Daniel – Access to reasonable accommodation in eduction

Daniel (not his real name) and his parents sought legal advice from CLM on his rights as a student with a visual impairment and access to Leaving Certificate exam papers. Daniel is legally blind and had been educated since fourth class with the support of assistive technology. The family’s efforts to secure digital format Leaving Certificate exam papers from the State Examination Commission (SEC) had not proved successful. Should Daniel have had to use the traditional hardcopy exam papers, his maths paper, for example, would have been enlarged on the day of the exam to such an extent that it would run to approximately 52 A3 pages.

We advised Daniel and his parents on constitutional rights and equality law in the area of education. The barriers faced by Daniel in sitting his Leaving Certificate exams appeared to breach his fundamental rights with potentially serious repercussions for his future. We assisted the family in their communications with the SEC and the Department of Education. We instructed Counsel on their behalf and issued a letter to the SEC requesting that they provide digital format Leaving Certificate exam papers to our client, warning that plenary proceedings would be issued if they failed to do so. Our solicitor ensured that all communication was straightforward and appropriate for a young person.

In October 2022, the SEC published the scheme of Reasonable Accommodations at Certificate Examinations for 2023. The scheme included examinations papers in PDF for visually impaired Leaving Certificate students for the first time. More particularly, on a pilot basis, the SEC have since provided examination papers in read-only PDF format to Leaving Certificate candidates who are being provided with reasonable accommodation on the grounds of visual impairment. Daniel can now sit his exams in a format that is accessible to him and accords with how he has used assistive technology throughout his secondary education.

For his parents, they found the assistance navigating the law and advocating on behalf of their family made the difference in vindicating their child’s rights. This is an example of advocacy work that achieves positive change not only for the individual involved but also for all students who require reasonable accommodation on the grounds of visual impairment.