Blind University of Glasgow student 'faced reading list discrimination'

By Jamilla Malik
BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme

Gary CoplandImage source, Family photo
Image caption,
Gary Copland said he was offered little exam support by the university

A severely visually-impaired student fears he will fail his final year at university because of "discrimination".

Gary Copland says the University of Glasgow failed to provide him with accessible books, and then marked him down for citing too few materials.

He said he was made to feel like he was taking up too many resources and was offered little exam support.

The university acknowledged some shortcomings but said it was committed to "equality of opportunity".

Mr Copland, 27, told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme his experience of studying law at the university had been "characterised by multiple barriers, failings, misunderstandings, stress, anxiety and a sense that there is no way forward to resolve the numerous issues".

He said there had been "repeated failures" and "huge delays" in making course texts accessible to him in all four academic years.

In his first year, he said, he was provided with just one out of 600 texts in a digitised format - causing him to have to retake two exams.

And he said even in his current fourth academic year he had received accessible versions of only 3% of course materials.

'Allowances made'

Mr Copland, who also has autism, told the BBC he had also been put at a disadvantage during exams.

He said tests were halted because of technical issues, exams lasting up to five hours had no screen breaks and in one instance an agreed support worker was barred from the exam room because the invigilator had not been informed.

And he said his request for such experiences to be taken into consideration and his grades moderated was refused by the university.

In letters seen by the BBC, the university accepted Mr Copland did not receive all the reading material he needed during the first three years of his course - and not all of that which was provided arrived in time.

But it said allowances had been made and extra time allowed during examinations to take into account his needs.

Mr Copland and his family made 19 formal complaints about his concerns between 2016 and 2019.

Both the university and the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SCPO) upheld a complaint in April 2019 relating to insufficient reading material being made available.

The SCPO is still investigating other complaints made during that time.

Mr Copland's family said seven complaints to the university - including failings with IT systems, exam results being downgraded and an accusation of victimisation - were not upheld.

They said five were partially upheld, while the others were rejected - resulting in no action being taken - or were still outstanding, although the university says all but one complaint has been dealt with.

Image source, AGF
Image caption,
The University of Glasgow said its Disability Service provides dedicated support for students with disabilities and impairments

The University of Glasgow said in a statement it always seeked to address the needs of individual students and to offer appropriate support, but in some complex cases "this can take some time to get right".

It added: "In this instance, huge efforts have been made by both academic and professional support colleagues (aided by expert external advice) to ensure that the student can progress his studies effectively.

"We are pleased that he is progressing well at an academic level. Preparations for his next year of study have been under way for some time and we are confident that we will be able to continue to support him effectively through to the completion of his studies."

But Mr Copland said that "little, if anything, has changed" since he first reported issues to the university.

He has now been diagnosed with depression, and said he had "numerous doubts about my ability to complete my studies".

He added: "I do not know what I will do or what will happen if this does not get resolved."

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