Disabled Student Wins ‘Lift’ Case

A disabled County Down student has won damages against a care company after it refused to lift her out of her wheelchair to attend university. Laura Lee Jenkins, 21, from Saintfield is paralysed from the chest down.

The company, Nursing and Caring Direct, was contracted to provide personal care but refused to assist in lifting her. In settling the case, the Lisburn firm admitted breaching the Disability Discrimination Act. It also apologised for the distress caused.

Laura, who is studying for a law degree at Queen’s University in Belfast, has been paralysed since being diagnosed with a spinal tumour when she was two. She said the company had refused to lift out of her electric wheelchair due to health and safety reasons.

“I have severe problems with my wrists and hands and arms as part of my disability,” she told the BBC. “I need to be lifted as part of my personal care needs in the morning and the evening. This care agency were coming in to help me get on with my daily living and unfortunately they refused to do so against their own policies, and guidelines and procedures, also against an extensive health and safety report that was in place from a senior physio and back care covering them. (It) left me without anything. It actually had the affect of reinforcing my disability, making me feel more disabled than ever.”

She pointed out that her family were in “dire straights” as her mother was ill at the time and could not help out – and the situation prevailed for about nine months. “It was a time when we needed more care, rather than the care being pulled out,” she said. “We were left without anything, didn’t know on a day-to-day basis whether anybody was coming in, and if they did, would they lift, would they not? It was an absolutely horrendous time and it went on for nine months.”

She said the situation had an adverse affect on her studies because instead of graduating last year, she will now not graduate until Christmas. “A law degree is a hard degree in itself without any other added pressure,” she said. “Every day there was something arising and having to be dealt with… it left very little time for doing any sort of work. It made me very unfocussed.”

Anne McKernan of the Equality Commission said health and safety issues should not be overlooked, but that reasonable adjustments should be made on individual cases.

The BBC contacted Nursing and Caring Direct and asked for their response, however, they have yet to issue one.