Northern Ireland

Disabled teachers in Northern Ireland being 'lost in the system', says union

The Ulster Teachers’ Union says some teachers with a disability are 'facing real barriers'
The Ulster Teachers’ Union says some teachers with a disability are 'facing real barriers' The Ulster Teachers’ Union says some teachers with a disability are 'facing real barriers'

Teachers with a disability fear that they are being "lost in the system", a teaching union has said.

The Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) says teachers with a disability are "facing real barriers" amid a lack of support and there are fears that some may be forced to quit their careers as a result.

The union is highlighting their campaign for the plight of the north's disabled teachers as it marks International Day for People With Disabilities on December 3.

Jacquie White, UTU general secretary, said members say there is a "marked lack of clarity on exactly where responsibility lies" for providing supports to teachers with a disability.

“We are seeing a growing number of teachers with a disability facing real barriers in the workplace and difficulties accessing reasonable adjustments which would allow them to carry on working,” she said.

“We’re currently surveying our members on the issue as throughout the system there seems to be a marked lack of clarity on exactly where responsibility lies for ensuring teachers affected get the support they need.

“As well as that, there’s a dearth of training within school management and even a lack of awareness among teachers about where to seek help.

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“The Education Authority (EA) has a disability support service, but very few teachers have ever even heard of it due to lack of publicity and promotion.

“The system seems to be overly complex with no one department taking responsibility for ensuring reasonable adjustments can be made in the workplace for a teacher with a disability.

“Instead they’re batted from pillar to post in a desperate bid to resolve their issues."

Ms White added that the union is also concerned that other organisations and charities, which would have supported teachers are being "financially squeezed so they don’t always have the resources anymore to help our profession, reducing further the options for those affected".

“Ultimately, we believe the employing authorities should have the legal obligation to provide this support," she said.

“We have put a range of questions to the Education Authority in a bid to build our understanding and nail down issues such as where within the education system responsibility for addressing the area of teachers’ disability lies, and to establish what teachers can reasonably expect from their employers.

“For as it stands teachers are just getting lost in the system and fear having to quit their careers.”

The Education Authority said it takes its responsibilities towards supporting staff with a disability extremely seriously and has a statutory duty to do so.

"EA have established a dedicated Disability Employment Support Service for all staff. DESS interacts daily with staff with a disability, their managers, and their trade union representatives, to provide support and advice in making reasonable adjustments that support staff with a disability to carry out their role in the workplace," a spokesperson said.

"As a Disability Positive Accredited employer by EfDNI, EA are committed to the continuation of this service to ensure a positive, inclusive working environment for all.”