Thursday 18 July 2019

Challenge to Equality Tribunal ruling over dyslexia

Kim Cahill and her father Niall at the Circuit Court in Dublin. Ms Cahill said her Leaving Cert results day turned into 'the most embarrassing day of my life'
Kim Cahill and her father Niall at the Circuit Court in Dublin. Ms Cahill said her Leaving Cert results day turned into 'the most embarrassing day of my life'

Shane Hickey

A WOMAN with dyslexia was "extremely embarrassed" when she found her Leaving Certificate results contained notes pointing to her learning difficulty.

Kim Cahill, in her early 20s, told the Circuit Court in Dublin yesterday that what should have been a day of celebration turned into "probably the most embarrassing day of my life".

A number of people from her year in St Peter's College, Dunboyne, Co Meath, asked why she had received exemptions for spelling and grammar in language subjects when she did her Leaving Cert in 2001.

She was speaking on the first day of a challenge by the Department of Education into a landmark equality ruling which ordered the Government to pay €6,000 each to Ms Cahill and another former Leaving Cert student with dyslexia.

Last November, the Equality Tribunal, supported by the Equality Authority, directed the department to issue new certificates to the students and review the way it treats the certification of students with disabilities.

Appeal

However, after the ruling the department decided to appeal the case to the Circuit Court, saying the tribunal did not fully understand the system of exemptions and expressed concern at the "far reaching" nature of the ruling.

The two female students complained that a footnote to their certificates saying they had not been assessed on spelling, punctuation and grammar on certain papers, was discriminatory.

Ms Cahill said yesterday that she opened her results not expecting the annotations and that only a few of her close friends knew of her dyslexia.

She feels "very strongly" that the learning difficulty is her private business. "I made the complaint as I don't feel I should be forced to show I am dyslexic," Ms Cahill said. Following her Leaving Cert, she went on to complete a degree in communications in Dublin City University (DCU).

However, Maurice Collins SC, for the Department of Education, said the annotation was entirely consistent with academic thinking. The equality ruling could have implications for thousands of students with a variety of disabilities.

Annotation

Last year, the Leaving and Junior Certificates of 7,311 students included such annotations.

The scheme of "reasonable accommodation" allows, for instance, a hearing-impaired student to be exempt from the aural component of language subjects, and waivers spelling and grammar for students who are dyslexic.

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