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Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) establishes legal rights for disabled students in pre- and post-16 education.

The Act introduces the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against in education, training and any services provided wholly or mainly for students, and for those enrolled on courses provided by ‘responsible bodies’, including further and higher education institutions and sixth form colleges.

Student services covered by the Act can include a wide range of educational and non-educational services, such as field trips, examinations and assessments, short courses, arrangements for work placements and libraries and learning resources.

What does the  Act mean?

It is unlawful for responsible bodies to treat a disabled person ‘less favourably’ than a non-disabled person for a reason that relates to the person’s disability.

If a disabled person is at a ‘substantial disadvantage’, responsible bodies are required to take reasonable steps to prevent that disadvantage. This might include:

  • changes to policies and practices
  • changes to course requirements or work placements
  • changes to the physical features of a building
  • provision of interpreters or other support workers
  • delivery of courses in alternative ways
  • provision of material in other formats

The law requires responsible bodies to anticipate the requirements of disabled people or students and the adjustments they could be making for them. This might be done through regular staff reviews and reviews of practice.

What steps are reasonable all depends on the circumstances of the case? They will vary according to:

  • the type of services being provided
  • the nature of the institution or service and its size and resources
  • the effect of the disability on the individual disabled person or student

Some of the factors that might be taken into account are:

  • the financial resources available to the responsible body
  • the cost of taking a particular step
  • the extent to which it is practicable to take a particular step
  • health and safety requirements
  • the relevant interests of other people

The final decision about what is reasonable will be decided by the courts.
The legislation came into force on 1 September 2002, with two exceptions:

  • the provision of auxiliary aids and services from 1 September 2003
  • alterations to physical features will be covered from 1 September 2005

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