Pilot scheme a welcome development for equality in education for students with visual impairments

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) welcomes the decision by the State Examinations Commission to commence a pilot scheme enabling visually-impaired students to access digital versions of their exam papers.

The decision was made on foot of a lengthy campaign by Eithne Walsh, head of advocacy and communication with Féach, whose son is a visually impaired student and is due to sit the Leaving Certificate in 2023.

Eithne and her son had repeatedly requested that he be provided with a digital copy of his Leaving Certificate examination – to date, only paper-based exams have been allowed – but their requests were refused by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). CLM provided legal advocacy support to the family, and wrote to the SEC highlighting the fact that that it was acting in breach of its statutory duty under s.6 and s.7 of the Education Act 1998 and that its refusal to provide reasonable accommodation was a breach of the student’s rights to equality, education, and his imprescriptible rights as a child.

While the announcement of a pilot scheme is really positive news, this addresses just one of the many obstacles faced by students with visual impairments. For example, they do not currently have the same level of access to past (modified) papers that their fellow students have; the format of the oral examinations is particularly challenging for students who are visually impaired;  and decisions made under the Reasonable Accommodations at Certificate Examinations (RACE) Scheme are often published at short notice, leaving the students affected with little time to appeal if they do not get the supports they need under the Scheme.

Community Law & Mediation will continue to advocate on behalf of families and young people who are affected by issues such as these.

If you have a query related to the education rights of your child, contact us for free legal advice: 01 847 7804.

Welcome new strategy for family justice reform but much work needed to deliver a truly child-centered system

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) welcomes the commitment in the Family Justice Strategy, published today by the Department of Justice, to place children at the centre of reform but cautions that the delivery of a truly child-centered family justice system cannot be achieved without consistent application of this commitment, including in the newly published Family Court Bill. CLM, which provides a dedicated children’s legal advice and advocacy service, was a member of the expert advisory group on the Family Justice Strategy.

Commenting on the announcement, Ruth Barry, solicitor specialising in children’s law at CLM said:

“Family law proceedings are often highly adversarial and can be re-traumatising for both children and other family members. We welcome the new strategy, in particular the commitment to place children at the centre of reform. While the strategy does not yet fully address problematic areas like civil legal aid, expert reports furnished to court or hearing the voice of the child, it provides a framework for moving forward.

The express recognition of children’s best interests in the Family Court Bill is particularly welcome, as is the intention to create a dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure but we have some concerns about how this will be delivered in practice. Jurisdiction in private family law is determined based on the financial assets of the family and the Bill contains no provision for  complex high conflict private family law cases – where care of a child or children is the source of the complexity – to be directed to the Circuit Court. This will be at odds with complex childcare proceedings concerning child protection.

Furthermore, the Bill doesn’t provide for the separation of public and private family law proceedings in the court lists of the new family law courts with the effect that families and children who are in court to address child protection issues may have their cases listed alongside families and children who are in court to address custody and access.

CLM would welcome a review of the Family Court Bill from the perspective of the child’s experience – a review based on the child being at the centre of all reform in the area – in order that we ensure we set solid foundations for this reform process and start as we mean to continue.” 

ENDS

For further information please contact Elizabeth Devine, Policy & Communications Manager, Community Law & Mediation – ph 087 697 5677

Notes to Editor:

About Community Law & Mediation

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) was established in 1975 as the first independent community law centre in Ireland, as part of the campaign for civil legal aid. Today, is support more than 4,400 people in communities experiencing disadvantage through free legal advice and representation; information and education; and mediation and conflict coaching services. It provides a dedicated children’s legal advice and advocacy service, including an outreach clinic for children and young people in care, in collaboration EPIC. www.communitylawandmediation.ie