In the first case, we forwarded an anonymous email we had received to the Scottish Just Law Centre (SJLC) which highlighted that a particular Scottish university had withdrawn a “reasonable adjustment” from disabled students allowing them extra time in exams, as all students had been allowed extra time as they are currently sitting their exams remotely, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Disability Information Scotland had also raised this issue with the legal team on behalf of two disabled students.
The SJLC offered to take on an affected individual as a client, with a view to pursuing strategic litigation that could benefit all affected students. However, none of the students wanted to be named within court documents, as they feared further reprisals from the university if they openly challenged the new policy.
Instead, the SJLC drafted a template letter outlining why this policy breached the university’s duties under the Equality Act. The template was circulated so that any affected student could use it in submissions to the university.
Within twenty-four hours of several students using the template, the university backed down, and reinstated all disabled students’ extra time relating to their impairments, over and above the extra time given to all students to accommodate sitting the exams remotely. An excellent result for all concerned.
The second successful case concerned a disabled man with a visual impairment who had been receiving correspondence from his local authority for many years that he could not read or understand.
It transpired that he had contacted his local authority several times to explain that, because he needs to use a computer screen reader programme that allows blind and visually impaired people to read the screen with text to speech output, he requires all letters to be sent in word-only format, preferably by email, as the software could not describe images or tables.
His requests were repeatedly ignored, and the local authority continued to send important correspondence that was inaccessible to him. This led to problems in relation to his tenancy and council tax, and a delay in him claiming Universal Credit. He mentioned this to Inclusion Scotland, and they referred him into the SJLC.
The SJLC agreed to represent him legally, and sent his local authority a letter before judicial review action, submitting that their client would have no option but to issue judicial review proceedings for a breach of the Equality Act if his local authority did not confirm that they would make the “reasonable adjustment” of sending correspondence in an accessible format within a further two weeks. Without the SJLC needing to resort to legal action, the local authority has provided that confirmation, and the client has begun to receive accessible communications. His response is below:
“After 19 years of fruitless campaigning I was heartened to hear that my local council will now endeavour to provide all future correspondence in an accessible format which will enhance my independent living and reduce the stress I experience and the possibility of accruing debt on rent and council tax payments. A big thanks to the SJLC for their support in finally resolving this matter.”
As Gwyneth King, consultant solicitor for the SJLC, explains, both cases serve to highlight what disabled people can achieve when they are able to access the legal support they need to tackle instances of disability discrimination:
“The Equality Act has been in force for over a decade, yet public bodies and public service providers still have policies and practices that treat disabled people less favourably, resulting in them experiencing discrimination and disadvantage.
The SJLC has been created to provide the legal tools to help disabled people hold them to account, and ensure they fulfil their equality duties.
Legal action is not confined to taking the public body or service provider in question to court – as these cases demonstrate, a legal solution can often be achieved quickly and effectively by simply writing a letter, or submitting a complaint, quoting the relevant parts of the Equality Act.
We are passionate about enabling disabled people to realise their equality and human rights.”
You can down load the template letter for disability discrimination / refusal of additional examination time as a reasonable adjustment for a disabled student: SJLC disabled student extra exam time template (Word Doc)
This template letter was drafted by the Scottish Just Law Centre at JustRight Scotland as an aid to students who have had their extra exam time removed. It is not intended as a form of individual legal advice.