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‘What message does this send?’ Mother’s fight for blind rider’s college rights

The mother of a blind rider who was told she could not complete her practical college assessments says denying people education sends the wrong message — and can have other hugely negative effects.

Ash Dilmot’s mother Rachel Wade told H&H she has been fighting for her 17-year-old daughter’s right to be assessed, in activities she is more than capable of carrying out, and that the college now seems to be “investigating it seriously”.

Rachel said it was a “battle” to get Ash on to the equestrian course, at Askham Bryan College last summer, but she was accepted, and it was only in October last year that Rachel was told Ash would not be able to do the practical assessments.

“They said it wouldn’t be safe,” Rachel said. “But it’s their duty to take reasonable adjustments to cater for people with disabilities, and I said they still have to let her take the course.”

Rachel said the requirements for the assessments are basic, such as putting on a headcollar and a bridle, things Ash has been able to do for years. She has sent supporting statements from equestrian professionals, and hopes a solution can be found.

“Absolutely there are health and safety considerations,” she said. “But Ash does these things every day. I’m confident she can pass but they’re not even allowing her the chance to fail because she’s blind, and that’s wrong.”

Riders such as multiple Paralympic dressage champion Sophie Christiansen have taken up Ash’s cause, which Rachel said has helped her daughter.

“When she started riding, she had some vision, but when she was about 12, she went completely blind,” Rachel said. “It was like starting to learn to ride again. She was crying, and I said ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ She said ‘it’s the only thing I’ve ever loved, and I’ll do it again’. She’s had to go through such a lot, and this has been another knock.

“Since other people have been supporting her, that’s helped, as it’s not just me saying she can do it. The worst thing the college has done is not just deprive her of her education; they’ve imposed their limiting beliefs on her, that because she’s blind, she can’t do it.”

Rachel said since she shared Ash’s situation, she has heard from parents of other disabled riders facing similar issues.

“This is a big thing,” she said. “How are you going to get the next Paralympians like Sophie, if they get stopped at Ash’s level?

“Education should be at the forefront of empowering people with disabilities, and it’s how you shape society, but every person in Ash’s class is seeing that she can’t do things because she’s blind. What message does that send?”

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College CEO Tim Whitaker told H&H: “We have always sought to provide specific support for Ashleigh and no final decisions have been made concerning her course; we continue to work with her to find an appropriate solution and are confident that we will be able to make arrangements that enable her to complete the course.

“Throughout her studies we have regular contact to discuss her progress and how the college can accommodate her specific needs and we continue to do so. It would not be appropriate for us to comment more about Ashleigh’s personal study plan at this point.

“Askham Bryan College is committed to supporting all learners in achieving their full potential, including learners with learning difficulties or disabilities.”

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