Schools, further education colleges, universities and bodies responsible for educational establishments such as the Education Authority, Boards of Governors, CCMS, are all included.
No. There are different types of disability discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful. The main forms are:
Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others, on grounds of your disability, when an education or associated services provider:
Refuses or deliberately fails to provide a service;
Provides a service of a lower quality, in a worse manner or on worse terms than is normally the case.
For example: A secondary school is arranging work experience placements for its students. Two years ago, a student experienced a period of depression lasting 18 months, during which he attempted suicide. The school decided that a placement would be too stressful for the student and did not arrange a placement for him.
Reasonable adjustment is specific to disability discrimination law. Education and associated services provider need to consider all requirements and remove any barriers, physical or otherwise, that could make it difficult for you to undertake a course of study.
For example: A student with a visual impairment is following a distance learning course administrated by a local university. She sends her essays electronically but receives marked essays by post with handwritten comments in the margin that she is unable to read.
Harassment in schools is not specifically included in the law, but such a complaint can be made under the direct discrimination provisions. Harassment in institutions of further and higher education is included in the law and it is where a person behaves in a way, on disability grounds, which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
For example: A student with a disability went to the college’s canteen every lunch time, but recently a group of non-disabled students regularly made fun of her and stole her food. She was left feeling intimidated and stopped going to the canteen and instead eats her lunch in the corridor.
Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of disability discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint about an education or associated services provider under the special educational needs and disability discrimination law, and suffered as a result.
For example: A non-disabled student acts as a witness in a complaint by a disabled student against a teacher and after investigation of the matter the Principal upholds the disabled student’s complaint. Afterwards, the non-disabled student finds that her homework grades in the subject taught by this teacher are consistently lower than is usual for her.
You are protected from disability discrimination in the provision of education and associated services whether they are paid for or free. They include:
Provision of education:
- admission arrangements
- timetabling / homework
- assessment and exam arrangements
- school discipline and sanctions
- suspension / expulsion procedures
- work experience
- preparation for the next phase of education
- access to school facilities / clubs / activities and trips
- Institutions of Further and Higher Education
- Teacher training
- Agricultural colleges
Provision of education:
- Training courses and distance learning – day and evening
- Careers advice and graduation ceremonies
- Curriculum design, examinations and assessments
- Arranging study abroad or work placements
- Leisure, recreation, entertainment and sports facilities
- Catering and child care facilities
- Campus or college owned shops and car parking
- Residential accommodation
- Financial advice and welfare services
- General qualifications bodies:
- Provision of extra time or assistance in examinations
- Granting exemptions
However, there are limited circumstances where special educational needs and disability discrimination is allowed.
- Schools are not required to provide auxiliary aids and services* or disabled students without an identified Special Educational Need (SEN**).
(*the provision of a special piece of equipment or simply extra assistance to disabled students from specially trained staff. **SEN - when a student has significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of students and the education provider make a formal statement identifying the student’s needs and the full range of provision required to ensure participation in education)
- When it is necessary to maintain academic standards.
Over the past three years we have helped nearly 304 people who have experienced some form of disability discrimination in schools, colleges and universities. The most common complaint is that education providers have failed to make a reasonable adjustment for the disabled pupil/student.
What can I do myself?
1. Contact our discrimination advice officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance. Should you decide to take your case to court, you can ask for us to provide legal representation.
2. Raise your complaint directly with the education body or vocational training provider and seek a resolution.
3. Go directly to court or tribunal with your own legal representative to lodge a complaint of discrimination.
a. There is a special tribunal called SENDIST which deals with disability complaints against schools
b. Complaints against institutions of further and higher education are heard in a county court.
4. For complaints against expulsion in grant aided schools contact the Education Authority expulsions appeals tribunal.
How can the Equality Commission help me?
1. We provide advice and assistance.
2. We provide legal representation in a limited number of cases.
Only a tribunal/court decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600 (10am-4pm, Mon-Fri).