Education12th March 2015

Deaf Student and NDCS Force Government Re-Think

Following legal challenge, plans to limit the student's disability allowance will be re-considered

by Sarah Lawrence

NDCS Press Release
- Deaf student Zanna Messenger-Jones has forced the Government to back down on proposed restrictions to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

With the support of the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), Zanna, from Ireleth, Cumbria, brought judicial review proceedings against the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for its failure to consult properly on changes to the allowance, which provides vital support for disabled university students.

Zanna took action against proposals by BIS to cut back on the DSA, effectively handing universities the responsibility of bankrolling the needs of these young people.  However, BIS last night announced that it has postponed any changes until 2016-17 to allow for further consultation.

Susan Daniels, CEO for the National Deaf Children’s Society said:

“This announcement will come as a relief to students who rely on the Disabled Students’ Allowance to provide the vital support needed to access their course."

“The proposed changes threatened to severely compromise deaf young people’s access to Higher Education. It was unacceptable that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was proposing to push ahead without consulting those most directly affected. Deaf students like Zanna should not have to take legal action to force the Government to listen."

“We now look forward to working with the Government to ensure there are proper safeguards in place to protect deaf students’ support in Higher Education.”

The legal action, brought by solicitors Irwin Mitchell, had recently been given permission to proceed to a judicial review. The High Court was set to consider whether the Government had acted unlawfully in failing to consult directly with disabled students about the proposed changes. The Judge, Mrs Justice Lang, had already made clear that she was “not impressed” with the Government’s arguments that it didn’t have to consult. 

Commenting on the announcement to postpone the decision on changes to the DSA, Natasha Hirst, previously President of the National Union of Students’ in Wales said, “The Disabled Students’ Allowance is crucial for giving Deaf students access to higher education. Each student must have tailored support to meet their needs. Although some Universities provide great support and resources for Deaf students, not all do and it would be damaging for students to be at the mercy of unsupportive institutions when trying to secure access. It is important that the Government continues to fund the Disabled Students’ Allowance, and I urge people and organisations to respond to the consultation to help protect the funding.”

“Congratulations to Zanna and the NDCS for challenging the Government so successfully, this is an excellent example of how we can influence changes to Government decisions taking action."

NDCS opposes the changes because it is not clear what safeguards would be in place to protect disabled students if universities failed to pick up any additional costs. The changes threaten to leave disabled students at risk of going without the support they need. 

In their announcement, the BIS acknowledged that, “there are concerns that some [Higher Education] institutions are not yet in a position to deliver a fully accessible service to students, and that this may result in a negative impact for some students.”

NDCS now looks forward to working with the Government to make sure any changes are introduced in a way which ensures disabled students get the right support, with proper safeguards in place.

DSA is available for people with a disability, including a sensory impairment, autistic spectrum condition, long-term health condition, mental health condition or a specific learning difficulty like dyslexia. Many deaf students rely on DSA to fund any support they need to access their course. This support includes note-takers and radio aids.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Education

12th March 2015