If you are a disabled student or a student with any kind of special educational needs and despite being previously and fully informed of your disability, your university has failed to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that you receive as good an education as your able-bodied peers, your university is, according to the Equality Act of 2010, guilty of unlawful discrimination. If you believe that this failure has impacted your degree classification, you may be able to have your result overturned or be allowed to retake the examination.
The Equality Act contains extensive provisions relating to the prevention of discrimination within all educational institutions in England and Wales. Disabled university students should have made their university aware of their specific disability on application, before actually attending the institution, although in some cases this is not always possible. Once made aware, however, all universities in England and Wales then have an obligation under the law to make certain that all relevant systems are in place to address the disabilities of that student. The Equality Act decrees that all educational institutions must ensure that "reasonable adjustments" are made for students with disabilities, so that they are not disadvantaged by their disability.
What exactly is meant by making "reasonable adjustments"?
As laid out in the Equality Act, the duty of every university is to take any steps that are deemed reasonable to make sure that disabled students are not placed at a "substantial disadvantage". This obligation to ensure that reasonable adjustments are provided is split into three individual areas:
- Adjustments to the university's physical features, as in the actual bricks and mortar of the institution. Typically, this refers to physical access to university buildings and classrooms and comprises the provision of ramps, stair lifts, doors of a suitable width, clear signage and extra lighting where appropriate. Essentially, this means ensuring that the physical make-up of any educational institution does not place disabled students at an unfair disadvantage.
- Adjustments to what the Equality Act terms "provisions, criteria or practices". This includes such things as disciplinary procedures and in essence covers all the university's official policies, procedures, arrangements and activities.
- Adjustments to the provision of whatever auxiliary aids are appropriate. This would include ensuring that all information (both educational and administrative) is provided in accessible formats, most commonly large print text and Braille. These adjustments also comprise the mandatory provision of any specialist equipment and when necessary, the assistance of supplementary staff.
So, what do I do when reasonable adjustments have not been made?
If your university has failed to provide any or all the above reasonable adjustments, you have the right to challenge this. In some cases, your first course of action might be simply to request that the university makes the necessary changes. However, if you feel that the damage has been done, you have already been placed at a disadvantage and your education has suffered as a result i.e. you failed an examination due to lack of reasonable adjustments being made, you have every right to launch an Academic Appeal.
In most cases, the official internal procedures of your university will request that in the first instance, you make a written submission explaining your situation and requesting an appeal. Your case will then be reviewed by a designated decision-maker, who will decide either that they agree with your claims and take the appropriate action, or that you need to appear before an appeals panel and formally present your case.
If you would appreciate some expert support, please don't hesitate to give our team of dedicated education lawyers a call today. We will discuss your case with you in total confidence and advise you how best to proceed.