Disability discrimination and the law

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 to the provider is usually the quickest way of getting the adjustments that 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.

Types of discrimination

Disability discrimination can be direct or indirect. Harassment is also discrimination.

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

Harassment

Harassment is when someone talks about disability in an offensive way or picks on you because you are disabled.

For example:

  • your employer makes negative remarks about disabled employees
  • someone in the street shouts offensive names at you as a disabled person

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. Find out more about the rights of disabled passengers (GOV.UK).

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 usually means how your condition affects you, not what your condition is. But you are also considered as disabled with these diagnosed conditions:

  • cancer
  • HIV
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)

Showing 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:

  • giving people who find noisy shopping environments difficult the chance to browse 30 minutes before a shop opens
  • autism-friendly cinema screenings
  • an employer offering flexible working

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.

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.

Explain:

  • 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.

Include:

  • dates
  • times
  • names
  • what happened
  • relevant documents, such as emails from other people, or pictures

If your employer does not respond, contact your union or 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 to the organisation's Facebook page or Twitter account can also help.

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:

Transport

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)

Work

You can ask for adjustments if you face discrimination in the workplace. Read more about what your rights are:

Your employer should not harass you and should protect you from being harassed. If you feel you are being harassed, talk to your union or get in touch with Acas.

Warning

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

Education

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

  • refuse to admit a child because of their impairment or condition
  • discriminate against them by not meeting their needs
  • allow harassment 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 with Special Educational Needs (SEN). 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.

Talking to school about educational adjustments for your child

Support for your child at school: SEN and EHCP

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

Last reviewed by Scope on: 29/07/2019

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