Deaf student Zanna Messenger-Jones’s legal team has been given the green light to launch legal action against the Government over its failure to consult disabled students on proposed restrictions to Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).
With the support of the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), Zanna, from Ireleth, Cumbria can now proceed with a judicial review to challenge whether it was unlawful for the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) to ignore disabled students when consulting on its proposed changes.
Granting permission, Mrs Justice Lang said she was “not impressed” with the argument that there was no duty for the department to consult.
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 and will effectively be handing universities the responsibility of bankrolling 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 is 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:
“This is really positive news for students like Zanna, who heavily rely on the Disabled Students’ Allowance to provide the vital support needed to access their course.
“Having worked very closely with 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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