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WRC awards student €3,000 in access case
Pic: RollingNews.ie

17 Jul 2023 / employment Print

WRC awards student €3,000 in access case

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has welcomed what it has described as “an important decision” by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in a case taken against a third-level institution by a deaf student.

The finding in the case, in which IHREC provided legal representation, concerned a failure to provide equal access to a course.

The complainant, Sofiya Kalinova, who is deaf, contacted Griffith College about enrolling in a course designed to prepare students for the King’s Inns entrance exams, which can lead to qualification as a barrister.

In an email to Griffith College, she asked the college whether it would provide her with ISL (Irish Sign Language) 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 saying that it was college policy that “in the case where a learner who is deaf has the requirement of an ISL interpreter, the cost of this will be borne by the learner”.

According to IHREC, Griffith College did not offer to meet the complainant to discuss possible alternative arrangements with her.

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

‘Clear understanding’

In his decision, Kevin Baneham of the WRC found that section 4 of the Equal Status Act required Griffith College to evaluate Kalinova’s needs.

While the college did not have to meet her, it did have to form a “clear understanding” of her needs.

The adjudication officer found that the college had assumed that all 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 Kalinova and inquiring as to the extent of the interpretation sought, Griffith College contravened the acts.

The WRC ordered Griffith College to pay the complainant €3,000 for the effects of discrimination.

It also ordered the college to revaluate its policies to ensure compliance with equal-status legislation, particularly the policy that requires deaf learners to bear their own ISL interpretation costs.

‘Inflexible policies’

Sinead Gibney (chief commissioner) 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,” she added.

The adjudicating officer said that he took the college’s point that ISL interpretation was costly and skilled, and that it, and other colleges, could not access the Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD), which is earmarked for eligible education bodies.

“The fact of FSD funding not following the student means that those students will not be able to take up courses provided only by private colleges,” he said.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland