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TX: 04.09.03 – INJUNCTION FORCES COLLEGE TO ACCEPT DISABLED STUDENT
PRESENTER: DIANA MADILL



MADILL
Now this week 16-year-old Anthony Ford-Shubrook started sixth form college in London - nothing unusual about that - but what makes Anthony's situation different is that he had to win the first ever emergency court injunction under new anti-discrimination laws to be accepted for a place. St Dominic's College in Harrow had refused to take him because they said the fact he was a wheelchair user made him a safety risk. The information technology suite where Anthony would have been studying is on the first floor. Indeed many young disabled people are put off third level education because of the attitude and intransigence of some colleges. As it is disabled young people are half as likely to go to university as non-disabled contemporaries.

Anthony had his sight set on St Dominic's and as he and his mother Catherine told our reporter, Rachel Schofield, they were prepared to do what they could to overcome access problems.

CATHERINE SHUBROOK
The college did say can you come up with a solution for Anthony to get to his computer lesson, we came up with a climbing wheelchair. The purchase price is around $30,000, which I think translates into something like £22,000.

SCHOFIELD
Now you were prepared to find that money, so you were able to go to the head of the college and say okay it's going to cost us a lot of money but we've got the solution, we can get a situation where Anthony can get up the stairs, what was his response?

CATHERINE SHUBROOK
No response basically, he didn't comment at all. We showed him the wheelchair on the internet and that's where conversations ended and the next thing we had was a letter saying that Anthony could not attend St Dominic's because it was not safe for him with regards to health and safety. But in fact everyone refused to give us a copy of the health and safety report.

SCHOFIELD
So when you've had the answer health and safety you don't actually know what the problem with the wheelchair climbing the stairs would be?

CATHERINE SHUBROOK
Well this is apparently done - the health and safety report or inspection was done in March but it wasn't till June that we actually got a copy of this report, neither from the college nor from Harrow health and safety people but actually from the Disability Rights Commission. And it's when we read the report that we realised it wasn't applicable at all to Anthony and it couldn't be because Anthony was not involved in any of the health and safety tests that they did at the college.

SCHOFIELD
So you felt your next step was to take legal advice?

CATHERINE SHUBROOK
Yes, I mean we still tried writing to the college and we still tried pursuing Harrow's health and safety committee but we got absolutely nowhere, we literally weren't responded to. So then we felt we had no other choice but to talk to the Disability Rights Commission.

SCHOFIELD
Did you ever imagine you would have these kind of difficulties?

CATHERINE SPEAKING FOR ANTHONY FORD-SHUBROOK
Anthony's saying he is very surprised that the college couldn't accept him. All he's asking for is an education, he's not - he's not asking for a miracle.

SCHOFIELD
Are you optimistic that now you've started there you will be allowed to carry on?

CATHERINE SPEAKING FOR ANTHONY FORD-SHUBROOK
Anthony hopes - sincerely hopes that the principal of St Dominic would not wish him to leave and he hopes to continue to do his A Levels in the next two years.

MADILL
Catherine Shubrook and her son Anthony. We did ask to speak to St Dominic's College in Harrow but they said they don't discuss individual cases. So how much will this injunction ease the way for other students wanting to go to college? Is it the much needed breakthrough that Anthony and others need? Well earlier Liz Sayce at the Disability Rights Commission told me there was still some way to go.

SAYCE
The case still goes on but I think what's so important about this injunction is it's the first time that a college has been told, through law, that it has to accept a disabled student and that's a result of the Disability Discrimination Act coming into force in colleges and schools just a year ago and it means that he like any other young person is, at least for the moment, at the college that he wants to be at that offers the A Level courses that he wants to do and it's just what every young person wants and it should be available to young disabled people just like to any other young person.

MADILL
What actual rights do students now have under this new Special Educational Needs and Disability Act?

SAYCE
What the law says is that schools and colleges and universities mustn't treat a disabled person less favourably, so they mustn't discriminate directly - they can't say - We're not accepting you because you have a disability. And they also have to take reasonable steps to ensure that somebody can take part. So a reasonable step in this case might be saying - Well we can make this work, we can make this work in terms of health and safety, we can make it work in terms of where the IT equipment is placed in the school or whatever, we're going to find a solution to this. Rather than thinking, as I think historically, unfortunately, some colleges and some employers and so on have done, is to sort of say - Well we think there's a problem here, we don't know how to solve it so we'll say no, we'll say no this person can't come to this college or no we can't employ this person.

MADILL
How common do you feel this sort of discrimination is?

SAYCE
One of the things that worries us is that disabled young people are still only half as likely to go to university as non-disabled young people. So we've still got a long way to go to really get to an equal playing field. Young disabled people, in a survey we did, said that they didn't expect to be earning the same as their peers by the time they were 30. But young disabled people also are saying they're not going to put up with this, they really are fighting back against discrimination and I think we're seeing a real sea change in attitudes. So I think things are changing. But still discrimination is out there, there is no doubt that discrimination is still out there and it needs to be challenged.

MADILL
So the work of the Disability Rights Commission is therefore far from over because you have these people who are not particularly clear on it and not willing to help?

SAYCE
We've done a huge amount of work already and we're doing more with different organisations. For example, to let disabled students know their rights, if you don't know your rights you can't argue and you can't negotiate for what you need. So we've worked with the National Union of Students, we've worked with a lot of organisations in the education sector - Universities UK, Association of Colleges and so on - to really get the message out. Then there comes a point to say well you do know this, the information is all out there, now do it and if people don't do it we will have to use our legal powers because it's the only way to make sure disabled students gets their rights.

MADILL
Liz Sayce of the Disability Rights Commission.




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