Barred but not booked;Disability rights

6th August 1999 at 01:00
IT'S KNOWN as the "booze and books" issue.

Under current legislation, disabled students can demand access to their student union bar - but not to the college library. And while schools must try to make social trips accessible to disabled pupils, they don't have to do the same for educational visits.

These anomalies have arisen because education was excluded from the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.

Now the Disability Rights Task Force has put forward recommendations to rectify the situation.

Task force member Colin Low, vice-chairman of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, said: "You will deliver much more to more people by laying on authorities a duty to systematically convert their premises.

"Even if people could assert their rights by going to court, it's a very haphazard way of transforming education rights. You can go to court for all you are worth, but if a school isn't accessible, it's going to be a Pyrrhic victory."

Schools and colleges will not be expected to bankrupt themselves to make their buildings and curriculum accessible. A code of practice will set out rules which will identify cases where discrimination may still be justified as well as giving examples of reasonable adaptations.

Task force members expect their recommendations to force schools and education authorities to think laterally, and to reconsider what disabled pupils can and cannot do.

Philippa Russell, director of the Council for Disabled Children, cited the example of a boy with Down's syndrome excluded from a field trip for safety reasons. In fact, he had good safety awareness and needed little classroom support.

"There is a massive professional development task for teachers, learning support assistants and everybody from the dinner lady to the groundsman," she added.

"There are still very unrealistic views of disabled children and what their needs might be." Education is a key area of civil rights for disability groups. They hope that changes will not only benefit disabled children already within the system but help promote a wider cultural transformation.

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