The Department of Trade and Industry issued a consultation document in May 2004 outlining the role, duties and powers of a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). This commission will bring together the work of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.
Barriers to full participation and inclusion
Deaf students and visually impaired students face barriers to full social participation that are attitudinal and practical. Problems with equality and rights are reminders of the barriers that exist, preventing those students from equal, rightful and full participation in education in Scotland.
In the case of deaf students, barriers that exist are essentially communication issues. In the case of visually impaired students, barriers that exist combine mobility issues with access needs in relation to written and visual communication. Many, if not all, of the rights concerning those distinctive groups in education are based on the tenuous notion of ?reasonable adjustment? as described in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amended 2002).
Fairness for all
Equality and human rights are at the core of a socially responsible society, and those values should therefore be vigorously pursued and defended.
The SSC wishes to recognise the valuable work that has been undertaken by the DRC (Disability Rights Commission) in pursuing these values. However, we agree with the observation in the White Paper that change is not happening quickly enough.
Disabled people are twice as likely to have no qualifications, and are half as likely to be in FE or HE. The Achievements of Deaf Pupils in Scotland (ADPS) project has produced salient findings concerning continuing educational underachievement. In the light of cumulative effects of underachievement in education on quality of life, critical questions need to be asked about progress that has been made in the area of equality and human rights in education to date.
Among the CEHR?s first tasks should be to critically review the progress that has been achieved by the existing commissions. These reviews would help CEHR to identify effective strategies of intervention and support, as well as priority areas of activity.
The Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR)
There is a clear opportunity resulting from establishing a single body, the CEHR. For example, deafness and visual impairment can combine with other factors such as ethnic status, preferred language status, or gender, in a negative way (such as depressed educational achievement) that may be judged to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Of course, deafness can combine with visual impairment; deafblind students continue to face complex barriers to full educational participation that are attitudinal, linguistic, physical and/or communicative in nature. The CEHR would ideally reflect a strong recognition of such social, cultural and physical diversity, combined with a level and distribution of attention that is, in itself, equitable.
The SSC is concerned that legislation supporting the 6 strands of activity (age, disability, gender, race, religion & belief and sexual orientation) is of such a varied nature that this will have an effect on the way CEHR deals with each area.
We would therefore welcome further debate on whether a unified piece of legislation, an Equality Act, would support equitable treatment in CEHR?s activities.
Moreover, small group interests might be lost among the larger groups. The CEHR is advised to publicise transparent principles of fairness to help achieve balance within the 6 strands and across relevant social groups.
Equality, education and partnership
The SSC welcomes the clear recognition of the role of public education to tackle barriers. As a nationally recognised and GTC-registered provider of continuing professional development the SSC will welcome opportunities to partner with the CEHR and other training providers as well as schools and other education services to help foster educational responsiveness to diverse needs.
We strongly support the stated need to share information, advice and guidance. However, some groups, such as deaf students and visually impaired students, have very particular requirements with regards to access to information, advice and guidance, as well as training.
There is need to make the language of policy accessible to all. This requires the re-interpretation of texts written in dense styles to make them relevant to individuals? daily lives. This will also require the translation of texts into minority languages such as BSL for deaf people, and transcription into alternative formats for visually impaired people. It should also include the development and/or interpreting of targeted training activities. All this will require the CEHR to partner with centres of expertise, and/or with organisations that are representative, to assist with those tasks.
It takes time to produce translations that are both appropriate and relevant into BSL, and it takes resources (interpreters, recording technology, reproduction) to make these translations widely available. The diversity among audiences will therefore affect how quickly grass-roots stakeholders can be informed and/or consulted. For example, the ?Fairness for All? White Paper is not available in BSL, and its contents are therefore not accessible to all deaf people.
Finally, any process of emancipation requires fluid lines of communication. Fluid lines of communication with stakeholders imply regular consultation with them, so that they are in touch with developments that take place (including clear feedback). This means that there is a need for widespread engagement with stakeholders. In the words of one workshop participant, there is a need for more intensive ?hearts and minds work? to join local and national levels of engagement.
As well as sharing information and training, the CEHR should have an active partnership and collaboration programme of research that engages all stakeholders and can affect real change from the bottom up.