The Disability Discrimination Act aims to encourage institutions to provide a better service for students with disabilities. Welsh higher education institutions this week became the first to submit disability statements under the new Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
The statements are one requirement for higher education under the Act, which exempts Government-funded institutions and does not require them to make changes to cater for disabled students.
However, funding councils are now required to ensure that disability statements are published before making grants. The statements will give disabled students a better idea of what services and facilities universities and colleges offer.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England says the documents should contain information on the nature and range of provision for disabled students; policies and procedures; advice, services and materials; institutional support; and academic services and support arrangements. The statements should be four to eight pages long and available in other forms such as large print or audio cassette.
Institutions in England have until January 10, 1997, to lodge their statements with HEFCE, while the Scottish documents will be published in spring 1997.
In its guide to the Act for education providers, Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, says the law requires institutions only to state what policies and provisions exist, and not to change them. Nevertheless, it states: "Funding councils hope that disability statements will encourage the sector to improve standards."
The Careers Advisory Network on Disability Opportunities, based at Lancaster University, has offered to post all disability statements on its Web site. The address is http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/uniservices/careers/cando.
The Act also obliges the funding councils to consider the impact that all their activities, including funding and quality assessment, will have on the disabled.
All institutions are affected by the Act in their capacity as employers. It is now unlawful to treat a disabled person less favourably than a non-disabled person without good reason, and from 1997 onwards, reasonable adjustments must be made to working conditions or the workplace to help a disabled person do a job. Institutions offering non-educational services, such as conference facilities, to the public must comply with the goods, facilities and services section of the Act.
From December 2, it will be unlawful to refuse to serve a disabled person, make it difficult for the disabled to use a service or offer a disabled person a lower standard of service. According to Skill, students' unions, student accommodation, catering and sports facilities, training and careers services must comply with these requirements.
The Act has implications for further education as well. English and Welsh further education funding councils will require colleges to publish disability statements by December. Local education authorities in England and Wales must follow suit by autumn 1997.
In addition, the two councils will have to report annually on their progress in providing for disabled students, and future plans.