Northern Ireland

Disabled woman wins £1,000 compensation over college's lift problems

Claire Taggart using a lift
Image caption Claire Taggart said she had been told to go home from the college when its lift was not working

A disabled County Antrim student who needed to be rescued after becoming stuck in a lift in her wheelchair has been awarded £1,000 in compensation.

Claire Taggart, 20, from Larne, was trapped in the lift at the Northern Regional College in Newtownabbey.

She received compensation from the college, along with a commitment to improve access, after a body that oversees equality law took up her case.

The college has apologised for the "unacceptable difficulties".

Access

Claire, who is hoping to compete for Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the Paralympic Games this summer, said lifts breaking down at the college had been a recurring problem that had caused her to miss her classes.

"I was even told to go home because the lifts were not working," she said.

Image caption Claire said she felt she had to choose between her dignity and her education

"Making sure someone like me can actually get to my classes is the most basic requirement when it comes to providing equal access for disabled students.

She said at times it was a choice "between dignity or my education".

"There was a couple of times where I had to crawl up the stairs on my backside and my classmates would have carried my chair up for me," she said.

Claire approached the Equality Commission, which fought her case.

Complaints

As well as compensating Claire, the college has now upgraded the lift and arranged for it to be serviced on a monthly basis.

Michael Wardlow of the Equality Commission said: "Disabled students with mobility problems shouldn't be put off going to college, with all it has to offer them, just because the lifts don't work.

"Every year the commission gets more complaints about disability than about any other sort of discrimination.

"The most common cause of complaint regarding access to education is the failure of institutions to make a reasonable adjustment so that a disabled person is not placed at a disadvantage in comparison with other students."

In a statement, Northern Regional College said: "We regret that one of our former students experienced circumstances whilst studying in Newtownabbey in 2014 that fell short of our normal standards of access.

"We aim to promote equality of opportunity in all of the college's activities, and to ensure that we provide a supportive, fair, inclusive and welcoming environment for all staff, students and visitors free from any form of discrimination or harassment.

"In the time since this incident we have carried out an upgrade to a number of lifts and continue to ensure that all lifts are serviced on a monthly basis. We have also improved CCTV coverage on site."

The college said it was continuing "ongoing awareness-raising" of the needs of disabled students.