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Wheelchair athlete Claire Taggart settles discrimination case against college

Published 21/01/2016

Claire Taggart has settled a disability discrimination case against a college after she had to be rescued from a faulty lift by firefighters
Claire Taggart has settled a disability discrimination case against a college after she had to be rescued from a faulty lift by firefighters

A wheelchair athlete has settled a disability discrimination case against a college after she had to be rescued from a faulty lift by firefighters.

Claire Taggart, 20, from Larne, was paid £1,000 by Northern Regional College in Newtownabbey.

She studied animal management and alleged that sometimes she was unable to get to classes due to elevators not working.

She said: "Making sure someone like me can actually get to my classes is the most basic requirement when it comes to providing equal access for disabled students."

Ms Taggart is a member of the Ulster Barbarians Wheelchair Rugby Club and contender for the 2016 Paralympic Games, having previously narrowly missed out on a gold medal in the Great Britain National Championships in December 2015.

The college has apologised to Ms Taggart.

She said: "I had on occasion to make my way up and down stairs on my bottom while other students carried my wheelchair for me.

"As I now need a powered wheelchair, this is no longer possible.

"I was even told to go home because the lifts were not working."

In May 2014 the keen athlete was stuck in a college elevator and had to be rescued.

"This brought matters to a head for me. I had some access difficulties in the past, but I never had to be rescued by a fireman before."

The college has relocated security cameras to monitor student behaviour at one of the most frequently affected lifts, carried out an upgrade of the lift which had been breaking down and ensured that switches are located in an accessible position.

It has also arranged for monthly servicing of the elevators and that all have accessible emergency call buttons.

Ms Taggart's case was supported by the Equality Commission.

Chief commissioner Michael Wardlow said: "Education has a unique role to play in tackling all kinds of disadvantage in society, and equality for all - including people with disabilities - should be a core objective for every college or school.

"They need to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the full range of educational facilities and opportunities and see that they are provided with the necessary support to do this.

"Disabled students with mobility problems shouldn't be put off going to college, with all it has to offer them, just because the lifts don't work."

A college spokesman said it regretted that the former student experienced circumstances that fell short of its normal standards of access.

He said: "We aim to promote equality of opportunity in all of the college's activities, and to ensure that we provide a supportive, fair, inclusive and welcoming environment for all staff, students and visitors free from any form of discrimination or harassment.

"We are continuing our ongoing awareness-raising amongst students of the needs of disabled students and delivery of mandatory staff training to promote disability awareness and equality.

"The college is also in the process of rolling out a compulsory online course for staff focused on safeguarding and equality and diversity."

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