Former midwifery student settles disability discrimination case against QUB
A former midwifery student at Queen’s University Belfast has settled a disability discrimination case against the university for £20,000.
Sarah Walker, who lives with cystic fibrosis, brought the case with support from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI).
The university has sincerely apologised to Ms Walker for the injury to feelings and distress she experienced while making no admission of liability.
Ms Walker developed a chest infection and was admitted to hospital two weeks after starting her degree in September 2018. She was assured that reasonable adjustments were in place and she would be able to resume her studies.
However, when she sought to return to her course at the end of October 2018, Ms Walker was told that she would have to withdraw for the rest of the academic year as she had missed too much of the first term including two practical classes.
The university advised her that she could return to her course in September 2019 and that they would arrange to meet with her beforehand to discuss reasonable adjustments. This meeting took place on 1 October 2019, after the new academic year had already commenced.
Although Ms Walker was told she could return to the course on the following day, she believed she was not given sufficient clarity as to the reasonable adjustments that would be put in place if she returned and this, together with the fact that the course had already started, meant that she felt unable to return.
Evelyn Collins, ECNI chief executive, said: “Universities must make reasonable adjustments to all policies, procedures and practices to ensure that a disabled student is not placed at a disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled.
“This means that educational institutions must make changes, where reasonable, not only in response to the individual needs of students but also proactively for disabled students generally.”
As part of the settlement terms, the university agreed to liaise with the Equality Commission to review its equal opportunities policies, practices and procedures to ensure they are effective and conform with all the requirements of equality law and, in particular, with the provisions of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.