Colleges miss disability deadline
Commission considers legal action against institutions that fail to comply with new laws. Joseph Lee reports
colleges have been named and shamed for breaking new laws on equal rights for disabled people.
According to the Disability Rights Commission, 10 colleges have still failed to publish details of how they will meet new regulations designed to make public bodies better adapted for disabled students and staff, despite being given a deadline of December last year.
The new disability equality schemes are supposed to set out how colleges will find out from disabled people themselves what they need to help them thrive in education and how they will meet the requirements.
A spokesman for the DRC, which is charged with enforcing the new law, said:
"We know disabled people don't have the same educational opportunities as many others. They are more likely to leave school without GCSEs and they are less likely to go onto further or higher education.
"The reality is there is a problem, and there have to be some kind of proactive measures taken by colleges."
The schemes became a requirement following the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, which created a new duty for the public sector to eliminate discrimination and harassment, promote equality of opportunity and positive attitudes to disabled people, and encourage their participation in public life.
Rod White, principal of Barrow-in-Furness Sixth Form College, admitted his staff had not finished their disability equality scheme, despite being aware of the requirements for about two years.
He said: "The difficulty was consulting outside bodies. We were expecting to work with one voluntary organisation and for one reason or another it never took place. But simply because we hadn't got the scheme by December 2006 doesn't mean we have ignored the issues of disabled people." He said he expected the work to be finished by the end of the month.
Blackpool and the Fylde College was named by the commission as a college which is successfully implementing the new rules.
Sarah Riding, the college's equality and diversity co-ordinator, said the need to adapt for people with mental health problems was the major new issue. She said colleges might have to start some lessons later for people on medication who find it hard to get up.
"It's not about making excuses, it's about realising you may have to make some changes to help them," she said.
Sir Bert Massie, chairman of the DRC, said they would consider compliance notices and court action against colleges without published plans. Colleges could be fined and their chief executives imprisoned, although these powers are rarely used.
Some colleges said they had partly completed their obligations. Merton College in Surrey has published a draft plan but not the full scheme, while Fircroft College of Adult Education in Birmingham and Greenwich College in London have completed their schemes but not published them.
The DRC spokesman said: "The principle of publishing a scheme is, in part, so that disabled people can find out what colleges are doing to promote equality of opportunity. If we can't find a scheme, the chances of disabled people finding it are likely to be slim."
Others included on the commission's hitlist are Hull College, Manchester College of Arts and Technology, Matthew Boulton College in Birmingham, the Marine Society College of the Sea, North Hertfordshire College, and Waltham Forest College.
Gloucester College of Arts and Technology and Birkenhead Sixth Form College were also named, but their schemes were available on their websites when checked by FE Focus.