Disabled Lanarkshire law student’s ‘years of hell’ at Glasgow University

A disabled student from Strathaven who is bidding to sue his own law school has opened up on the “five years of hell” during his time at the University of Glasgow.

Visually impaired Gary Copland – who is also autistic – fell two years behind in his law degree after what his family described as a string of failures, leaving him depressed and “ridden” with anxiety.

Without adequate IT and unable to access texts through a digital processor allowing him to read, Gary “lay in bed all day staring at the ceiling” and was unable to graduate in 2019 alongside his fellow students.

After a spate of complaints made by the 29-year-old to a public watchdog, it was ruled staff failed to treat their student “with dignity and respect.”

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Gary originally applied to the renowned institution because of its disability support promises.

He told our sister paper the Daily Record: “It has been horrendous from start to finish. It has been a negative, difficult and depressing experience that has damaged my confidence and self-worth.

“The impact of the level of hostility and animosity was horrible, I felt blamed for my problems. I expected some level of disadvantage but not to the extent I went through… it was five years of hell.

“If my court case is able to achieve the outcome we are looking for, it might make disabled student experiences better than mine.”

Nine of his complaints have been upheld by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman – with a further 14 pending a decision.

Upheld grievances proved the university failed to provide Gary with adequate software while he was also unable to access digitized materials to allow him to carry out essential reading.

When Gary and his family voiced worries about a device not working, the watchdog ruled the university “did not act appropriately once concerns were raised.”

And in his first year alone the undergraduate student said he was only able to access five law texts out of a list of 1,100.

On another occasion, Gary couldn’t attend a law event to meet potential employers.

He attended the following year, but later asked if university staff could digitize a number of leaflets so as he could apply for jobs.

The leaflets were eventually returned after application deadlines had passed.

He is now carrying out his diploma at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, where he says he is well-supported.

Professor Simon Harding, Gary’s uncle, is working on the case and said the family is “hugely confident” and “utterly determined” that they will sue the university for compensation.

Simon said: “The level of hostility that has been shown to us has taken my breath away. It has been the worst experience of my adult life. It has been deeply, deeply distressing for the whole family.

“The last two years were horrific, he had no functioning IT and was locked in the house due to him shielding from Covid.

“He couldn’t access any reading because his laptop couldn’t work and all of his reading has to be done digitally. He couldn’t finish his dissertation nor could he graduate. He felt left behind and lost around 30kg due to the anxiety of everything.

“We have to do this not just for Gary to validate his experience but for other students who are facing the same rejection, hostility and refusal.

“We want the court to recognize the discrimination against Gary and to hold the university accountable for their illegal actions and behaviours. It has been a horrific experience that should never have happened.”

The Disability Law Center described Gary’s experience as “horrendous” with principal solicitor Daniel Donaldson saying: “No one should feel they have to repeatedly complain to get reasonable adjustments made and implemented.

“My client has been forced to go to court because of the horrendous experience. People with disabilities have every right to go to university and enter the legal profession.

“It is extremely sad that in 21st century Scotland that this Gary has had this experience.”

A spokesperson for the university said: “The University of Glasgow is committed to promoting and implementing equality of opportunity in the learning, teaching, research and working environment.

“We do all we can to support our students to be effective learners and continually seek to improve and in the last year we have undertaken two reviews of our disability provision for students with disabilities – one undertaken by external advisers and one led by a Vice Principal . We are implementing the findings of both.

“The University’s Disability Service and its distributed network of Disability coordinators, who are operational in each of our academic areas, provide a dedicated service for students with disabilities and/or impairments, assessing and putting in place appropriate provision to assist with their learning.

“We do not comment publicly on any particular student’s circumstances or on ongoing legal proceedings.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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