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Colleges must cut disabled barriers

Colleges are coming under new pressure to tackle the problems of an appalling high number of disabled young people without qualifications.

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of disabled 16 to 24-year-olds have no qualifications, compared with 12 per cent of those without disabilities.

An education strategy by the Disability Rights Commission suggests the gap should be cut by at least 50 per cent during the next five years.

Bob Niven, the commission's chief executive, said it was unacceptable that so many disabled young people were unqualified and, at the same time, only 40 per cent as likely to go on to higher education.

Colleges and other learning providers have until September 2005 to bring facilities up to standards which ensure that disabled people have full access.

Last year, cerebral palsy sufferer Anthony Ford-Shubrook won a landmark court case against St Dominic's Sixth Form College in north London, which said he could not study A-levels because he required wheelchair access.

Mr Niven said the commission was determined to use the Disability Discrimination Act to enable more disabled people to enrol in further education or adult and community learning.

There was no reason why a 50 per cent cut in the number without qualifications could not be achieved, he said, especially if awarding bodies, which are covered by the legislation from this October, were more flexible when assessing achievement.

"It's possible to adapt the application process without diluting it and enable disabled people to go on a course," he said.

Judith Norrington, director of curriculum and quality at the Association of Colleges, agreed the LSC is investing money in staff development and better facilities but it was unlikely to be sufficient. "If we did everything we could to make a difference, we are looking at an amount equivalent to third world debt," she said. "We are looking at the art of the possible."

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