From education to employment

New legal duties said to “enable not disable”

Legal duties introduced yesterday could “greatly improve” the prospects of disabled people working or hoping to work in colleges and universities across the country.

The University and College Union (UCU) announced that the “Disability Equality Duty” introduced yesterday was a “breakthrough”, with the union proposing practical guidance for implementation.

UCU National Official Roger Kline noted: “The new Equality Duty is a great breakthrough, and UCU is proposing practical things we can do in partnership with managers to ensure that every college and university has a welcoming, positive attitude towards disabled staff and students”.

The new equality duty requires public sector bodies, including colleges and universities, to prevent and tackle disability discrimination and to actively promote equality for disabled people. Colleges and universities also have a duty to involve disabled people in developing good practice, and are advised to consult staff unions.

Further, the UCU has created a guide entitled “Enabling not Disabling” to inform members on the rights of disabled staff, and contains a check-list so that the union’s branches can see how their institutions measure up to their new obligations.

Mr Kline added: “The lack of a disability-sensitive culture in many colleges and universities can make disabled staff less likely to take up training or seek promotion. This could explain the vast under-representation of disabled people in positions which they could occupy”.

“Reasonable adjustments” will be made to accommodate existing disabled staff, with a further push to realign recruitment practices so that “suitable disabled candidates are not excluded from consideration”.

Paul Brown, Director with the University of Dundee and part of the UCU’s Disability Members” Group added: “The duty is a landmark in disabled peoples” struggle for fully comprehensive and enforceable civil rights”.

Roisin Kiernan.

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