Institutional discrimination stifles careers of disabled people in further and higher education

There is institutional discrimination against disabled people working in the further and higher education sector.

An in-depth report by the Commission for Disabled Staff in Lifelong Learning said there was a systemic failure to take disabled staff working in the sector seriously, with many employees reluctant to disclose disabilities because they feared discrimination.

The commission said it was struck by the ‘fatalism’ of many disabled staff about promotion and career progression. There was a culture of low aspiration among disabled staff, exacerbated by a systematic failure to address their requirements and a lack of consistency in employment practice.

Few organisations employed disabled people in senior or strategic positions.

Above all, the commission found a lack of consistency in employment practices relating to disabled staff. This amounted to institutional discrimination, it concluded.

The From Compliance to Culture Change report said that while 20% of the adult population had a disability, the disclosure rate among staff in lifelong learning was only 4%.

The commission recommended a disability equality group be set up to ensure disabled staff were treated as fairly as students in lifelong learning.

Commission chairwoman Leisha Fullick, who is also director of the Institute of Education, said: “There is a clear problem about the under-representation of disabled staff in lifelong learning. And we saw little evidence of organisations adopting a strategic approach to current and future disabled staff.

“At the very least this represents a huge loss of potential and is not a sound business approach. It is also an indication that, 10 years on, the legislation designed to reduce discrimination against disabled people in the workplace is not having a sufficient impact on employment practice in lifelong learning.”

The lifelong learning sector includes further education, adult and community learning and higher education.

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