Student victory for the disabled

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Court orders college to enrol rejected cerebral palsy boy. Ngaio Crequer reports

Legal history was made this week when a court slapped an injunction on a college, forcing it to enrol a 16-year-old disabled schoolboy.

Anthony Ford-Shubrook, who has cerebral palsy, and uses a wheelchair, applied to St Dominic's sixth-form college in Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex, to take A-levels in geography and double IT.

It is the closest college to his home - he can get there under his own steam - and the journey time to the next nearest college is about an hour by car. Nor does it run the course he wants to take.

His parents approached the college in April 2002 to discuss issues of accessibility.

Anthony checked out the college for himself and found that the geography classroom, canteen, library and disabled toilet were on the ground floor and all accessible. But the IT room was on the first floor and could only be reached by a flight of steps with no lift or other alternative for a wheelchair-user.

Anthony's parents suggested he used a "climbing" wheelchair that can get up steps. But the college said this would constitute a health and safety risk and, without doing any individual assessment, refused to offer Anthony an interview.

His case was taken up by the Disability Rights Commission, and the Central London County Court ordered a mandatory injunction. This compelled the college to admit Anthony for registration and, on Monday this week, he enrolled, and will begin his course next Monday.

This is the first time a mandatory injunction has been used to enforce the Disability Discrimination Act in the education system. It is now a year since new anti-discrimination laws came into effect, which make it unlawful for disabled students and pupils to be treated "less favourably" when applying for a place at a school, college or university.

Anthony's father, Tony Shubrook, said: "This is an amazing case and it makes legal history. But unfortunately this kind of thing is not unusual.

"There is a new type of wheelchair which has just been developed which can climb steps and deal with steep slopes. If push came to shove we would have been prepared to pay for it ourselves (at a cost of pound;22,000) just so that Anthony could take his place.

"We are comfortably off, so it wouldn't bankrupt us, but how many other families could do this? It is very disturbing."

Anthony said: "I had huge worries throughout my exams about where I would go to college. Other students are not placed under this kind of pressure - they are given a place subject to their exam results. It is very upsetting to be placed at such a disadvantage from everyone else."

Liz Sayce, the commission's director of policy, said: "Colleges and universities must be aware that barring a disabled person on the grounds of their disability is discrimination. Health and safety excuses without a proper risk assessment are not acceptable - they put disabled people's futures at risk."

College principal Neville Ransley said college policy was not to comment publicly on any individual student's case.

A spokeswoman for the disabled rights' group Scope said: "We hope this landmark case will make education officials think carefully about refusing talented disabled students in future."

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