Colleges must respect disabled rights

Martin Whittaker

PRIVATE training providers are exempt from new legislation which requires further education colleges and universities to anticipate the needs of disabled students.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act brings education and training under the Disability Discrimination Act for the first time, making it unlawful for institutions to discriminate against disabled students.

The legislation, passed in May, covers FE colleges, universities, adult and community education provided by education authorities, and youth services from September 2002.

This week the Disability Rights Commission publishes a Code of Practice on the post-16 elements of the Act for consultation.

The Act makes it unlawful for providers to treat a disabled person less favourably than they would treat a non-disabled person. If a disabled person is "placed at a substantial disadvantage", colleges will have to make "reasonable adjustment" - this could be making physical changes to a building or changing the way a course is delivered.

The new duties cover colleges' admissions to courses, also student services, including catering and library facilities, careers and welfare services.

The new law means colleges and universities will have to anticipate needs of disabled students in each year's intake. Colleges must assume that some students will have disabilities and take account of them in strategic and budgetary planning. Institutions also become ultimately responsible for disabled students getting to and from college.

Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, welcomes the new measures, but opposes the discrepancy in standards required by private training providers and colleges.

Paul Convery of the Association of Learning Providers, which represents independent training organisations, said the sector contains a large number of voluntary organisations which are heavily committed to helping learners with disabilities.

"I think it's reasonable for large publicly-funded institutions to have this duty placed upon them and less reasonable for smaller independent providers, because those institutions get block grants."

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Martin Whittaker

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