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Colleges warned to heed disability law

Colleges are still not fully complying with legislation on disability, according to the Disability Rights Commission, which plans to write to colleges that have failed to meet the Disability Equality Duty.

The duty, which came into force last December, requires public institutions such as colleges to involve disabled people when drawing up disability equality schemes. Three colleges Kilmarnock, Shetland and Coatbridge had previously fallen foul of the law by failing to publish schemes. They have since complied. But eight others will now be told what action they must take.

James Glover, head of development and equality for the commission, writers in a letter to Ian Macpherson, chair of the Association of Scotland's Colleges, that further education is a priority because "it plays such a critical role, not only in preparing disabled students for employment, but also influencing the attitudes of the wider population in relation to equality and diversity. Colleges are also important employers of disabled people in their own right".

Mr Glover warns: "Ending discrimination is not just about making buildings accessible, putting in ramps or producing documents in alternative formats. It is about systematically finding and then removing barriers to equality for disabled people, and positively promoting equality of opportunity.

"This is particularly important, given the part that colleges might play in changing attitudes in Scottish society. This will take time, understanding and effort. And colleges' disabled staff and students have an essential role in helping them do this."

The commission singled out two colleges Langside and Cardonald in Glasgow for their good practice in drawing up disability equality schemes. Their action- planning, which involved disabled people, was praised.

The commission has also published guidance for the post-16 education sector, aimed at reducing inequalities experienced by disabled students. A code of practice has been produced, explaining the impact of the Disability Discrimination Act on the sector. The change in the law means that colleges, universities and others cannot refuse to provide education to a student simply because he or she has a disability or long-term health condition.

The commission cites as an example a blind woman who was refused an IT course. This would be termed "direct discrimination" and is unlawful.

The most common cases of discrimination were in relation to teaching practice, assessment, learning support, equipment and trips.

These negative experiences could lead to disabled people dropping out of courses, leaving them "disengaged, disempowered and out of work".

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