Disabled access to cost millions

17th December 1999 at 00:00
Blunkett welcomes action to tackle discrimination in education, reports Karen Thornton.

SCHOOLS, colleges and universities will have to renovate their buildings and amend curriculum materials in order to ensure access for disabled students, under new anti-discrimination legislation to be introduced next year.

Pupils and students will have a new right not to be discriminated against in their education, backed up by codes of practice and a right of appeal to tribunals and - ultimately - the courts.

The proposals, from the Disability Rights Task Force, a government-appointed advisory group, were broadly welcomed by Education Secretary David Blunkett. They will cost millions of pounds to implement.

But the authors of the 258-page report - which also covers employment, travel, housing, and participation in public life - say it will be a small price to pay to create a more tolerant and inclusive society.

The report, published this week, suggests that taking "reasonable steps" to overcome physical barriers to inclusion would cost the maintained-school sector pound;2.4 million a year, and independent schools half a million. But it need not necessarily mean expensive physical adaptations. For example, a pupil who used a wheelchair might be accommodated by scheduling lessons in ground-floor classrooms.

The Government has already pledged pound;100m towards improving physical access to school buildings over the next three years, and this week announced an additional pound;30m.

A new right for disabled school pupils to appeal to the special educational needs tribunal - which already adjudicates on disputes under special needs legislation - could add pound;2m a year to its running costs. Student appeals would be via other tribunals or the courts.

The report says it is "unacceptable" that education is excluded from current disability rights legislation, and notes that disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed and have no formal qualifications.

"Inclusion of disabled people throughout their school and college life is one of the most powerful levers in banishing stereotypes and negative attitudes towards disabled people amongst the next generation.

"When disabled and non-disabled people are educated together, this sends powerful mesages to the whole community about the potential for a truly integrated and diverse society," it says.

Mr Blunkett endorsed the report, saying: "Disabled children and adults - and parents - deserve to have the choices and opportunities that have for so long been taken for granted by others."

Bert Massie, chair designate of the Disability Rights Commission, which starts work next April, said: "The report provides a framework which will bring about significant improvements to disabled people's lives.

"I am delighted that the Government has acted so quickly on the education measures."

Free copies of 'From Exclusion to Inclusion' are available from the Disability Discrimination Act helpline, Freepost, MIDO 2164, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 9BR; email ddahelp@stra.sitel.co.uk; telephone 0345 622633; textphone 0345 622644. The report is also available in Braille, easy-to-read print, and on audio tape, and on the government's website at www.disability.gov.uk

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