Whistleblowers: Disabled symbol tainted

April 27, 2001

The Employment Service's "disability symbol" scheme offers a welcome tool to institutions seeking to celebrate their commitment to disability rights.

But a growing number of staff in the education sector fear that the logo, for use on job advertisements and corporate literature, is not worth the paper it is printed on.

At first glance, the scheme appears to have exacting standards monitored by the ES. To use the symbol, which allows holders to boast that they are "positive about disabled people", institutions must make five commitments such as pledging to keep employees if they become disabled.

Last month, The THES reported that the College of Ripon and York St John had been awarded the badge despite the ES being aware that the college faced an outstanding disability discrimination complaint, prolonged by a failed attempt by the college to have the tribunal claim quashed. As ES policy adviser Madeline Wood told The THES , to the outrage of disability rights groups, an employer could not be disadvantaged just because of "a gripe" from a member of staff.

The THES has now learnt that the ES does not necessarily expect symbol-users to have a clean record on discrimination issues.

In response to a complaint last year that Stratford-upon-Avon College was using the symbol while it faced allegations of disability discrimination, ES regional director Rosemary Threw said: "Failing to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act in a specific case or instance would not in itself mean that the disability symbol would be withheld or withdrawn. The disability symbol commitment is a statement of intent to meet, or to work towards meeting, a framework of disability practices and policies."

Stratford's record was well documented in The THES in 1999. It made two successful and long-serving vice-principals compulsorily redundant shortly after they became disabled - one with blindness and the other after a series of operations - during a restructure. The college had no senior staff redundancy procedures and the men were denied a formal selection process and interviews. The governors, clerked by an able-bodied vice-principal who kept his job, also breached procedures.

In the same year, the college was criticised by the funding council for weak equal opportunities policies. In June 1999, both disabled vice-principals won out-of-court settlements on the eve of their tribunals, with no admission of liability by the college. But these points failed to sway the ES. In early 2000, it ruled: "We challenged the college on their appropriateness for Symbol (sic) and were satisfied that they were meeting the commitments required."

Sheffield Hallam includes Pugh in RAE
In an apparent 11th-hour U-turn, Sheffield Hallam University decided to include disabled researcher Cedric Pugh in its submission for the 2001 research assessment exercise after The THES reported concerns about victimisation.
Professor Pugh, an international scholar who is in dispute with the university over alleged disability discrimination, had been told earlier this year that his research would not be entered into either of the two main assessment units relevant to his field, urban studies, as it was "not related to the key research themes" the university had developed for those areas.

But in a letter to Professor Pugh this month, school director Ted Kitchen said his work would be included in one of the units he had initially been told he would be excluded from.

A university spokesman this week denied the decision had been made as a result of allegations of victimisation. He said Professor Pugh had never been excluded as no decision had been made until recently. But Mr Kitchen confirmed in his letter that Professor Pugh's submission, unlike that of his colleagues, had been rushed through. "As I am sure you will understand, this has all been done absolutely at the last moment," Mr Kitchen said.

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