There has been a systemic failure to take disabled staff working in lifelong learning seriously, which has led to widespread institutional discrimination. That is the headline finding of the NIACE-led Commission for Disabled Staff in Lifelong Learning in its final report to be published today, Wednesday 5th March 2008.

There has been a systemic failure to take disabled staff working in lifelong learning seriously, which has led to widespread institutional discrimination. That is the headline finding of the NIACE-led Commission for Disabled Staff in Lifelong Learning in its final report to be published today, Wednesday 5th March 2008.

The report – From Compliance to Culture Change – illustrates how many disabled staff members are reluctant to disclose impairments because they fear discrimination. 20 per cent of the adult population have a disability, however the disclosure rate among staff in lifelong learning is only 4 per cent.

The Commission was struck by the ‘fatalism’ of many disabled staff about promotion and career progression. Few organisations employ disabled people in senior or strategic positions. This leads to a waste of talent and untapped potential and a lack of role models throughout lifelong learning.

The Commission recognises how well institutions have responded to student needs which makes the treatment of staff all the more striking.

Although the Commission did encounter evidence of good practice, they found a lack of consistency in the lifelong learning sector – in terms of recruitment, induction, employment and promotion of disabled staff – that amounts to institutional discrimination.

Leisha Fullick, from the Institute of Education and Chair of the Commission, 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. This is in marked contrast to the very evident and positive changes that have taken place for learners and students in the sector over the same period.”

The first recommendation of the Commission is that a disability equality implementation group should be convened and serviced by Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) to ensure disabled staff are treated as fairly as students in lifelong learning.

Aisling Lyon, Policy Advisor, Equality and Diversity, at Lifelong Learning UK said, “Lifelong Learning UK commends the extremely valuable work of the Commission and welcomes the chance to oversee implementation of its recommendations across the lifelong learning sector in the coming months. I personally am very pleased that NIACE initiated the establishment of this Commission and am delighted that disability equality is finally getting the recognition that, in my opinion, has been long overdue.”

Peter Lavender, Deputy Director of NIACE, said, “We've not done well by disabled staff in lifelong learning. We found a confused picture: reluctance to disclose disability, hesitant management support and little real disability equality. This report helps unpick the problem and suggests ways to change the picture to improve disability equality.”

Kate Heasman, equality official at the University and College Union (UCU), represented the union on the commission and is speaking at today's launch of the report. She said: 'The report’s overview that there has been "a systematic failure to address the issue seriously, which has led to widespread institutional discrimination against disabled staff" is one we very much concur with.

'We welcome the report’s recommendation that the agreement on disability equality in employment between the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the further education unions be taken up by every college and university. The advice to also develop specific agreements on disability leave is much needed. UCU will be watching closely to see how college and university employers implement the proposals.'

UCU is determined to fulfil its own responsibilities to its disabled members.

Kate Heasman continued: 'In the recommendations to trade unions and employer bodies, UCU will endeavour to meet the challenges, including producing its own equality scheme, facilitating the involvement of disabled staff in our structures and ensuring that paid officials and lay officers receive disability equality training'.

UCU member Sasha Callaghan was also a Commissioner involved in drafting the report. Sasha, a disability activist for many years, is president-elect of UCU and becomes the union's president in June 2008.

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