ANU Students Association fights cuts to disability support
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ANU Students Association fights cuts to disability support

When Laura Campbell was in the third grade she wrote she wanted to be either a Disney princess or a medical defence lawyer so she could defend sick people.

She had no idea, that just nine short years later, she would be one of those sick people.

Laura Campbell has Lupus and osteoarthritis and is currently studying law at the Australian National University. After moving to Canberra from rural NSW not long after her diagnosis, she is one of the many talented and driven students who have benefited from funding programs to help disabled people which the Govt is looking to cut.

Laura Campbell has Lupus and osteoarthritis and is currently studying law at the Australian National University. After moving to Canberra from rural NSW not long after her diagnosis, she is one of the many talented and driven students who have benefited from funding programs to help disabled people which the Govt is looking to cut.Credit:Karleen Minney

In December 2010 Ms Campbell was offered a place to study law at the Australian National University. A month later she was in intensive care in Royal Melbourne Hospital, she couldn't eat, or move her limbs, getting sicker and sicker her lungs finally collapsed and she was eventually diagnosed with Lupus

She spent the next year getting better and never lost sight of coming to the ANU. She took up her offer in 2012 and began studying international relations and law.

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"My parents gave me two weeks," Ms Campbell said.

"I felt very scared and alone, O-Week was difficult, everyone was partying, I was still very very sick, my body was getting used to powerful drugs.

"My first year was a bit of a blur trying to get through everything, I'll admit that."

Now, four years down the track Ms Campbell still battles her limitations every day. She's taken months off at a time, struggled to meet deadlines, pushed her body to its physical limits. But she's determined.

"I wouldn't be at ANU if I didn't have Lupus, I wouldn't be where I am today," she said.

"Some days it is still the worst thing in the world but at the same time it's opened my eyes to a lot of things."

And one of those is what she sees as the injustice of funding cuts to the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program and the Additional Support for Students with a Disability, which the University's Access and Inclusion program relies on.

In the 2016-17 budget the government announced it would redirect $152 million in HEPPP funding to "budget repair and other priorities". Changes to the ASSD are also being considered.

During a recent student representative council meeting, undergraduate student representatives at the ANU unanimously agreed to oppose cuts to both programs.

"It is shameful that some of the most disadvantaged students will be hurt the most," said ANU Students association education officer James Connolly.

"Such cuts and potential cuts will have a negative impact on education accessibility by making it harder for low SES students and students with a disability to access higher education" he said.

The ANUSA said it would petition the government to reverse cuts to HEPP and guarantee funding to the ASSD.

Despite her disabilities, Ms Campbell believes she's one of the lucky ones.

"I sit high enough on the spectrum where I am disabled enough for [the proposed changes] to not really affect me," she said.

"My disability is something people can identify and they can pity.

"The people that will be lost will be those affected by mental health issues, the people who sit in a grey area.

"It's the greatest injustice that these people often don't have the capacity to fight for themselves."

The ANUSA has launched a social media campaign in order to raise awareness of the issue.

Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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