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Charities celebrate success in university discrimination case

The legal team at leading sight loss charity the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) recently achieved success in a case against a university that wasn’t providing accessible materials to a student who has sight loss.

The case, involving Ramneek, was initially referred to RNIB’s legal team by sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT) after she was continually provided with course materials that were not accessible, as well as teaching that did not take into account her sight loss.

Ramneek, who is registered blind, had a support plan in place that outlined what she needed from lecturers and the university to ensure her time in education was accessible. However, her lecturers across the school failed to make the adjustments needed for Ramneek to fully participate in her course.

As a result of materials and teaching not being made accessible by her lecturers, including online platforms for assessments not being fully accessible, Ramneek had to teach herself some of her course material to complete her studies.

Ramneek said about her experiences at university: “I cannot even begin to explain the awful feeling I had in my stomach in the autumn term of my second year of my degree. This was the defining moment when I realised how much I was struggling. I was sitting in one of my lectures feeling absolutely helpless, because what the lecturer was writing was not at all legible nor was the lecture content.

“It certainly wasn't the first time this had happened, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. Coming to university I didn't feel like a student, I felt like an advocate for myself and my needs. It felt like a dark cloud was constantly following me, filled with concerns and worries and a list of things I needed to do to just barely even scrape close to an equal chance to my sighted peers.”

In light of the barriers she was continuously facing at university, Ramneek turned to TPT for advice on how to get the provisions she was entitled to as outlined in her university support plan. TPT and RNIB’s Legal Rights Service worked collaboratively on her case, with RNIB’s team providing legal advice and written representation in her Equality Act case against the university.

Support provided by the team included writing a series of legal letters under the Equality Act which involved the most senior members of staff at Ramneek’s university to achieve success in this case, all the while working collaboratively with colleagues at TPT.

Jenna Vivian, RNIB’s Equality Act Advisor, said: “Our initial complaint on behalf of Ramneek was positive, however she still continued to face inaccessibility when it came to her course material and exams. The main issues causing these barriers for Ramneek were a lack of communication between the relevant departments and the wider university, as well as a lack of understanding around accessibility for students with sight loss.

“Working with the university on Ramneek’s case has led to changing deeply engrained processes and practices that were not meeting the needs of disabled students, including Ramneek. The University has since updated us on further details of new policies and practices that have been implemented as a result of this case.”

RNIB and TPT are celebrating the success of the case, which resulted in a refund of tuition fees and compensation payments to Ramneek, as well as securing a grades guarantee, re-weighting of grading, and a formal apology from the university. Their apology also addressed the significant issues faced by Ramneek during her studies.

Jenna said: “We are delighted with the final outcomes of the case and the systemic changes made by the university. We hope this will mean disabled students, including those with sight loss, will have a positive experience studying there in future.”

Ramneek said: “Having RNIB and TPT by my side during such difficult times made such a positive impact on my university experience and overall wellbeing. It is because of both these incredible charities that I am standing here as strong as I am today. From the countless emails advocating on my behalf to having phone calls on Teams filled with tears and laughter, I will forever be grateful to each and every one of them.

“Graduating in July with a First-Class Honours and walking on that stage, I had a huge smile on my face thinking about not only what I have achieved under such tough and difficult circumstances, but most of all, the people who had helped me get there.”

If you're seeking advice or support under the Equality Act, contact RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email [email protected].

Notes to editors

All media enquiries to Emily Peachey-Tanner on 07517 996109 or [email protected] or for urgent enquiries out-of-hours, please call 07968 482812.