University of Auckland enhances disability support with Access

Introduction

The University of Auckland (UoA), New Zealand's largest and a research-intensive university, caters to a diverse student population of over 40,000. Nestled in the heart of Auckland, UoA supports approximately 4,000 students with a disability, and more than 2,000 actively seek support from the University's Student Disability Services (SDS), which is dedicated to providing an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

This commitment is underscored by their use of Symplicity Access, as a comprehensive platform to manage and enhance support for students with disabilities. Since 2022, the University of Auckland has leveraged Symplicity Access to streamline their processes, enhance student support, and foster a more inclusive campus environment.

Streamlining disability support with Symplicity Access

The University of Auckland adopted Symplicity Access at the end of 2022, with the system fully implemented for the summer school session in January 2023. This strategic decision was driven by the need for a secure, centralised platform to manage disability support. "[Before] We had our own disparate systems to manage our case notes to managing process to delivering disability support,” explained Mark Thomson, Manager of Student Disability Services at UoA. “With Access, we were looking for a solution that ensured we could deliver disability support in a secure way in one system. We want to make this easier for students facing barriers, particularly around the transition from school to university and Symplicity offered that one stop shop for all of our disability support with just a click of a button.”

Before implementing Symplicity Access, SDS relied on a combination of bespoke systems, Microsoft products, and manual processes. This fragmented approach posed risks to both the University and the students. By consolidating all disability support processes into one secure system, Symplicity Access has significantly improved the efficiency and security of service delivery. Students can now access support through a single, user-friendly portal, which enhances their overall experience and ensures their needs are met promptly and effectively.

Enhancing student and faculty engagement

A key component of the Symplicity Access implementation at UoA is the faculty portal, which is being rolled out in phases in 2024. This portal enables faculty members to proactively support students with disabilities by providing them with relevant information about the students' needs and required adjustments. Eilidh Thorburn, Senior Project Officer at SDS, said" The faculty portal gives us that opportunity with the students' consent to say, 'Hey, the student will need these things, and they can be put in place much earlier on."

The faculty portal has not only facilitated better communication between SDS and faculty members, but has also empowered academics to be more inclusive in their teaching practices. Faculty members can now access detailed information about the students' accommodations, allowing them to make necessary adjustments proactively. This has been particularly beneficial for managing the logistics of special conditions for tests and exams, such as booking accessible rooms and providing necessary equipment.

Improving reporting and strategic planning

One of the standout features of Symplicity Access is its robust reporting capability. The ability to generate detailed, customisable reports has transformed how the office monitors and evaluates its services. "We've got over 100 reports and is a really good problem-solving tool," said Thorburn. These reports provide invaluable insights into the types of support being delivered, the number of appointments, and the overall engagement of students and faculty with the system.

This data has been instrumental in informing strategic decisions and advocating for additional resources. For example, SDS can now provide detailed statistics to senior University officials, such as the number of students with disabilities in each faculty and the specific types of support they require. This transparency helps raise awareness and ensures that disability support remains a priority at all levels of the University. "Any statistic that you can give them is interesting. The reporting is a huge benefit of Symplicity, enabling us to pull data easily," added Thorburn. “Symplicity is a really amazing tool to be able to actually put the numbers behind what we're talking about, build strategic arguments for support… With the reporting, to be able to pull bits and pieces together of the picture, enables us to tell the stories of our students and our office.”

Fostering a culture of inclusion

The implementation of Symplicity Access has significantly contributed to fostering a culture of inclusion at the University of Auckland. By streamlining processes, enhancing communication, and providing valuable data, the system supports the University's broader strategic goals, including those outlined in its Disability Action Plan. This plan emphasises the importance of creating an inclusive environment where all students can thrive.

Thomson emphasized the broader impact of the system: "It's very powerful to say to students and to faculty that everything that you will need is in this one place. That just cuts through all the additional things that you would need to do." This centralised approach not only simplifies the process for students and ensures that their needs are met in a timely and effective manner.

Moreover, the integration of Symplicity Access has highlighted the importance of collaboration across different University departments. By involving faculty members, administrative staff, and senior leadership in the implementation and ongoing use of the system, UoA has created a more cohesive and supportive network for students with disabilities.

Wraparound support from Symplicity to the students

To ensure the success of Access at UA, Thomson, Thorburn and their colleagues meet regularly with their dedicated Symplicity client manager. Located in region, UoA’s client support has been open to troubleshooting new features and launching new modules to better support UoA’s needs. “The support has been really awesome,” said Thorburn. “You can email, even you've got your weekly meetings, and if it needs to be longer, you can say, ‘Hey, we've got a lot to think about this week. Can we have an hour-long meeting?’ And that's no problem. You can email the support team saying, ‘Can you just look into this for us?’ And someone will look into that in between meetings… That level of support is really good and we know that there's someone there, and it's not going to take a long time for them to get back to you with an answer.”

Conclusion

The University of Auckland's successful implementation of Symplicity Access underscores its commitment to providing comprehensive and inclusive support for students with disabilities. By consolidating processes, enhancing communication, and leveraging robust reporting capabilities, the University has significantly improved the efficiency and effectiveness of its disability services. Today, with Symplicity Access UoA’s SDS office can continue to dedicate its efforts to fostering an inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students.

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