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The Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the funding body for the Further Education sector, have called upon disabled people to contribute to the formulation of future policies within the LSC's remit.

The call comes during the period when the future policy of the LSC within this area is being considered. The campaign aims to raise the level of participation and involvement within the disabled population, and has been launched by the Chair of the LSC, Chris Banks, during the course of his visit to Portland College (a specialist residential college for students with physical disabilities).

Talking to Des

The campaign is called "Talk to Des", and is one part of a broader involvement and inclusion programme. The intention is to gather as much feedback as possible on the policies of the LSC in this area from the people directly involved; from disabled young people, their parents, carers and other participants. The survey will be conducted electronically, and will be joined by an online discussion forum established by the LSC as a first in the field to promote equality and further enhance the sharing and dissemination of experiences and ideas.

The requirement of the LSC to investigate the specific needs stems from the Disability Discrimination Act, which was introduced in 2005. It placed the responsibility for promoting equality and opportunity within FE for disabled people both amongst learners and amongst employees squarely on the multi billion pound funding body's shoulders. This will result in the Disability Equality Duty being introduced throughout the public sector from the end of 2006. Specifically, the LSC will be required to publish their Disability Equality Scheme (DES) and their SMART Action Plan by the 4th of December 2006.

The LSC hope to involve hundreds in influencing the future of the LSC's policy, during the period of consultation and beyond in implementation. The consultation period, during which disabled people across the country will be asked to "Talk to DES", will end in November. The LSC's requirements in carrying out the functions of its remit include the following considerations: to eliminate unlawful disability discrimination and disability-related harassment; to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people; to promote positive attitudes to disabled people; and to encourage disabled people to participate in public life.

Engagement

The aim, following the consultation, is to remove the problems of discrimination and disability related harassment. The programme will also seek to encourage an environment of equality of opportunity. DES itself will be involved in establishing the ways in which disabled people were involved and the means through which the evidence is to be gathered and used. Speaking at the East Midlands "“ located Portland College, Chris Banks issued the invitation to participate.

Speaking both as the Chair of the LSC and as the Disability Equality Duty (DED) Champion for the Disability Rights Commission, he said: "We know that disabled learners do not always have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers. The Disability Equality Duty and the requirement to involve disabled people aims to change this.

"Involving disabled staff and the public in producing our Disability Equality Scheme will mean that disabled people's experiences are really listened to, and barriers are identified and removed," he continued, then adding: "The DED sets a new legal standard for everyone in the public sector. It is about weaving equality for disabled people, into policy and practice in practical and demonstrated ways."

The LSC has recently published its Annual Report (for further analysis of the report, stay here with FE News). It would seem that this consultation process will mean that the budgetary allocation in this area for the years ahead will be effectively targeted to address the issues that face those most directly affected.

Jethro Marsh

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