A summary of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 legislation (SENDA) that establishes legal rights for disabled students in pre- and post-16 education (UK).
What does SENDA 2001 cover?
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) introduces the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against in education, training and any services provided wholly or mainly for students, and for those enrolled on courses provided by ‘responsible bodies’, including further and higher education institutions and sixth form colleges.
Student services covered by the Act can include a wide range of educational and non-educational services, such as field trips, examinations and assessments, short courses, arrangements for work placements and libraries and learning resources.
What does SENDA mean in practice?
It will be unlawful for responsible bodies to treat a disabled person ‘less favourably’ than a non-disabled person for a reason that relates to the person’s disability. A dyslexic student applies to do a degree in law. The university tells her that they do not take dyslexic students on law degrees. The treatment she receives is less favourable compared to other students, and the reason for the treatment relates to her disability. The university is likely to be acting unlawfully.
If a disabled person is at a ‘substantial disadvantage’, responsible bodies are required to take reasonable steps to prevent that disadvantage. This might include:
- changes to policies and practices
- changes to course requirements or work placements
- changes to the physical features of a building
- the provision of interpreters or other support workers
- the delivery of courses in alternative ways
- the provision of material in other formats
Example: A partially deaf student who lip-reads is attending a law course. One of her lecturers continues to lecture while simultaneously writing on the whiteboard. The student asks him to stop speaking when he turns his back to use the whiteboard so that she can follow what he is saying. The student is likely to be at a substantial disadvantage if this adjustment is not made.
The law requires responsible bodies to anticipate the requirements of disabled people or students and the adjustments they could be making for them. This might be done through regular staff reviews and reviews of practice.
How do people know whether an adjustment is reasonable or not?
What steps are reasonable all depends on the circumstances of the case.
They will vary according to:
- the type of services being provided
- the nature of the institution or service and its size and resources
- the effect of the disability on the individual disabled person or student
Some of the factors that might be taken into account are:
- the financial resources available to the responsible body
- the cost of taking a particular step
- the extent to which it is practicable to take a particular step
- health and safety requirements
- the relevant interests of other people
The final decision about what is reasonable will be decided by the courts.
When did SENDA 2001 compliance take effect?
Compliance with The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA);
These new special needs legislation rights came into force on 1 September 2002, with two exceptions:
- the provision of auxiliary aids and services will be covered from 1 September 2003
- alterations to physical features will be covered from 1 September 2005
Make your website Comply with SENDA
For your website to comply with The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) your organisation should ensure your website is built to the very latest W3C standards and recommendations from the very outset. Your accessible website design consultant should lay down clear instructions for your incumbent website design company to build your website to W3C HTML and CSS global good practice standards. Your website should be able to pass at least the very minimum W3C recommended Priority 1 standard for websites (so complying with the 1995 DDA) but you should also remember that the RNIB and even the UK Government acknowledge and advise that you really should be looking to pass at least Priority 2 and you should still be asking your website development company what extra functionality they have included in your website design to aid disabled visitors to your website.
The whole point of this exercise is to make sure the information on your website is accessible to all, regardless of any disability a visitor may have. The only way to ensure this is to follow accepted W3C recommendations for website construction and compliance in UK law and pro-actively introduce added functionality to a website where it is deemed it is necessary.
And remember, your website design company should advise you (if you are updating your website in-house) on how to maintain your W3C Priority Rating throughout the life cycle of your site.
If you want to procure, or design and build sites with accessibility in mind in the UK, you’ll find the following documents useful: