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Disability no barrier to graduating with Honours


Sharlene King
3 May 2013

Proving that disability is no barrier to studying at university, Sue Lane will graduate from Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus with a Bachelor of Laws (2nd class Honours) on Saturday May 4.

The 54-year-old grandmother was left with just five per cent vision after contracting an autoimmune disease in 2001.

“Now on a good day I’ve got about 10 per cent of my sight but on a bad day I’m back to about five per cent. What I see is shapes, silhouettes,” Sue said.

The Goonellabah resident was forced to reassess her life at the age of 41.

“Back then I was on the road working as a sales rep. Once I came to terms with what had happened and learned to adjust, I decided to look at a new career. My son, a SCU graduate, encouraged me to consider getting a degree,” said Sue.

“I’d always been interested in the law and the way our lives are governed and directed by legislation put in place by our elected representatives. I was also interested in how judicial reasoning takes place, and how laws are interpreted by the court.”

In 2008 Sue entered the Preparing for Success at SCU Program (PSP), an alternative pathway into Southern Cross University.

“I had left school at 15. PSP prepared me not only for what was required of me academically, but also helped me find my place among the student community. After completing PSP with the requisite grades I was offered a place in the School of Law and Justice and embarked on my law degree the following year.

“I wasn’t sure I would ever finish the Bachelor of Laws. But the academics and staff in the School of Law and Justice, Disability and Equity Services staff, Library staff, and my notetaker and moral support Kay Cotterill, all helped me achieve my dream. I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you.”

Sue’s Honours thesis is ‘Am I mad? Or does NSW Mental Health law need reforming? – Intellectual disability and the criminal justice system’.

“My paper asks if the current legislation serves its purpose of assisting persons with an intellectual disability who come into contact with the criminal justice system. My conclusion is that it does not, and reform is necessary to expressly address the needs of this group of people. NSW Law Reform Commission reports, together with groups who advocate for persons with an intellectual disability, have recommended reform for two decades, but to date no significant reform has taken place.”

Sue will be admitted to the legal profession in November when she completes a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice. Her next goal is to undertake PhD research into either mental health law or end of life law.

Sue said she was proud of her achievements.

“Being able to study law has completely changed my life. I learned a lot about law but I also learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of.

“I’ve discovered that I can be independent and go places without needing someone to go with me. I’ve also discovered that I am a very motivated person with a level of commitment that I didn’t understand I had.

"The experience has given me so much more confidence to go about life in a completely different way. My perspective on life has changed.”

Sue’s family – including husband Rob, two children and four grandchildren – will be at the graduation ceremony to cheer her on.

“They are very proud. My family has been an amazing support base. My husband is such a patient man.”

As a vision impaired student, Sue used a cane and an electronic mini guide (which vibrates to warn of obstacles) to get around the University campus. The School of Law and Justice provided material in large font handouts while Disability and Equity Services arranged a notetaker. At the Lismore campus, the SCU Library has two assistive technology rooms set up with hardware and software for students with a disability.

Sue will receive her degree from the University Chancellor The Hon John Dowd AO QC at the 4.30pm graduation ceremony.

Five-time Australian long jump champion Kerrie Perkins will jump into a new teaching career when she graduates with a Bachelor of Education (Primary) at the same ceremony.

Kerrie’s graduation will come only weeks after she claimed her fifth Australian long jump title at the National Championships. The 34-year-old former Kyogle schoolgirl has had a successful athletics career including winning a silver medal at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. She is considering continuing on to next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Among the University’s special guests is Mr Murray McLean AO, former Australian Ambassador to Japan and Chairman of the Australia Japan Foundation, who will deliver the Occasional Address at the 1.30pm graduation ceremony.

Around 300 graduands will be attending three graduation ceremonies in the Whitebrook Theatre.

10.30am ceremony
School of Health and Human Sciences
* Occasional Address delivered by Ms Ann Schefe BHlthSc(in Nursing)(SCU), MHlthSc(SCU), Acting Executive Director Tweed Byron Health Service Group.

1.30 pm ceremony
Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples; School of Arts and Social Sciences; School of Environment, Science and Engineering; School of Tourism and Hospitality Management
* Occasional Address delivered by Mr A Murray McLean AO, BA(Hons)(Melb), Chairman Australia Japan Foundation, will deliver the Occasional Address.

4.30 pm ceremony
School of Education; School of Law and Justice; Southern Cross Business School
* Occasional Address delivered by Mr Justin Dowd LLB(Syd), GDipLaw(UOW), Partner, Watts McCray Lawyers, will deliver the Occasional Address (no relation to The Chancellor).

Photo: Sue Lane with study mascot Nigel.