Tags: Headteacher | Parent | SEN – Special Educational Needs | SENCO

Disabled children and young people can experience discrimination related to their disability in contexts that extend beyond school as the following story illustrates.

Samuel Doran, and eight-year-old boy who has Down’s syndrome, had been participating in swimming lessons for disabled children at a leisure centre in Barnsley. After learning to swim a length he wanted to move to a new ‘mainstream’ swimming class to further improve his skills. To support this transition his mother, Elaine Doran wanted to accompany him to these new lessons, but the manager of the leisure centre said this would not be possible and then refused to register Samuel for the course of lessons. This refusal was linked to concerns about the qualifications of swimming instructors and whether they were allowed to teach disabled children to swim.

Samuel and his mum complained to the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), and they funded a case against the leisure centre which was taken forward through a local legal firm employing a solicitor with specialist knowledge of disability discrimination. The outcome of the case was as follows.

  • Samuel was awarded £1,500 compensation for ‘injury to feelings’ and the ban on his accessing mainstream swimming lessons was lifted.
  • All swimming instructors at the local leisure centre would be trained to Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) Level 2 standard, enabling them to teach disabled participants in lessons.
  • The leisure centre agreed to improve the access to their services for all their disabled customers and to rewrite all written information for disabled customers so that staff know when to offer assistance if needed.

Commenting on the outcome of the case, Elaine Doran said: ‘Our fundamental argument was that there were no legitimate grounds for Samuel to be excluded from the lessons in the first place.’ She also noted how the leisure centre had responded positively to the complaint, changing its policy and practice and helping ‘other leisure centres and service providers to realise what can be achieved with a little effort to improve access to facilities for those in need of extra assistance’.

Note: Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has come into effect in three stages and these have gradually ensured that disability rights legislation has become increasingly comprehensive.

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Sep 2005

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