Home » University claims it didn’t know of UCAS applicant’s stammer

University claims it didn’t know of UCAS applicant’s stammer

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Last updated 8th February, 2024.

A sixth former applying to a university was unable to respond as he wished in an online interview with it, as he was anxious and flustered after accidentally being kept for a long time in an online waiting room.

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What happened

A sixth former who stammers, applying for university, filled out a UCAS application form. He ticked the ‘no disability’ box, but mentioned elsewhere on the form that he had a stammer, when talking in the Personal Statement of how he mentored another student who stammers.

He wasn’t expecting his stammer to be a challenge for him in the online interview with a university. However, he was accidentally left alone in an online waiting room, not knowing if he’d been forgotten. In the interview, he felt anxious and flustered as a result of the long, stressful wait. He felt that he therefore stammered more than unusual, and was unable to respond fully to interview questions and to say what he wanted.

When he complained to the university afterwards, they said they could not make adjustments as he had not mentioned it on the application. They said they thought his mention of stammering applied to one of the students he’d mentored.

More of what happened, and recommendations from STAMMA: Mentioning stammering on a UCAS form (stamma.org), 7th February, 2024, and Did the Uni’s interview process discriminate? (stamma.org).

My comment

For universities, not knowing of the disability is not a defence as such to their duty to make reasonable adjustments, though it may well be relevant: see Universities: Knowledge of disability.

Even if one applied the different rules for employment (where there is an express defence if the employer did not have actual or constructive knowledge), there would be questions here of whether the university knew or could reasonably have been expected to know of the disability and disadvantage. There would be the question whether the university should have understood from the UCAS form that he had, or may have, a stammer. Also it may have been apparent in the interview that he had a stammer or similar, which in an employment situation (and probably a university situation) might mean the interview should be paused or adjourned to consider adjustments, as in Y v Calderdale Council (Recruitment: Should I tell the employer I stammer?>Or consider explaining disadvantage in the actual interview, if it is getting in the way).

In any event, both legally and – more importantly – in order to have adjustments happen in practice, it makes sense to clearly let the university that you have a disability, namely a stammer, before the interview if not on the form. There are suggestions on how to do this in Mentioning stammering on a UCAS form (stamma.org)). Preferably, tick the disability box. Even if you think you won’t need adjustments, this case illustrates that unexpected events may mean you do.

If you feel your responses to questions may be too limited, or you think the stammer may cause other non-obvious disadvantages, Glasson v Insolvency Service (an employment case) indicates it’s also probably a good idea to tell the university that specifically. I discuss limited responses in the context of recruitment at Examples of reasonable adjustments: Recruitment>Oral interview: Limited responses).

If you haven’t told the university in advance but find you are having problems in the interview, you could raise it with them in the interview itself (cf on employment Recruitment: Should I tell the employer I stammer?>Or consider explaining disadvantage in the actual interview, if it is getting in the way).

STAMMA say they are proposing to discuss with UCAS the issue that stammering doesn’t neatly fit into any of the disability categories on the university application form.

Recruitment: Should I tell the employer I stammer? may be useful, albeit it focuses on the different rules in employment.

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