Disability discrimination and the law

This information applies to England and Wales.

It is discrimination when a person puts you at a disadvantage. This can happen when people:

  • treat you differently
  • make decisions that exclude you
  • bully or harass you

The Equality Act 2010 says that discrimination is illegal. Making a complaint is usually the quickest way of getting the access you need.

People may behave in a way that is not illegal but which still makes you feel uncomfortable. For example, people staring at you on public transport.

Dealing with negative attitudes

Types of discrimination

Disability discrimination can be direct or indirect.

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination is when a disabled person is treated unfairly because of their impairment or condition.

For example:

  • Your employer does not offer you a place on a training course because they think that it would be difficult for you to get there.
  • A retailer does not offer you a service that they’re offering to non-disabled customers.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination is when an organisation makes a decision without considering disabled people that puts you at a disadvantage.

For example:

  • Your employer has an inaccessible canteen.
  • Your bank wants you to go to a branch when your condition makes this hard or impossible.

Other forms of discriminations include:

Harassment and victimisation

Harassment is aggressive pressure or intimidation that may place you at a disadvantage.

Victimisation is being singled out for cruel or unjust treatment.

For example:

  • Your employer makes negative remarks about disabled employees.
  • Someone in the street shouts offensive names at you as a disabled person.

By association

This is when discrimination is directly linked to the fact you associate with someone considered disabled.

For example:

  • A colleague believes a manager is discriminating against a disabled employee. They raise a concern and then face discrimination themselves, which they believe is directly linked to them raising the complaint.

Your rights

The Equality Act 2010 replaced the Disability Discrimination Act. It says that disabled people have the right to ‘reasonable adjustments’ that make jobs and services accessible to them. Access for disabled people is a legal requirement.

This applies to employers, public and private services. Some things such as transport are covered by specific regulations.

Rights of disabled passengers (GOV.UK)

Disability discrimination in rented housing

The Act defines being disabled as:

“a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [your] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities"

What counts as 'disabled' under the Equality Act

By law, 'long-term' means that your condition:

  • has lasted for at least 12 months or
  • is expected to last at least 12 months or
  • means that you’re expected to live for less than 12 months

Being classified as 'disabled' under the Equality Act means that if you find yourself in a situation where you are discriminated against, the Act will cover you.

The Act also covers people with the following conditions from the moment of diagnosis:

  • cancer
  • HIV
  • multiple sclerosis
  • facial disfigurement

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

Reasonable adjustments

There is no set definition of 'reasonable' in the Equality Act. It depends on what you need, the situation and how much the adjustment might cost.

An adjustment can be physical, such as a ramp or hearing loop. Or it can mean changing the way people behave towards you, such as colleagues not covering their mouths when they are speaking if you lip read. Many adjustments cost very little and can have benefits for everyone. For example:

Being denied adjustments

By law, employers and people providing services should consider all disabled people’s requests for adjustments. If they think an adjustment is too costly or disruptive to be ‘reasonable’, they should be able to show why.

If possible, it’s best to warn a provider of a service, like a restaurant, if you need any adjustments, before you arrive. This makes it harder for them to say your request is unreasonable.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

Making complaints

Complaints can be the quickest way to get the support you need.

Informal complaints

If you can, start by talking with the person who is not supporting you. This could be a line manager who is not providing papers in an accessible format or a colleague who is ignoring you.


  • how your condition or impairment affects you and what you need
  • how they can help

Formal complaints at work

If you are an employee complaining about someone at work, you will need to raise a grievance in writing.


  • dates
  • times
  • names
  • what happened
  • evidence, such as emails or photos

If your employer does not respond, contact your union or workplace rep.

Contact ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)

Formal complaints to companies and public services

You can look up the company on Resolver, which is a free complaints tool that provides templates and helps you to track your complaint.

Search for the company on Resolver

Submit your complaint. Usually, this will be an online form.

Complaining on the organisation's social media accounts can also help.

Complaints guide for encountering online accessibility barriers

Taking a complaint further

If making a written formal complaint does not work, find out if there's someone else you can appeal to. How this works will vary in different types of organisation, for example:


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

Complaining about public transport

Rights of disabled passengers (GOV.UK)


You can ask for reasonable adjustments if your condition places you at a disadvantage. This will help you avoid discrimination in the workplace. Read more about what your rights are:

Your employer should not harass you and should protect you from being victimised.

If you feel you are being harassed or victimised, talk to your union or get in touch with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).


Making a claim at an employment tribunal

The time limit for making a discrimination claim at a tribunal is 3 months less a day from the date of the discrimination.

Disability discrimination at work


Educational settings should not treat disabled students unfavourably. This means that they are not allowed to:

  • refuse to admit someone because of their impairment or condition
  • discriminate against them by not meeting their needs
  • allow harassment or victimisation by teachers or students related to their condition


Schools must make 'reasonable adjustments' so that your child can study.

Schools and nurseries have a legal duty to identify children who need Special Educational Needs Support.

They do this when your child starts school and throughout their school life.

Children with education, health and care (EHC) plans have more legal rights to the specific support.

If school is not following an EHCP

Colleges and universities

Colleges should not treat disabled students unfavourably.

Disability discrimination in college and university

You can get legal advice, some of it free, to find out if you have been discriminated against.

Finding free or affordable legal help (Citizens Advice)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 31/10/2023

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