Former Queen's student settles discrimination case for £20,000

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Sarah Walker said the support she needed to study at QUB was "neither clear nor in place"

A former student at Queen's University Belfast has been awarded £20,000 after she settled a case in which she alleged disability discrimination.

Sarah Walker, who has cystic fibrosis, was studying midwifery in 2018 when she was admitted to hospital.

When Ms Walker tried to resume her studies, she was told she had missed too much of her first term.

Queen's said it was committed "to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students".

Ms Walker was admitted to hospital two weeks after starting the course in September 2018 due to a chest infection.

Supported in her case by the Equality Commission, she said Queen's University Belfast (QUB) was aware of her condition and was told "reasonable adjustments were in place, including a note taker at lectures and she would be able to resume her studies".

'Some understanding'

In October 2018, Ms Walker tried to return to the midwifery course, but was told she had missed too much, including two practical classes, and would have to withdraw for the rest of the academic year.

"I just wanted to study for my chosen career in midwifery. I needed some extra support and above all some understanding of the life-long condition that I live with," she said.

In a statement, QUB said: "In line with regulations from the Nursing and Midwifery Council, students in the School of Nursing and Midwifery are not permitted to take part in clinical placements unless they have attended essential teaching.

"This is to ensure both the health and safety of the students, as well as the patients they encounter while on placement."

Image source, PAcemaker
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Queen's University Belfast said it could not comment on specific cases

The Equality Commission said the university advised Ms Walker she could return to her course in September 2019 and they would meet her beforehand to discuss "reasonable adjustments".

That meeting took place in October 2019 and she was told she could return the following day.

However, Ms Walker said she was not given enough clarity about what measures would be in place and as the course had already started, she felt unable to return.

"Unfortunately, I felt I had to withdraw from the course as I considered the support I needed was neither clear nor in place to allow me to progress," said Ms Walker.

No admission of liability

The chief executive of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland said Ms Walker's experiences highlighted "the importance of universities ensuring that they take steps to support students with disabilities".

"Universities must make reasonable adjustments to all policies, procedures and practices to ensure that a disabled student is not placed at a disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled," said Evelyn Collins.

In settling the case, the Equality Commission said QUB apologised to Ms Walker for injury to feelings and distress she experienced while making no admission of liability.

The university said it could not comment on specific cases but it had a dedicated disability services team and a robust equality, diversity and inclusion policy.

"Queen's is committed to creating an inclusive environment and will continue to work hard to ensure any students with disabilities have the appropriate support in place for their chosen course of study and wider participation in university life,"the statement added.

"For students with disabilities, specific assessments are made and, where appropriate, support mechanisms are put in place."