A tribunal’s decision to reject the appeal of a diplomat over the support she needed to do her job in a new foreign posting undermines the career prospects of other high-flying disabled people, say campaigners.
Jane Cordell, who is profoundly Deaf, lost her employment appeal tribunal in a disability discrimination case against the Foreign Office over the cost of providing her with lip-speakers.
Cordell had been offered the job of deputy ambassador to Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan, but the offer was withdrawn because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said the cost of providing lip-speakers would be too high.
She had estimated the cost to be less than £200,000 a year, while the FCO’s estimate was more than £300,000 a year.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said she was “deeply disappointed” that a “talented disabled woman” had been prevented from pursuing her chosen career.
She said: “We understand that costs are one consideration, but so are the benefits that talented disabled people bring to senior roles, bringing resilience, empathy and problem-solving, acting as role models for others and – in this case – representing their country.”
She said there were “very few” disabled people who needed expensive adjustments to work, with most costing nothing or “a few hundred pounds”, while “funding the occasional situation where someone has greater needs is a good investment”.
Sayce added: “This judgement sets the clock back and seems to fly in the face of the government’s commitment to improving disabled people’s career opportunities.”
Mike Smith, a commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and chair of its disability committee, said the EHRC had supported Cordell’s case “because we know how important it is that reasonable adjustments are provided to allow disabled people to participate fully in the workforce and realise their potential”.
He added: “I am concerned that the outcome of this appeal sends the message that disabled people should not expect to get to the top of their profession, if they have significant support needs.”
Cordell had been praised by the FCO for her performance in her previous posting in Poland – and received awards from the Polish authorities for her disability rights work – for which the government provided lip-speakers at an annual cost of about £146,000.
But a new FCO reasonable adjustments policy was introduced after she started working in Poland.
An FCO spokesman said: “FCO welcomes the outcome of this case but we regret that it came to legal action.
“The FCO is fully committed to equality of opportunity and to making reasonable adjustments to allow disabled staff to enjoy the fullest possible FCO career.
“In this case, we do not believe the adjustments that would have been required – costing in excess of £0.5million over two years – would by any measure be considered reasonable.”
6 October 2011