Posted by: MandyS | September 26, 2011

Activity 5.1 – Accessibility Law

Just can’t get away from the law…

An interesting set of readings which suggest that the legislation is out there but it is not being used as effectively as it could be to ensure equality for disabled people. Compliance is a tenuous situation and largely depends upon the level of comittment an organisation has towards ensuring equality and the resources it has available. Essentially, doing the ‘bare minimum’ to demonstrate compliance is all that is required and for some organisations, this will represent the level of their committment. Accessibility is unlikely to show a marked improvement until it is accepted generally that it is a necessity rather than a luxury.

Resource 1: Seale

This part of the Chapter identifies the current legisaltion in various countries which is designed to provide equality for disabled people. The marked difference is that the US legislation focuses specifically on accessibility in the education sector; ironically, S.508 is regarded as not applying to the education sector yet a large proportion of institutions still comply with it. This may suggest the level of committment to accessible online learning is greater in the US than other countries. The UK appears to be getting there slowly but surely and at least online and elearning is recognised in the Codes of Practice, if nothing else. There is clearly a disparity between countries; the EU describes the legislation across the member states as ‘patchwork’, which is probably an apt description of accessibility worldwide.

Having the legislation is a start but it does not appear to be solving the problem based on Kurniawan’s research, which identifies 48% of sites as inaccessible.  Seale suggests that this is due to “confusion over guidelines/standards to adopt, differences between them and difficulties in interpretation.” Being very familiar with the complexities of statutory interpretation, I can well believe that this is an issue. But is ‘global standardisation’ the cure? Everyone ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ has its advantages – clarity, certainty etc. but as Seale argues, there needs to be a degree of flexibility to take account of the fact that ‘students with disabilities are a widely divergent group’. This really goes back to the ‘one size does not fit all’ argument.

The solution? find out what everyone else is doing and develop ‘best practice’ based on how others ‘interpret and implement’. This certainly sounds attractive but rather depends, yet again, on committment and resources.

Resource 2: Making Teaching Inclusive:

This is basically a consideration of the UK provisions for promoting disability equality and how they impact upon educational institutions. The focus of the legislation is on institutional change by means of ‘reasonable adjustment’ to ensure a disabled person is not substantially disadvantaged or treated less favourably because of their disability. This clearly has a cost implication so ‘what is reasonable depends on the circumstances’ i.e. importance, practicality and financial resources.

Institutions are required to ‘anticipate needs’, so that adjustments are made in advance, as opposed to on an ‘ad hoc’ basis. The significance of this is that it relates to all disabilities, not just those which fall into particular categories. Reasonable steps have to be taken to identify students with disabilities but of course this itself is dependent on students being fothcoming. On that basis, it is difficult to see how institutions can ‘anticipate needs’ of all disabilities and assess wether reasonable adjustments need to be made without having some firm idea about what the disabilities are, how they can be accomodated, the financial implications and their cost effectiveness. The key is encouraging as many students to disclose. It is apparent that there are a number of factors which affect willingness to disclose, confidentiality being one, The ‘aim is to create an atmosphere where student feels safe to disclose’. The issues  that come out of the video clips are that there is a right time and place to discuss disabilities and just because a student has dislcosed does not mean it is in the public domain. There is a knock on effect here; if disclosure of disability is treated appropriately, more students will be encouraged to disclose, the institutions will have a better idea of the impact of resources and how to channel them to ensure effective provision and accomodation.

The various video commentaries raise significant issues.

1. Judith – disability provision has to be inclusive and not seen as an ‘add-on’

2. Martin – legislation has to be wanted to have a positive change

3. Mark – meeting disabled student’s needs mustn’t have a detrimental effect on other students

4. Lindsey – disabled students want to have same experiences

5.  Paul – training is the means of putting policy into practice

6. Steph – for some disabilities the role of the tutor is in the support process e.g. finding rooms, having pens etc. and not necessarily the teaching process.

Resource 3: ENABLE:

The UN Convention places legal obligations on member states to promote and protect rights of persons with disabilities. It identifies the countries which have ratified it, the UK being one.

The aim is inclusion and Articles 4 & 24 are significant:

Article 4 –  consult and actively involve persons with disabilities in development & implementation of legislation and policies

Article 24 – ensure an inclusive education system which promotes full development of potential, personality, talents & creativity so that persons with disabilities can participate effectively in free society.

Resource 4: Moving Legislation into action:

This article is a comparison of the legilation that exists in India and South Africa and how it has been implemented.

India has specific legislation which provides access to education and employment,to the extent of imposing quotas for disabled provision. It has had a positive impact on the way in which disability is viewed in the country but little effort has been made to promote awareness.  As such, there is a ‘lack of political will, financial support and excessive bureaucracy’. One reason for this may be that although compliance is overseen by committees, there are no specific penalties for non-compliance.

In comparison, South Africa has amended its constitution to provide for access to education, employment and transport, there are disabled members within the government,’full participation of disabled people in the developing of policies’ is promoted and non-compliance can be pursued through the courts. However, as with India, Government departments do not ‘prioritise disability within their action plans’ and there is a ‘lack of knowledge amongst disabled people about the policies and their rights’. In that respect, sanctions do not appear to make any difference, but this could be more to do with the fact that those affected probably don’t have the resources to pursue non-compliance.

Both countries therefore aim to promote inclusion but, without Government committment and finanacial resources directed towards progress and, in particular, training, there is not going to be a significant improvement.
Resource 5: Australian Disability Rights Homepage:

This is the homepage for Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. The aim of the commission is to promote equal opportunity and provide help in understanding rights so that institutions can meet their legal responsibilities.
This then contrasts with the UK position which has now moved from having a dedicated Disability Commission to having a commission which covers all aspects of Equality and Human Rights. The right move? not according to Adams-Spink who suggests that disabilities are so diverse that minorty issues could be overlooked; a dedicated commission is required to ensure parity with other aspects of equality.
References:
Adams-Spink, G. (2008) Equality Body ‘Failing Disabled
[online], http://news.bbc.co.uk/ 1/hi/ uk/ 7643844.stm (accessed 20 September 2011)
Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (2011) Disability Rights home page [online], http://www.hreoc.gov.au/ disability_rights/ index.html
Making Your Teaching Inclusive (2006) Legal and Professional Context [online], http://www.open.ac.uk/inclusiveteaching/pages/legal-and-professional-requirements/index.php
Seale, J. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routlege; also available online at http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/resourcepage/view.php?id=569013&direct=1
United Nations (2008) Enable: Rights of Persons with Disabilities [online], http://www.un.org/ disabilities/
Wong-Hernandez, L. (2001) ‘Moving legislation into action: the examples of India & South Africa’ [online], Disability World, vol. 6, http://www.disabilityworld.org/ 01-02_01/ gov/ legislation.htm
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