A Deaf student could be forced to leave the country and return to the United States after a university refused to provide them with the sign language interpreters they need for their course.
The University of Brighton has told postgraduate student Chelsea Reinschmidt that it will only be able to fund interpreters for about a quarter of the lectures, seminars and work placements that make up the two-year course.
When they were being interviewed for the course, they made it clear that they would need interpreters.
But it was only after they had paid their fees of £16,200 and arrived in Brighton to start the masters in occupational therapy that the university announced it would not be able to provide sign language interpreters for all the sessions.
This would have meant about 15 hours of support a week.
They told Disability News Service they had been left “traumatized” by their treatment.
They said: “Every session has to be interpreted, because I’m Deaf.
“It can be argued that we can get by with a few assistive tech options for a few things but basically every session needs interpreters for access.
“I contacted loads of different resources in the UK and every single one said the university is required to pay.”
Reinschmidt (pictured) even offered to pay for some of the extra interpreting, and suggested other options, but the university refused to consider the solutions Reinschmidt offered, or to fund anything more than £26,000 a year.
Because their visa depends on being enrolled on a university course, they are now at risk of being forced to return to the US.
They said: “Had I known that that was the figure they had and there was no way to get funding from the NHS for my placements or any other option I would not likely have enrolled, because this is clearly a systemic problem that means no Deaf sign language-user, from the UK or otherwise, will be able to access their course.
“It’s impossible. No person can fund £100,000 for interpreters.”
The stress caused by the way they have been treated by the university has affected them so significantly that they have now withdrawn from the course, a month after it started.
Reinschmidt is convinced that the university is breaching its duty to make reasonable adjustments for Deaf students under the Equality Act.
The university’s actions come despite promising disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) that the mass job cuts to academic staff it announced earlier this year would not impact on disabled students’ access to education.
Members of the University and College Union are currently in the 15th week of an indefinite strike at the university over the redundancies.
Reinschmidt had moved to the UK from the US to train as an occupational therapist and then hoped to support Deaf people in hospices, palliative care and mental health services.
They said there are very few occupational therapists in the UK who can sign and work with Deaf patients, while there is also an overall shortage of trained occupational therapists.
Reinschmidt said they were “absolutely heartbroken” by the way they had been treated.
They said: “The problem is bigger than me. I just know I have to do something. I can’t let it go on like this.”
A University of Brighton spokesperson said: “Almost one-third of our students have a registered disability, and we provide support to them all, wherever in the world they come from.
“We discuss reasonable adjustments during the university application process and appoint a learning disability coordinator to refine the support each student requires.
“The applicant is always involved in agreeing this prior to the start of a course.
“We are still working with Chelsea on assessing whether reasonable adjustments can be put in place.
“They have not been removed from their course and we will continue to support them through this process.”
But Luke Beesley, a disabled PhD student at the University of Brighton and one of the organisers of its Interventions in Disability Politics seminar series, said: “The way Chelsea has been treated is appalling.
“Brighton’s claim that they are not being kicked off the course is laughable.
“Deaf and disabled students need adaptations to study; if those aren’t provided, the student can’t do the course. It’s as simple as that.
“This puts the bow on a long list of complaints disabled students have about the university, ranging from poor physical access to lecture halls and accommodation, lack of induction loops in teaching spaces, and the university’s inaccessible communications style.
“Until now, we’ve relied on teaching staff to make the best of a bad job, and design adaptations with us around these problems.
“With the ongoing redundancies, many of us fear the access situation will get dramatically worse.
“When DPOs raised their concerns about this with the vice chancellor, Debra Humphris, she told them that disabled students’ access would not be impacted.
“That promise now looks worthless.”
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