Equality. Fairness. Honour.

I should just clarify beforehand, in case anyone gets the wrong idea, that the idea of people being treated equally and fairly and honourably is a deep passion of mine. I do have a rather black and white view of this, though, and perhaps the fine points and complexities are lost on me.

Here is one. The Equal Opps act states that individuals with disabilities, legally, can be treated more advantageously than nondisabled individuals.

To me, in my black and white view, this is disturbing. This is not equal opps and just moves the problem from one group, albeit a minority group, to another, albeit the majority group. It is called the Equal Opportunities Act, as in people should be treated equally, not the Advantageous Opps Act.

There are some situations where this makes sense. Allowing disabled parking close to places of work and business. This makes sense from a medical POV. There is good reason for it and, not to do it, disadvantages an individual with a disability.

But, in academia, do you allow certain students with a particular disability to have increased exam time? Yes, makes sense, although I’m not actually sure such an adjustment really tackles the problem or helps the student. Longer time to hand in course work? Yes, makes sense. At least the students can take breaks.

But do you let them see the exam paper the day before?

This is the thorny issue that came up for me recently. The Disability Service had arranged this with a student, without informing the departments concerned, and kept insisting that it didn’t infringe academic standards. When we said it did, and that it treated the student differently to everyone else, and was unfair on everyone else, the Eq Opps Act was waved in our faces….”you can treat students with disabilities more advantageously, the law says so”.

I strongly, really strongly, believe in equal opps. But I believe in it in terms of everyone being treated equally, and if we can’t manage that, then at least fairly. But I don’t find the idea of treating individuals with disabilities more advantageously sits well with me. It isn’t equal, and it isn’t fair. Also, a student who has a degree based on having seen the exam questions the day before is a much weaker degree than someone who hasn’t.

What isn’t mentioned in Eq Opps is whether you can treat one student with a disability more advantageously than other students with different disabilities. What’s to stop Disability Office insisting on this adjustment for all students with disabilities?

Eq Opps is about making reasonable adjustments. The whole document, bar this one paragraph, is about that. To me, they are in opposition to one another, and this one paragraph makes the whole thing redundant.

Eq Opps in education is suppose to be about putting in reasonable adjustments to ensure that students with disabilities have the same chance of getting a good degree as nondisabled students, to make sure that they have the same learning and student experience. This one paragraph is not consistent with this.

There is one tiny paragraph in the Act about it. It isn’t expanded on or gone into in any depth. So it is really easy to misuse it or use it like a blunt object. Which is exactly what the Disability Office did. MPs, we need clarification.


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