Deaf law student asked to pay for interpreter awarded €3,000

Deaf law student asked to pay for interpreter awarded €3,000

Sofiya Kalinova

A deaf woman who was told she would have to pay for her own interpreter to take part in a Griffith College course designed to prepare students for the King’s Inns entrance exams has been awarded €3,000 by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

Sofiya Kalinova was represented by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in her complaint of discrimination on the grounds of disability against Griffith College, a third-level educational institution.

In an email to Griffith College prior to enrolling in the court, Ms Kalinova asked if the college would provide her with Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpretation and note-taking to enable her to access the course on an equal footing with other students.

Griffith College responded by email the next day to say its policy was that “where a learner who is deaf has the requirement of Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreter, the cost of this will be borne by the learner”. The college did not offer to meet with her to discuss possible alternative arrangements.

According to Griffith College’s admissions policy, disabled students “are met with individually to discuss their needs and adaptations that might need to be carried in advance of programme commencement”.

In the WRC decision, adjudication officer Kevin Baneham found that section 4 of the Equal Status Act required Griffith College to evaluate Ms Kalinova’s needs. While the college did not have to meet with Ms Kalinova, it did have to form a “clear understanding” of her needs.

Mr Baneham found that the College had assumed that all Ms Kalinova wanted was an ISL interpreter and note-taker, and that they had refused to provide those only.

Because the college did not make further enquiries, the WRC found, and because it did not take such steps as sharing its ISL interpreter costings with Ms Kalinova and inquiring as to the extent of the interpretation sought, Griffith College contravened the Equal Status Acts.

The WRC ordered Griffith College to pay Ms Kalinova €3,000 for the effects of discrimination. Mr Baneham also ordered the college to revaluate its policies to ensure compliance with the Equal Status Acts, particularly the policy that requires deaf learners to bear their own ISL interpretation costs.

Sinead Gibney, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said: “Service providers must realise that it is not good enough to hide behind unfair and inflexible policies when considering the often complex challenges faced by people living with the reality of a disability. They have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation and to meet this obligation, they must have a clear understanding of the person’s needs.

“I commend Sofiya, not only for standing up for her own rights but also for the rights of all those seeking to follow her into the same profession.”

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