Chris Purnell from Lead Scotland shares his personal experience and wants to make sure as many young disabled people as possible, who are leaving school and starting college or university, know about their rights and where they can get support.
I began working for Lead Scotland as an intern after completing my counselling diploma. Lead Scotland provides information and advice to disabled people in relation to post-16 learning opportunities in Scotland – whether education, training or employment programmes. In passing, I told my manager, Rebecca, what I had been going through at my university when I was on a placement.
During the final year of my course, I was doing a placement at a counselling organisation and the manager said she wasn’t happy with anyone pushing me in my wheelchair up the ramp into the building, as the organisation did not want to be liable for any injury if I fell. I asked if it would be possible to install a different ramp that wouldn’t require someone to push me up, however she refused, saying it would be too expensive.
Despite arguing my case and making reference to ‘reasonable adjustments’ and the Equality Act, the manager would not change her mind. I felt disempowered and depressed about the situation I was being forced into and I was worried that I would have to drop out. In the end, I asked if it was ok if someone, not connected with the organisation, pushed me up the ramp, to which she agreed. I found a taxi firm willing to do it for £60 a month. In total it cost me £480 to access the building for the remainder of my course.
Rebecca advised me that both the university and the placement provider had a duty to provide me with reasonable adjustments. This means that if a ramp was not deemed to be a suitable option, then it would have been reasonable to expect the placement provider or the university to pay the £480, because extra costs incurred as a result of an impairment cannot be passed on to a disabled person. She asked me if I had applied for Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA), as potentially I could have had those expenses reimbursed by the Student’s Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). It hadn’t occurred to me to apply for DSA as I didn’t know it could be used for travel costs. I wish someone had told me about this option at the time that I was having the issue, but it was never mentioned.
What I know now is that DSA helps disabled students, not only with extra travel expenses relating to an impairment but also funding towards items of specialist equipment you might need in order to participate in a course, like adaptive technology, specialist furniture and non-medical personal helpers like sign language interpreters.
I wish I had known about Lead Scotland and DSA when I was at university, however, I want to make sure as many young disabled people as possible, who are leaving school and starting college or university know about their rights and where they can get support.
The Lead Scotland helpline can be reached on 0800 999 2568 Monday, Wednesday & Thursday 2pm-4pm and Tuesday & Friday 10am-12pm. Or you can email at any time firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit www.lead.org.uk