Hundreds of students were expected to join the National Union of Students' lobby of Parliament this Thursday in protest at the Government's Disabilities Discrimination Bill.
Jim Murphy, president of the NUS, said: "The Government's Bill is fundamentally flawed. There is absolutely no mention of further and higher education, except to explicitly exclude colleges from ensuring the right to goods and services, and the Bill ignores the entire issue of the lack of accessability which in essence prevents equality of opportunity."
Rights Now, the umbrella campaign of interest groups and charities representing the disabled, was also planning a rally. Campaigners oppose the Bill because its definition of the disabled is too narrow; it will only provide an advisory council for those with disabilities and not an enforcement body; and it will only apply to firms employing more than 20 people.
The NUS is working with Rights Now to seek to amend clause 12 of the Bill to extend the right of access to goods and services to include institutions of further and higher education. Under the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act a duty was imposed on the Further Education Funding Council to ensure provision for students with disabilities. But further education colleges, the higher education funding councils and higher education institutions have no such duties.
The NUS supports a private member's Bill put forward by Harry Barnes, Labour MP for Derbyshire, North East, which would provide greater access and equal opportunities for people with disabilities. This civil rights (disabled persons) Bill will receive its second reading today.
The Government's Bill received its second reading on January 24 and went into committee on January 31. It is not expected to go to the report stage until late March.