Disabled students are taking legal action against their university over claims of disability discrimination, claiming the way they have been treated is “immoral and amoral”.
They have also launched a petition, which has been signed by more than 200 supporters.
The claims centre on the failure of London South Bank University (pictured) to provide the support needed by students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
They say that about 20 disabled London South Bank (LSBU) students are supporting the petition, which says the university is treating them “very poorly” by failing to comply with the Equality Act and its own Disability and Dyslexia Support service guidelines.
The disabled student behind the petition, Venesha Rose, is studying for a degree in housing policy and practice.
In a letter to the university, Rose said in February: “The entire experience has been a complete nightmare especially that I am a disabled student with dyslexia, dyspraxia, cognitive delays and complex mobility and I am blind in my right eye so it is a struggle for me to learn in a chaotic environment.”
She write in the letter that she considered the university had breached its contract to her by failing to provide an “excellent quality service” in return for her tuition fees of £9,250 a year.
In a second letter, written earlier this month, she said she considered that she and other black disabled female students had been treated in an “inferior” way to white students and had been “treated badly, ignored and victimised”.
She added: “More importantly, the issues that are being raised are not being taken as seriously because we are black females, who you all appear to look down on as powerless which is reflective in poor service given.”
She said that she and other disabled students had contacted their MPs about the discrimination claims.
Rose told Disability News Service (DNS): “We have all been disadvantaged. It has affected our studies. I went from someone who was getting a first to someone who was being failed.
“Why should we leave this establishment with over £70,000 worth of debt, stressed out, after not being given a good service? This is financial injustice.”
She said she and others had tried to take their concerns through the university’s complaints system, without success.
She added: “I feel I have been treated appallingly. As soon as they knew we weren’t just willing to make the complaint and go away they just closed ranks.”
Rose said that five disabled students from her course have written to the universities and science minister, Chris Skidmore, but they have been told by civil servants that “the government cannot become involved in individual disputes between English universities and their students”.
Another black disabled student on the course, Donna Heinz, who is also taking legal action against the university, told DNS: “We have written various letters to the [university] which have been ignored, and they have started to penalise us [through our grades]. It is educational discrimination.”
Like Rose, she says the university is failing to provide the support disabled students are legally entitled to, particularly around support for those with specific learning difficulties.
Heinz, who is 53 and had practically no formal schooling after the age of 11, having spent much of her childhood in care, said: “They are holding us back. I think it’s immoral and amoral.
“We are not asking them for anything we are not entitled to, we are just asking them to stick to the guidelines.
“They just treat everybody the same [rather than making reasonable adjustments for disabled students]. There is a culture of saying they are diverse, but they are not.
“All I am thinking about is future students coming here experiencing the discrimination I am experiencing.”
A third black female disabled student, who has asked not to be named, has also told DNS about the university’s failure to support her after she asked for reasonable adjustments.
When she asked what support the university could offer her as a disabled student, she said she was told to quit her course or take a gap year.
She said: “I regret studying at the establishment and what is happening needs to be stopped.
“I do feel that LSBU have not supported me through some of the most difficult times in my life and this type of discrimination could well be due to the colour of my skin.”
All three of the disabled students say they have asked the university to help with their impairment-related support needs, but their requests have been rejected.
A London South Bank University spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that students with a disability or learning difficulty are fully supported and we strive to provide accessible learning opportunities for all.
“We take any complaints by students very seriously; we have clear ways in which they can be raised, and thorough processes for investigating them.
“However, we cannot comment on individual cases.”
She added: “We are aware of the petition. We listen to all students and their feedback is valued and carefully considered.
“We encourage students to voice any concerns they may have and work with us on solutions.”
Picture by Venesha Rose
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…