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SENDA: Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) establishes legal rights for disabled students in pre- and post-16 education. In this article from the Spring 2002 issue of Directions Skill (the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities) takes a look at its consequences for those working in the field of legal education.


What does the Act cover?

The Act 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 will the new Act 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

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 the Act take effect?

The new rights came into force on 1 September 2002, with two exceptions:

  • the provision of auxiliary aids and services is covered from 1 September 2003
  • alterations to physical features will be covered from 1 September 2005

Skill’s publications include A guide to the DDA for institutions of further and higher education and a guide offering information and advice for disabled people considering a career in law, Into Law. The guide includes profiles written by students with disabilities about their experiences as well as useful contact information. It is available from Skill at a charge of £2.50 for disabled students and £6.50 for professionals and organisations.

Skill’s policy team is available to visit institutions to provide briefing sessions on the legislation for staff. These sessions are practical, full of examples, soundly grounded in the law and can be adapted to your requirements.

Last Modified: 4 June 2010