Services, buildings, education and employment should be accessible to all. If they are not accessible for your specific needs, you can ask for a ‘reasonable adjustment’. These adjustments can help make sure that:
you are treated equally
your needs are met
you have access to the things you want and need to do
you can live independently
What are reasonable adjustments?
The Equality Act 2010 (GOV.UK) replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It says that disabled people have the right to reasonable adjustments that make jobs, education and services accessible to them.
There is no set definition of ‘reasonable’ in the Equality Act. It depends on what you need, the organisation and the situation.
Adjustments could be:
accessible toilets in restaurants
shops having ramps
opening a shop 30 minutes early for people who find noisy environments difficult
extra time in exams or equipment to help you study
quiet spaces away from open plan offices or large classrooms
rails or hoists that help you use a public swimming pool
Where they can, employers, services and education providers have a legal duty to try to remove the barriers you face because of disability. This can help make sure you get the same access as someone who is not disabled.
Anyone can ask for adjustments if they need them. But to have legal rights to reasonable adjustments, you will need to be defined as ‘disabled’ under the Equality Act. This usually means how your condition affects you, not what your condition is.
You can ask for adjustments when you feel at a disadvantage. The employer, education or service provider may be happy to make adjustments or they may not be aware of your access needs.
You can be at a disadvantage because of:
a ‘physical feature’, such as steps or a lack of seating
a failure to provide an ‘auxiliary aid’, such as voice recognition software or a hearing loop
‘provisions, criteria or practices’, such as a strict rule on exam time limits or a policy that all staff must start work at 9am
Provisions (like equipment or services), criteria and practices could also be:
rules or policies that apply to everyone
a one-off decision that affects you, such as changing to using software that is not accessible to you
Legally, an employer, education or service provider only has a duty to make reasonable adjustments when you are at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ compared to people who are not disabled.
Deciding if an adjustment is reasonable
Only a court can decide what is reasonable under the Equality Act. Before this, agreements about what’s reasonable are informal. When considering adjustments, an employer, service or education provider would look at things like:
health and safety
They will usually use occupational health to help decide what might be seen as reasonable. Here are some examples of what may be considered reasonable.
It might be reasonable to…
give a student software that helps them type up or dictate lectures and coursework
make sure a pupil using a wheelchair has classes on the ground floor
change exam criteria that might advantage the disabled student or disadvantage non-disabled students
install a Changing Places toilet into a small restaurant
make an adjustment that meets your needs but affects other people’s access needs or everyone’s health and safety
Who you can ask for adjustments
You can ask for adjustments from anybody employing you or providing a private or public service. This can include:
your local authority or MP
not-for-profit organisations, charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
your school, college or university
leisure centres, clubs or associations
shops, restaurants, pubs or bars
How to ask for a reasonable adjustment
You can ask for adjustments:
How you decide to ask for an adjustment will depend on your situation.
If you’re asking a commercial service like a shop or restaurant, you might contact the customer service team about your access needs through email, Twitter direct message or Facebook messenger.
If you’re asking an employer, you might want to talk to your manager first and then send an email summarising what you talked about.
In some cases it can help to have an informal chat first. This can keep your request positive and may also mean that you get a quicker response. You can then follow up in writing, if your request was not resolved or to confirm the agreed adjustments.
If you cannot get an answer, you can also ask for reasonable adjustments in a complaint.
Having your request and any responses in writing can be helpful. It will make sure you have a record of:
what you asked for
why you asked for it, including how you’re at a substantial disadvantage
when you asked for it (how long it takes the organisation to reply)
how many requests you made
the organisation’s reply and reasons for accepting or refusing
Always ask for the name of the person you’re in contact with. This can help with keeping a record of all your interactions.
Records can also help you challenge a decision to deny your request.
Find adjustments together
While it is the duty of the employer, education or service provider to make reasonable adjustments, it can help to work together to find the right adjustments.
This could include:
finding examples of how other organisations or services meet access needs
suggesting practical adjustments
coming up with creative changes that will work for everyone
This will depend on the organisation and your situation.
Sometimes, you may just need to tell organisations that their services or premises are not accessible to you.
A wheelchair user tweeted a cosmetics chain that her local store had a step and she could not go inside.
The company responded that they were not aware of the barrier and within 4 weeks the store had a ramp.
They reported more wheelchair users spending money in their shop and were looking at the accessibility of other stores.
If you are refused adjustments
Employers and people providing services or education should consider all disabled people’s requests for adjustments. If your request is refused, they should explain why. The reasons for refusal can help you decide whether it is discrimination.