New Digital Arts project to boost opportunities for young people with disabilities

Published:14 March 2016

The ‘Enterprise party’ held at the end of 2015 and hosted by the Reservoir Neighbourhood House to celebrate the achievements of participants in the Digital Enterprise project

CQUniversity is leading a new $860,000 Digital Arts project aimed at boosting education and employment opportunities for young people with disabilities who are Indigenous and/or living in regional or remote areas.

The project will provide young people with the chance to complete a Certificate II in Visual Arts delivered by CQUniversity online and at drop-in centres* in South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory (from July 2016 to June 2017).

Among the desired outcomes will be an improved capacity to provide education services that are flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of young people with disabilities, through online delivery and/or mentored activities in community settings. Proponents will also strive to strengthen parent and carer networks and provide strategies for empowering families to play a more active role in the decision-making process.

The project team includes Professor Denise Wood, Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, Professor Helen Huntly, Associate Professor Steve Pace, James Picton, Patrick Connell and Carmen Gray. Partner investigators include Associate Professor Pammi Raghavendra (Flinders University), Associate Professor Deirdre Tedmanson (UniSA), Professor Noel Lindsay (University of Adelaide) and Dr Stefan Schutt (Victoria University).

Professor Denise Wood says Digital Arts builds on the success of a $2.94 million Digital Enterprise project (which she started leading while at the University of South Australia) aimed at improving outcomes for youth with disabilities.

Digital Enterprise is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Broadband Enabled Education and Skills Services Programme, while Digital Arts is funded by the National Research and Data Working Group through a National Disability Research and Development Grant. Both projects are supported by the Young and Well CRC (Cooperative Research Centre).

"This new Digital Arts initiative focuses more specifically on youth with disabilities living in regional and remote areas of Australia and Indigenous youth in metropolitan areas including Reservoir, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Darwin, while enabling Indigenous youth attending remote schools to also participate in the program," Professor Wood says.

"Young people with disabilities aged 16-20 years will receive mentoring support via weekly drop-in sessions and online activities to undertake a VET accredited Certificate II in Visual Arts which will have a digital technology focus. Those eligible to participate in the program will receive scholarships to undertake the Cert II through CQUniversity."

Now at CQUniversity, Professor Wood continues to lead both the Digital Enterprise and Digital Arts projects.

Professor Wood says the earlier Digital Enterprise project brought together researchers from the Young and Well CRC and four not-for-profit organisations. Learn more on the Digital Enterprise website.

"The Digital Enterprise initiative has provided young people with disabilities aged 10 to 20 years with the opportunity to undertake IT skills development through weekly face-to-face sessions conducted with our community-based partners: BREED in Blacktown, NSW; Uniting Communities in Christies Beach, SA; Corrugated Iron Youth Arts in Darwin, NT; and Reservoir Neighbourhood House in Reservoir, Victoria," Professor Wood says.

"Recent analysis of our 185 participants' anonymous online survey responses gathered at the conclusion of the project and qualitative data collected from interviews and focus groups with participants and their parents show that the participants enjoyed coming to the sessions (95%), and many parents indicated that attendance at the sessions was the only thing that the participant looked forward to during the week.

"Making new friends and meeting up with friends were also regarded as important components for 83% and 81% of respondents respectively. 

"The major reasons participants enjoyed attending sessions was that they liked learning new IT skills (78%) and that they felt comfortable to 'be themselves'. Many participants developed plans for future schooling, employment and further education, while 37% said their plans had changed and 48% said their plans for further education had changed in a positive direction."

* Digital Arts drop-in centres will be located in South Australia in partnership with Wiltja Boarding School and Tutti Arts; in Reservoir, Victoria in partnership with Reservoir Neighbourhood House; in Rockhampton, Queensland in partnership with ARTIE; and in Darwin, Northern Territory in Partnership with Corrugated Iron Youth Arts.