Blind student strikes blow for equality at Student Loans Company
A student, who is registered blind, has won a settlement against the Student Loans Company after she was unable to fill in a Disabled Students’ Allowance application form because it was inaccessible to individuals who are visually impaired.
Posted on 24 June 2021
Holly Scott-Gardner, a 27-year-old masters student in Social and Public Policy at the University of Leeds, launched a legal action against the UK student loans provider after she was unable to obtain an accessible version of the loan form for disabled students.
Now Holly, of York, has secured a £5,000 settlement, her legal costs and a promise of ongoing discussions with the Student Loans Company.
She turned to Leigh Day after her several attempts to access an accessible version of the Disabled Students’ Allowance form resulted in her having to fill it in over the phone.
Leigh Day solicitor Kate Egerton wrote to the Student Loans Company on Holly’s behalf to point out its anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students under the Equality Act 2010, which includes the provision of information in an accessible format.
The Disabled Students’ Allowance form that was provided by the SLC to Holly was in a pdf format which was inaccessible to blind and visually impaired people.
After Holly raised the inaccessibility issue, the Student Loans Company confirmed that the DSA1 PDF application form was “put through a comprehensive accessibility review and testing and is now fully compliant with the [Website] Accessibility Regulations 2018”.
The Website Accessibility Regulations came into force for public sector bodies on 23 September 2018 and build upon the duties found in the Equality Act 2010. They require public sector bodies to make their websites and mobile apps more accessible by making them ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’ by, for example, ensuring information is available in an alternative accessible format, e.g. accessible electronic documents and audio.
The SLC at first offered Holly a settlement of £500, but following Kate’s intervention, the offer was increased to £5,000. Furthermore, the SLC chief executive has invited Holly to work with the SLC to give her feedback on the updated DSA forms.
Holly Scott-Gardner said:
“Their actions were clearly a violation of the Equality Act and it was incredibly frustrating to firstly be ignored, and then be passed around from person to person whilst the SLC insisted they did not need to provide me with an accessible copy of the form. I hope that in future, the Student Loans Company commits fully to creating an experience that is accessible to all. I am very grateful for the support I received from Kate to challenge this.”
Kate Egerton said:
“It was in our view unlawful and frankly bizarre for the SLC to provide a form aimed at disabled people in a format that was inaccessible to blind and visually impaired students. These loans exist to help students with the extra costs of having a disability without which it would be impossible to access their course.
“Holly’s case illustrates how many public bodies still do not understand their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and the Web Accessibility Regulations. We are, however, heartened that the SLC has amended its forms, taken responsibility for its past failures and is looking to collaborate with Holly going forwards. We hope that Holly’s case encourages other disabled people to speak up when they encounter inaccessible information so that sustained change can be achieved.”