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Discrimination case by former Queen’s student settled for £20,000

After alleging discrimination, a former student from Queen’s University in Belfast was awarded £20,000.

Sarah Walker started studying midwifery at the University in 2018. Ms Walker suffers from cystic fibrosis and early in 2018 she was admitted to hospital.

Ms Walker went to hospital when she contracted a chest infection just two weeks after her course started.

On returning to the university Ms Walker was informed that she had missed too many classes in the first term to continue.

The Equality Commission supported Ms Walker in her case. Ms Walker told the tribunal that Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) knew of her condition. She had been told that ‘reasonable adjustments were in place.’ The measures in place included a person to take notes at lectures she could not attend. They were in place so that Ms Walker could resume her studies.

A spokesperson for Queen’s University said that they were committed to ‘equality of opportunity for all staff and students.’

‘No understanding’

After her time in hospital Ms Walker wanted to return to the midwifery course in October 2018. She was told that because she had missed too many classes (including two practical classes) she would have to withdraw for the remainder of the academic year.

Ms Walker stated that all she wanted to do was to study for her chosen career. She needed extra support and understanding of the life-long condition with which she lived.

A statement from Queen’s University read that ‘In line with regulations from the Nursing and Midwifery Council, students in the School of Nursing and Midwifery are not permitted to take part in clinical placements unless they have attended essential teaching.’

The reason for these regulations is to ensure the health and safety of both students and patients on the course.

The Equality Commission reported that Queen’s had advised Ms Walker to return to her course in September 2019. They would be happy to meet with her to discuss further ‘reasonable adjustments.’

The meeting between Queen’s and Ms Walker took place in October 2019 when she was told that she could return to her course the following day.

Feeling that there was not enough clarity about reasonable measures which were in place, and additionally because the course had already started, Ms Walker felt unable to return.

Ms Walker stated that she felt the support she needed was neither clear nor in place to allow her to progress further.

The importance of universities taking steps to support students with disabilities were highlighted by Ms Walker’s experience, commented the chief executive of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

To ensure that disabled students are not placed at a disadvantage, universities should make reasonable adjustments to all their policies, practices, and procedures, said chief executive Evelyn Collins.

The Equality Commission, when settling the case said that Queens had apologised to Ms Walker regarding injury to her feelings. They further apologised for the distress that had been caused to her, although they did not admit any liability.

The university also declined to comment on specific cases. They had, however set up a dedicated disability services team to ensure a robust equality, diversity, and inclusion policy.

A spokesperson for the university said that they are committed to creating an inclusive environment. They would continue to work hard to ensure any students with disabilities have the appropriate support in place for their chosen course of study. This included wider participation in university life.

‘For all students with disabilities, we will make specific assessments, and where necessary, ensure support mechanisms are in place.’

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