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E-Learning Company Appeals Against Inaccessibility Ruling.

A landmark legal ruling on how UK anti-discrimination law applies to online content is in doubt after Project Management International (PMI), a professional body that offers membership through distance learning programmes, launched an appeal to overturn an earlier decision that it discriminated against a blind IT manager in the UK.

The appeal by PMI aims to overturn a ruling at Reading Employment Tribunal, in November 2006, that it failed to make reasonable adjustments for Sumaira “Sam” Latif to access a computer-based examination. The judgment is thought to be the first time a ruling has been made against a provider of online content under the UK Disability Discrimination Act.

Her case, which was supported by the Disability Rights Commission, claimed that PMI discriminated against her in three separate ways: by making unreasonable demands to confirm that she suffered a disability; by failing to provide accessible course material; and by failing to make reasonable adjustments for her to sit the final examination.

The tribunal dismissed the first two claims, but agreed that Latif suffered discrimination when it came to the final examination, known as the Project Management Professional Credential Examination. This consists of 200 multiple choice questions, some including complex graphs and charts, which candidates must complete in four hours. Candidates access the examination material through networked computer terminals at 15 test centres in the UK. Latif was awarded compensation of 3,000 pounds “in respect of the injury to her feelings”.

In the event, Latif passed the exam, but felt that PMI failed to address her needs adequately. Her request to use a screen reader in the examination room was refused, as was her request for tactile diagrams of graphs and charts. Latif was given the option of either not taking the examination, or completing a paper-based version with the assistance of a human reader supplied by PMI. “I was told I could only meet the reader half an hour before the exam. He had no experience of reading for a blind person,” Latif told E-Access Bulletin.

According to the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), the appeal is unlikely to be heard before April. PMI is likely to argue that it made reasonable adjustments for Latif, and also that too much of the burden of proof was placed on PMI to show that it hadn’t acted in a discriminatory way, rather than on Latif to show that it had, said the DRC.

Comments

  1. David Griffith | February 20th, 2007 | 4:39 pm

    It is disgraceful that this company are appealing. Blind students are always discriminated against but sadly we do not complain as much as we should. For example I did an MA employment law exam in January this year. Right up to the last minutes I was having to chase up people to make sure arrangements were correct – time I should have spent revising. At the last minute the students were told they could use “Statute books” which they could use in the exam to prevent them having to remember dates sections of law etc and enable these to be looked at.

    I received this book 5 minutes before the exam and my reader was completely unfamiliar with its content, layout, sturucture and mode of indexing as she had never done law.

    Rather than waste time getting her to describe the book to me and read through emought for me to instruct her on how to use it – I did the only sensible thing given the time constraints. I told her to chuck it in a corner and I relied on my memory. I will be seriously annoyed if I lose marks because I have not remembered the exact date and title of a statute.

    This can all be avolded if time is taken out to go through exam arrangements in detail with a blind or disabled student. To avoid these sort of problems you should enable a blind student to do a “mock exam” in the exact circumstances of the actual exams. Problems can then be ironed out. I tried this approach but the type of exam the University came up with was radically different from the type practised.

    Well done for taking on PMI and keep on fighting and I am ashamed that I have not made more of a statement in the past. You get frightened of “making a fuss”.

  2. Léonie Watson | February 22nd, 2007 | 10:16 am

    There is also the emotional investment in taking a case like this to court. For someone working in a full time job and studying for a qualification in their spare time, the effort required to undertake legal proceedings may simply seem unmanageable.
    It’s a credit to Sam that she found the strength to do what needed doing. The thought that an appeal has been made is next to unbearable.

  3. Peter Fogg | February 22nd, 2007 | 12:44 pm

    It is very possible that the cost of providing accessible course material would have less than than the cost of fighting this case – in legal fees and damaged reputation !

    Peter Fogg

  4. Mardahl.dk » Accessibility and the law | March 1st, 2007 | 8:12 am

    [...] Update: I added a trackback to  an article discussing this topic over at the E-Access Bulletin Live blog. [...]

  5. E-Access Blog » Blog Archive » e-learning accessibility apeal upholds in favour of Sam Latif | June 8th, 2007 | 11:31 am

    [...] The appeal by PMI reported here in the posting E-Learning Company Appeals Against Inaccessibility Ruling.we have case law. [...]

  6. adjustments were not enough « it only matters if you care | June 8th, 2007 | 11:44 am

    [...] 8th, 2007 · No Comments That was the decision of the apeal in the case of SamLatif versus PMI in regard to PMIs failure tomake reasonable adjustments to accomedate a disabled candidate in assessment for a professional qualification. see the finding reported here and the original case report here This is a positive day for establishing the applicability of the DDA to education, Technology and assessment. Having read around the case a little to my mind it says more about exam and assessment arrangements than learning resources but is nevertheless valuable. Learning resources was an element of the course with which Sam struggled but it was not at the core of the case in question. [...]

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