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Universities could face disability discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010

Sophie Spector has OCD, ADHD and dyslexia. She says she asked for concessions in her exams, but was refused. “The key thing I wanted was extended deadlines because I am a really slow reader. But they just dismissed it and I started to struggle and fall behind.” Instead of meeting her request, she says that the college set her further exams with a higher pass mark than her peers. She also alleged that the college pressured her to go on medical leave rather than deal with her conditions.Spector gained access to internal college correspondence under a subject access request, and says she was “shocked” at what she found. Her condition was discussed between staff with little concern. In one email, the member of staff who was responsible for students’ welfare, state that she would need “the absolute maximum limit of whatever concessions are allowed.” He went on to ask, “Why did we admit her?” and suggests that she be seen by a doctor “who can be straight and firm with histrionics and panic”. It is alleged that the university treated Miss Spector less favourably because of her disability, the case raises broader questions for universities which, like employers, have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments in the cases of those who are experiencing difficulties due to their disabilities. For universities, a failure to make an adjustment, provided it is reasonable, to enable a student to access course facilities and participate in assessments,  may well lead to a claim of discrimination..
Commenting on the case, our education law expert, Angela Sandhal, said “there are many ways that universities can help disabled students participate in their courses and there is considerable guidance available from a range of organisations including the GMC for medical students, who can sometimes find that universities will not make adjustments to assessments even though there are a range of reasonable possibilities which would not undermine competency standards.  Ensuring appropriate teacher training from the outset and grappling with what’s needed as early as possible are key to identifying a solution before matters become problematic.
Conversely, encouraging a student to take medical leave is not always useful and, as in Miss Spector’s case, it can ultimately lead to the student feeling unable to resume their studies at a time when considerable resources have been invested in their degree.”     Do you need advice on the Equality Act 2010? Talk to us. We are experienced in disability, education and employment law and can give you the expert advice you need.  We also offer a wide range of training to organisations. Call 01302 320621 or email

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