Asking for reasonable adjustments

Services, buildings, education and employment are often not designed with disabled people in mind. This can make them inaccessible.

But you can ask service providers, education institutions and employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. 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

Your rights

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.

Duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people (Citizens Advice)

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.

Showing you're disabled under the Equality Act (Citizens Advice)

Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 (GOV.UK)

When you can ask for adjustments

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.

What is reasonable?

There’s no single answer to reasonable adjustments. What might be considered ‘reasonable’ for one organisation might not be for another.

For example, a large chain store having wide aisles and space between racks should be reasonable. But for an independent store in a small venue, this might not be reasonable.

Deciding if an adjustment is reasonable

To decide if the adjustment is ‘reasonable’, an employer, service or education provider would look at things like:

  • cost
  • practicality
  • effectiveness
  • disruption
  • health and safety

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
  • have audio-described, subtitled and autism-friendly cinema screenings (dimensions-uk.org)
  • give people easy ways to ask for information in alternative formats, like Word documents instead of PDFs

It might not be reasonable to...

  • install a lift into a listed building (Historic England)
  • 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
  • the NHS
  • 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:

  • in person
  • in writing

How you decide to ask for an adjustment will depend on your situation.

For example:

If you’re asking a commercial service like a shop, bar or restaurant, you might tell the customer service team about your access needs on Twitter or Facebook. The prospect of bad publicity can make companies take action.

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.

If you cannot get an answer, you can also ask for reasonable adjustments in a complaint.

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.

Talking to your employer about disability

Keep a record

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

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.

For example:

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.

What to do if you are refused reasonable adjustments

What discrimination is covered by law

Help with reasonable adjustments

You can get general information and advice on reasonable adjustments from:

Duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people (Citizens Advice)

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) information on disability discrimination. Choose where you were discriminated against (like college, work or a shop) and the type of discrimination (such as direct or indirect discrimination) for more specific advice.

Right to Participate template complaint letters

Using a service: reasonable adjustments for disabled people (Equality and Human Rights Commission)

Reasonable adjustments and mental health (Mind)

Transport

By law, all transport providers should offer an accessible service. This service varies depending on the mode of transport.

Rights of disabled passengers (GOV.UK)

How to complain about public transport

Work

You can ask for adjustments at all stages of employment, including recruitment.

Reasonable adjustments in employment

In employment: Workplace adjustments (Equality and Human Rights Commission)

Education

Schools, colleges and universities must make reasonable adjustments so that you can study. Failure to make adjustments can be discrimination.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 10/09/2019

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