UK schools, universities and colleges are all subject to the 2010 Equality Act, which has extensive provisions relating to discrimination in education. Any pupils or students suffering from disabilities should make the institution they will attend aware of their disability, and once that institution is aware, it is obliged by law to make sure that systems are in place that will address the disability of the student. Or as stated in the relevant legislation (which also includes the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995), it must provide reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils.
The duty as described in the law is ‘to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid substantial disadvantage’ to a disabled person caused by a provision or practice applied by or on behalf of an educational institution, or by the absence of an aid or service. As explained in the Equality Act 2010, the reasonable adjustments duty is split into three elements:
- Physical features, such as layout and access to buildings and classrooms
- Provisions, criteria or practices, including company policies
- Provision of auxiliary aids, including providing information in an accessible format such as Braille, large print or email
As you would imagine, the 'physical features' element means that educational institutions have a duty to ensure that there is suitable and effective access for disabled pupils and students generally and that the physical environment of the school does not put them at a disadvantage.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments in relation to 'provisions, criteria and practices' relates generally to how the education and other facilities and services are provided. This covers all of an educational institution’s arrangements, procedures, policies and activities.
With regard to auxiliary aids, further or higher education institutions must take reasonable steps to provide any auxiliary aid or service, including anything from the provision of a particular item of equipment to the provision of extra staff assistance. It also includes, as we have seen above, the provision of information in an accessible format.
Where any of the elements above place a disabled person ‘at a substantial disadvantage’, the educational institution must take any steps that are considered ‘reasonable in all the circumstances’ to ensure that that disadvantage does not occur.
Furthermore, the duty to make these reasonable adjustments is ongoing. In the case of an adjustment being made but subsequently proving ineffective in overcoming the disadvantage to the disabled pupil or student, then the institution must try again. It is not acceptable to assume that making one adjustment, irrespective of effectiveness, is enough to discharge the duty.
Failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils is considered discrimination and it is against the law. If you believe reasonable adjustments have not been made in your case, then why not call our specialist team of education lawyers today to discuss your situation in complete confidence.