Commission Welcomes Important WRC Decision on failure of College to Provide Equal Access to Course

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) welcomes an important decision by the Workplace Relations Commission (‘WRC’) in relation to a third level educational institute’s failure to provide equal access to a course. The Commission provided legal representation in the case.

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, Ms. Kalinova asked the College whether it would provide her with ISL interpretation and notetaking 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 Irish Sign Language (ISL) interpreter, the cost of this will be borne by the learner”. Griffith College did not offer to meet with Ms Kalinova to discuss possible alternative arrangements with her.

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 his decision, Mr Kevin Baneham of the WRC 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. The Adjudication Officer found that the College had assumed that all Ms Kalinova wanted was an ISL interpreter and notetaker, 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 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.”

Notes for Editors:

Section 4 of the Equal Status Act provides:

‘(1) For the purposes of this Act discrimination includes a refusal or failure by the provider of a service to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability by providing special treatment or facilities, if without such special treatment or facilities it would be impossible or unduly difficult for the person to avail himself or herself of the service.

(2) A refusal or failure to provide the special treatment or facilities to which subsection (1) refers shall not be deemed reasonable unless such provision would give rise to a cost, other than a nominal cost, to the provider of the service in question.

Section 7 specifically addresses the provision of services by educational establishments.

The full WRC Decision is available at:

ADJ-00031408 – Workplace Relations Commission

For further information, please contact:

Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8592641 / 087 4687760

sarah.clarkin@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.