication apps for tablet devices)
  • literacy support software for students where written information is a barrier to their learning and engagement (for example text to speech, speech to text, word prediction). Read&Write, is one such software program which has been made available for all of our TCE schools to enrich the teaching and digital experience. The Read&Write toolbar provides students with access to a suite of twenty different reading support tools, such as text to speech, highlighters, voice notes and audiomaker. It is particularly useful for students with learning difficulties, those with a mild visual impairment or students who have English as an additional language.
  • visual supports to assist students to understand concepts and organise ideas, as alternative ways to deliver information to students with low vision (for example software that magnifies text, graphic organiser, visual timetable).

How to Access Disability Support in Catholic Schools

When enrolling your child in a Catholic school, you will be asked to provide information about your child. If your child has a disability or diverse learning needs, it is important that you include this information as part of the enrolment process.

Once your child’s enrolment has been accepted, it is the responsibility of the school to meet with parents (and the student if they are old enough) to discuss the possible supports and adjustments that the child may need to access their learning. 

If your child is already enrolled at a Catholic school and they receive a disability diagnosis, let your school know as soon as possible. The school will meet with parents(and the student if they are old enough) to discuss the possible supports and adjustments that the child may need to access their learning.

Contacting the School

To find out what support is available for your child, contact the school and ask to speak with the principal or the school’s Inclusive Practice teacher. The staff members in these roles will be able to explain how students with disabilities are supported at the school and what services are available.

Provide Documentation

When enrolling your child at a Catholic school, it is important that you provide the school with relevant information and documentation regarding your child’s disability.

This is important as it enables the school staff to understand your children’s learning and support needs and determine what supports they will need to provide.

The school will use this information, in consultation with you, to develop adjustments that will support your child with their learning. If appropriate, this information will also be used to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for your child.

Tips for Parents and Caregivers

To support their child at home, parents/carers can promote a literacy-rich environment where language in various forms (like talking, listening, reading, storytelling and visual arts) is part of daily life. This environment allows children to practice their literacy skills often, in ways such as reading a book, cooking, listening to family members talk about their day, asking and answering questions, drawing or even playing games such as ‘I spy’ using sounds or letter names rather than colours.

It is helpful for parents/carers to reinforce school expectations, such as rules regarding homework, uniforms and behaviour. However, if your child is experiencing difficulties with these, it is important that parents/carers advise the school of this and discuss whether some reasonable adjustments can be made to make it easier for your child to do this. Also, remember that for many children, especially those with disabilities, a school day can be very tiring. It is important to plan some time in the afternoon or early evening for your child to relax and also spend some quality time with the family.

The school newsletter, as well as class or year level newsletters share updates about what is happening at school. It is helpful if parents use this to communicate with their child about what they are learning and to prepare them for upcoming events that may result in a change to routine. If your teacher does not do this, politely ask them if this is something that they can consider doing.

Research Disability Rights 

In Australia there are two important pieces of legislation that all schools must follow, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA 1992) and the Disability Standards for Education (DSE 2005).

The DDA (1992) and the DSE (2005) clarify and elaborate on legal obligations for education providers and the rights of students with disabilities. The DSE seeks to ensure that students with disabilities can access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers, with reasonable adjustments provided to enable this, as needed.

To assist you with knowing your rights and the rights of your child, the Australian Government have created a suite of resources. Information resources for students with disability and their caregivers.  

Communicate with the School 

To ensure that your child is being supported as well as they can be, it is important to engage in open communication with your child’s teacher and the school IPT.

  • Let the school know of any changes such as medication or in the home environment. Even seemingly minor things such as a bad night of sleep or a cold, can make a difference to how your child is at school so it’s helpful to let their teacher know so that they can be mindful of the impacts of this during the school day.
  • Remember to provide the school with updated information related to your child’s diagnosis or support needs.

Advocate for Your Child

As your child grows, their needs will change and the adjustments provided at the start of school, or even the school year will probably need to change as well. In addition to the school suggesting changes to adjustments, you and your child can suggest changes whenever you believe they are needed.  You may even find that you need to suggest a change to an adjustment soon after it is made. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find a solution that works for everyone.

  • It is common for parents to not know what to ask for when it comes to support and adjustments. The school will have ideas that have worked for other students and parents can assist the school to personalise possible adjustments to suit your child’s needs.
  • If you are not sure about the purpose of an adjustment proposed by the school, it is important for you to ask questions so that you are confident that the support provided will work for your child. You may also have specialists such as occupational therapists or psychologists who work with your child who may have ideas for supporting them at school. You are welcome to invite these professionals to attend support meetings at the school. Students are best supported when all stakeholders are working together to meet their individual needs.
  • To assist parents in advocating for their child’s learning needs the Australian Government has created the following resource: Advocating with and for your child

Get Involved in the School Community

Each one of our Catholic schools is a community and parents are encouraged to become involved. 

  • It can be helpful to get to know other parents and school staff other than your child’s teachers.
  • Participate in school activities where possible, such as attending assemblies, masses, and special events inside and outside of school hours, such as discos.
  • Consider attending P&F meetings or joining any school committees, such as the Inclusion Committee, if they offer one.
  • Volunteer at the school tuckshop or Mother’s/Father’s Day stalls.

Embracing diversity: Catholic Education's Commitment to Disability Support

Townsville Catholic Education (TCE) is committed to implementing inclusive practices to meet the diverse needs of our students. Inclusive practices are integral to the ethos of our Catholic schools, where each student is enabled to access appropriate, equitable, and empowering education so that they can engage with the daily life of the school and curriculum, demonstrate their knowledge and strengths, and maximise participation through quality learning opportunities. 

To learn more about what support is available for students with disability please contact your school.

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