The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), is backing 17 year old deaf student, Zanna Messenger-Jones from Ireleth, Cumbria, to initiate legal action against the Government over its failure to consult deaf students in proposals to restrict the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).
Zanna, who is profoundly deaf in her right ear and severely deaf in her left ear, is applying for Art and Design or Fashion Design courses at several universities but without a DSA it is uncertain whether she will get the support she needs to follow group discussion classes and Q&As between teachers and other students.
The allowance, which is given to over 60,000 students each year to help pay for specialist support such as equipment and accommodation, is vital in allowing people with disabilities to study at university.
Restrictions to the grant will prevent some disabled students from being able to complete their studies – or even start a degree programme at all.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is planning to cut back on the DSA without putting in place any safeguards or gaining any assurances that universities are able to meet the needs of these young people.
Supporting Zanna’s case, NDCS has put forward a witness statement expressing that BIS has failed to open a public consultation on its proposal for the DSA and has failed to give disabled students any real legal rights to do anything about it.
The charity also states it may be unrealistic to expect Higher Education Institutions to cover the costs and that no clarification has been given on how they would be held to account if they don’t make reasonable adjustments to financially help disabled students.
Susan Daniels, CEO for the National Deaf Children’s Society said:
“The Disabled Students’ Allowance provides vital support for deaf students at university, ensuring they have the help they need to access their course.
“Having worked very closely with Zanna and many young deaf people hoping to pursue higher education, we are extremely concerned that changes to the DSA will mean that their access to Higher Education will be severely compromised, and we will see deaf students fall behind their peers, or worse still, drop out of university thereby jeopardizing their employment prospects and their future.
“The government needs to stop this reckless attempt to reform the DSA without putting in place proper safeguards to protect deaf student’s support in higher education. As a priority, it must ensure that the impact on deaf students has been fully considered through an open public consultation, before any changes can be implemented.”
Zanna, who currently writes a blog about her deafness to raise awareness, said:
“There is a major need to break down barriers facing young disabled people. We should be encouraged to go to university but instead it feels like the Government is intent on making it more difficult. I am shocked that the Government openly says that they do not feel the need to consult disabled students, and it makes me feel that they think disabled students have nothing useful to say. I feel we have a right to be consulted on such major changes which could affect our future prospects in life.”
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