Provision and adjustments for disabled students are underpinned by legislation.
The Equality Act 2010 stops the University from discriminating against, harassing, or victimising people with disabilities. It places a duty on the University to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. It's the main piece of legislation that protects the rights of disabled applicants, students, and former students.
It'd be important for you to have an understanding of the following concepts. And to know what to do if you witness, or if a student reports, an incident of discrimination, harassment, or victimisation.
Direct disability discrimination occurs when you treat a person less favourably because of their disability. For example, the university refuses to offer a place to a student because they have disclosed a disability.
Direct disability discrimination based on association occurs when you treat a person less favourably because of their association with a disabled person. For example, a student whose child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is refused access to a graduation ceremony because of fears about the child’s behaviour.
Direct disability discrimination based on perception occurs when you treat a person less favourably because you mistakenly think that they have a protected characteristic. For example, a member of staff refuses to work with a student because they believe that the student has a disability, irrespective of whether the student has a disability or not.
Indirect disability discrimination occurs when a provision, criteria, or practice is applied in the same way for all students but this has the effect of putting students with disabilities at a particular disadvantage. It cannot be shown to be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, such as maintaining academic standards or ensuring the health and safety welfare of all students.
For example, the university’s sports and leisure department has organised a weekend excursion. On safety grounds, it requires a medical certificate of good health for all participants. A student cannot get such a certificate because her doctor does not consider her to be “in good health”. She has severe depression. This may be considered to be indirect disability discrimination. The blanket application of the policy is unlikely to be justified because some conditions, such as mental health problems, do not in practice impede the ability to undertake exercise safely.
Disability harassment is unwanted behaviour related to disability that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for the student. For example, a lecturer mimics a student with Asperger’s syndrome. The student could bring a claim of harassment related to disability.
It is unlawful victimisation for the University to treat someone badly because they have made a complaint about discrimination or harassment under the Act. Or if they have helped someone else to make a complaint.
For example, with the previous example of harassment, if another student supported the student with disabilities to make his complaint about harassment and was as a consequence ostracised by the lecturer/department, this would be victimisation.
The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on the University to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. This means that you should do things differently if the way you normally do them would substantially disadvantage a disabled person. It can also mean that you provide additional resources or equipment. Examples of reasonable adjustments include:
- changing standard procedures, such as admissions or assessment procedures
- adapting the curriculum, modifying teaching delivery or providing alternative forms of assessment
- adapting facilities, such as those in laboratories, or library or IT facilities
- providing additional services, such as a sign language interpreter or learning materials in alternative formats
- altering the physical environment to make it more accessible
The University also has a duty to anticipate reasonable adjustments. That is, to plan and take proactive steps to address the barriers that impede disabled people. And, where feasible, to put adjustments in place in advance. Anticipatory adjustments should be made for students with all disabilities, not just for the categories of disability that students in your department have.