Why is this important?
- What is discrimination because of disability
- Harassment because of disability
- What counts as a disability
- Disability discrimination at work
- Access to goods, facilities and services
- Discrimination when buying or renting property
- Discrimination in education
- Access to public transport
- Further help
It is against the law to discriminate against disabled people in various areas of their lives.
If disability discrimination takes place in any of the following situations, you may be able to take action about it:
There are some important areas where it is not against the law to discriminate against disabled people, for example, in access to public transport services.
Disability discrimination can either be direct or indirect.
Direct discrimination is where you are treated less favourably because of your disability than someone without a disability would be treated in the same circumstances.
Here is an example of direct discrimination because of disability:
Indirect discrimination is where there is a rule, policy or practice which seems to apply equally to everyone, but which actually puts disabled people at an unfair disadvantage compared with people who aren't disabled.
Here is an example of indirect discrimination:
Sometimes, it is possible to justify the rule, policy or practice that puts disabled people at a disadvantage. For example, there could be a health and safety reason, or an unavoidable business reason. Where this is the case, it won't count as discrimination.
There is another kind of discrimination which is called discrimination arising from disability. This means that someone is treated unfavourably because of something connected to their disability and there is no good reason for doing this. For example, they may need to use a guide dog but no adjustments are made to allow for this.
It is also disability discrimination if someone does not make adjustments to allow disabled people to access a service or carry out a job. For example, providing an information leaflet in Braille. This is called the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
It is also disability discrimination:
- to harass you if you are disabled, for example, by making jokes about your disability
- to victimise you if you take legal action because of discrimination against you, or if you help someone else to take legal action because of discrimination
- not to take steps to make sure that disabled people can have access to things like goods, facilities and services, a workplace, an educational establishment, an association, or a public building. This is called making reasonable adjustments
- if someone discriminates against you because of someone you have a connection to who is disabled, such as your partner or child. This is known as discrimination by association.
Here is an example of discrimination by association:
It is disability discrimination if someone is harassing you because of your disability. You may be able to take action about this.
Someone is harassing you if you find their behaviour towards you offensive, frightening, degrading, humiliating or in any way distressing. Examples of harassment could involve nicknames, teasing, name-calling, pulling faces, jokes, pranks or any other behaviour which you find upsetting because of your disability. Even if this behaviour is not deliberately meant to hurt you, it may still count as discrimination if you find it upsetting.
It can still be harassment, even if the person harassing you knows you don't have a disability.
Here is an example of harassment because of disability:
A boy with multiple sclerosis feels that he is being harassed by his Scout Leader who constantly asks him if he is feeling alright, even though his parents have asked him not to do this in front of the other boys.
Even though the Scout Leader might think he is being kind and has no intention of hurting or humiliating him, this could still count as harassment if the boy finds it distressing.
If you complain about disability discrimination, you shouldn’t be victimised because of it. This means that you shouldn’t be treated unfairly just because you’ve made a complaint.
Making a complaint includes taking a case to court, going to an employment tribunal or standing up for your rights in some other way.
You can get legal protection if you are victimised because you’ve made a complaint about disability discrimination. You can also get legal protection from discrimination for helping someone else to make a complaint about disability discrimination, for example, by giving evidence as a witness in court.
Here is an example of victimisation:
A mentally disabled man sues a pub owner because he was constantly making hurtful remarks about his disability to other customers.
Because of this, the pub owner bars the man from the pub altogether. This would be victimisation.
There are rules about what the law counts as a disability, when considering whether or not discrimination has taken place.
The law says that 'disability' means a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. There are special rules for people with cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis and for people who are blind or partially sighted – see below.
According to this definition, impairments can include sensory impairments, such as sight and hearing, or mental impairments such as learning disabilities, dyslexia and mental illness. Some severe disfigurements count as a disability. Some conditions that can worsen over time such as multiple scleroses and HIV/AIDS are regarded as a disability as soon as they are diagnosed, even before they start to affect your day-to-day activities.
To have a long-term disability means that the disability:
- has lasted for at least twelve months; or
- is expected to last for at least twelve months; or
- is likely to last for the rest of your life, if you are expected to live for less than twelve months.
In some cases, even if medical aids or treatment are used to help control or remove a disability, it is still regarded as a disability. Examples of this include the use of an artificial limb or medication to control epilepsy. However, visual impairment corrected with glasses or contact lenses is not regarded as a disability.
Although a minor impairment may not, on its own, count as substantial, you may have a number of minor impairments which taken together may be seen as having a substantial effect. If an impairment stops having a substantial effect, it can still be regarded as an impairment if there is a reasonable likelihood of the condition recurring, for example, epilepsy.
People with cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis
If you have cancer, HIV or multiple sclerosis, you are automatically counted as having a disability. This means that you don't have to show that you have an impairment that has a substantial, adverse, long-term effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. You are counted as having a disability from the date you are diagnosed with the condition.
People who are blind or partially sighted
You are counted as having a disability if you are either:
- certified as blind or partially-sighted by a consultant ophthalmologist; or
- registered as blind or partially-sighted by a local authority.
What does not count as a disability
The law does not currently count the following as disabilities:
- addiction to alcohol, nicotine or any other substance not prescribed by a doctor. However, damage to health caused by the addiction may be considered a disability
- hay fever
- certain personality disorders (for example exhibitionism, voyeurism or a tendency to steal, set fires, or physically or sexually abuse other people)
- tattoos and body piercing.
For more information about what counts as a disability, go the Directgov website at: www.directgov.uk.
If you need more information about what is a mental or physical impairment, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
It is against the law for an employer:
- to treat you less favourably because you are disabled than someone without a disability would be treated in the same circumstances. This is called direct discrimination
- to discriminate against you because of your connection with someone else who is disabled, for example, your partner or child. This is called discrimination by association
- to discriminate against you indirectly for example by requiring something which applies to all your colleagues but which is much more difficult for you and for disabled people to meet
- to treat you unfavourably because of something connected with your disability. For example, a worker is given night shifts to do. She has kidney failure and has nightly dialysis. Making her do night shifts would mean she won't be able to have her dialysis
- not to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to allow you to work or to continue to work
- to harass you if you are disabled, for example, by making jokes about your disability
- to victimise you if you take legal action because of discrimination against you, or if you help someone else to take legal action because of discrimination.
Employers can treat disabled people less favourably only if they have a sufficiently justifiable reason for doing so, and only if the problem cannot be overcome by making 'reasonable adjustments'. For example, an employer would be justified in rejecting someone with severe back pain for a job as a carpet fitter, as they cannot carry out the essential requirements of the job.
Examples of the types of adjustments that an employer might make include:
- making physical adjustments to the premises
- supplying special equipment to help you do your job, or providing information in an accessible format
- transferring you to a different post or work place
- altering your hours of work or giving you extra time off.
When employers are deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable they can take into account several things, including the cost of making an adjustment and the size of their business. If you are already in the job, your employer can also take into account your skills and experience and the length of time you have worked there.
If you are disabled and need changes at work so you can do your job, you may be able to get help from Access to Work. You may also be able to get help from Access to Work if you are disabled and are looking for a job. Also, you may be able to get help from Access to Work if you are a young disabled person doing voluntary work experience under the Youth Contract.
Access to Work is a government scheme that works with disabled people and employers to work out what changes are needed so the disabled person can do their job. They may also be able to provide some money to pay for the changes. Access to Work may be able to provide an assessment of your needs at work, and help with things like equipment, adapting premises or a support worker. It can also provide support for people with mental health conditions to enable them to find, remain in or return to work. As the employee or person looking for work, it is your responsibility to contact Access to Work.
For more information about Access to Work, ask at your local Jobcentre Plus, or see the Directgov website at: www.direct.gov.uk. More information about mental health support through Access to Work can be found on the Directgov website at www.direct.gov.uk.
You can also complete an online questionnaire on the Directgov website to find out if you are eligible to get help from Access to Work. If you are, you can print out a 'pre-employment eligibility letter' which you can show to a prospective employer. For more information, see www.direct.gov.uk.
You can find a useful fact sheet about Access to Work on the Disability Rights UK website at www.disabilityrightsuk.org.
If you have suffered discrimination at work because of your disability, you should talk to an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Other types of discrimination
As well as being treated unfairly because of a disability, you could be treated unfairly for other reasons because:
- of sex
- of race, ethnic origin or nationality
- of sexual orientation
- of age
- of religion or belief
- you are married or a civil partner
- of gender reassignment
- you are pregnant or on maternity leave.
For example, you're a disabled woman who's been sacked because you're pregnant. You may have a claim for pregnancy discrimination as well as disability discrimination. If you think you've been sacked because you're pregnant and because you're disabled, make sure you raise both issues if you make a complaint.
For more information about discrimination, see our discrimination pages.
Access to goods, facilities and services
The law gives certain basic rights to all consumers of goods, facilities and services.
For more information about your basic consumer rights, see Buying goods – your rights and Buying services – your rights.
In addition to your basic rights as a consumer, if you are disabled, you also have other rights which protect you against discrimination when you buy goods and services or use certain facilities. This applies regardless of the size of the organisation or company providing the goods, services or facilities.
Examples of services which must not discriminate against you if you are disabled include services provided by: hotels, banks, building societies, solicitors, local authorities, advice agencies, pubs, theatres, shops, telesales, railway stations, churches, doctors, law courts and public transport. It does not matter whether the service is free or has to be paid for.
Generally speaking, insurance companies are not allowed to discriminate against you if you are disabled, but they may sometimes be able to treat you less favourably if they can show that this is based on reliable information about insurance risk.
What you can expect from providers of goods, facilities and services
I'm physically disabled and I can only walk short distances without help. When I travel by air, I need a wheelchair to get between the check-in desk and the departure lounge. The air company always charge me for the wheelchair. Surely this isn't fair.
No, in fact it's against the law for the airline to make you pay for a wheelchair if you're disabled. Get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at your local CAB about how to negotiate with them before you next book a flight.
Providers of goods, facilities and services must not treat you less favourably than they would treat a person who is not disabled. An example of less favourable treatment is where a hotel refuses a booking from a person with a hearing impairment, saying that the hotel is not suitable for people with a hearing impairment.
Service providers must make 'reasonable adjustments' to allow a disabled person to use their services. If they don't do this, they must be able to show that their failure to do so is reasonable. Examples of making reasonable adjustments include providing information on audiotape as well as in writing, or installing a ramp to allow wheelchair access.
The government has produced a set of guidelines on your rights as a consumer of good, facilities and services. These guidelines are available from the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at: www.equalityhumanrights.com.
If you think a provider of goods, facilities or services has discriminated against you because you are disabled, you should talk to an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
The law gives certain basic rights to everyone who buys or rents property.
In addition to your basic rights, if you are disabled, you also have other rights which protect you against discrimination when you buy or rent property. Someone who rents or sells you property may be discriminating against you if:-
- they refuse to sell or rent a property to you
- they offer you a property for sale or rent on worse terms than they would to a person who is not disabled
- they treat you less favourably on a housing waiting list than someone who is not disabled
- you are renting and they unreasonably prevent you from using benefits or facilities or don't allow you to use these facilities in the same way as other tenants do
- you are renting and they evict or harass you for a reason connected with your disability.
Services such as estate agents must make their offices accessible, as long as it is reasonable to do so.
For more information about housing waiting lists or registers, see Finding accommodation.
Owner-occupiers letting or selling accommodation privately
If a landlord both owns and lives in the accommodation they are renting out, they can choose not to rent it to you because of your disability. But if they publish an advert to rent it or use an agency, they are not allowed to discriminate because of your disability.
If an owner-occupier sells their property, they can choose not to sell it to you because of your disability. But if they publish an advert to sell it or use an estate agent, they are not allowed to discriminate because of your disability.
For more information about your rights when you buy a property, see Buying a home.
It is not against the law to discriminate against you because of your disability when a landlord is renting out accommodation which counts as a small dwelling. A small dwelling is accommodation where all of the following apply:
- the landlord or their close relative also lives there
- you share accommodation with other people living there
- there is not normally accommodation for more than two households as well as the landlord’s own, or six people in addition to the landlord.
For more information about your basic rights when you rent a property, see Renting from a private landlord and, in England and Wales, see Renting from a social housing landlord. In Scotland, see Renting from a public sector landlord.
A landlord's duty to make alterations for disabled people
If you're disabled, you can ask your landlord (or future landlord) to make certain changes to the accommodation you are renting if this is necessary for you to be able to live in the property. You can also ask them to change their policies if necessary. These changes are known as making reasonable adjustments. Landlords who refuse to make reasonable adjustments may be discriminating against you, and you may be able to take action against them.
Reasonable adjustments can include:
- providing aids and services. An example of this would be providing an audio copy of a tenancy agreement. Another example would be fitting a special door entry system so that a deaf person knows when someone is at the door
- changing practices, policies or procedures. An example of this would be to change the parking policy so that a disabled occupier who has difficulty walking can park in front of the building
- changing a term in the tenancy agreement. An example of this would be changing a term in the tenancy agreement which says that tenants can't make improvements so that a disabled person could make a disability-related improvement. Another example would be changing a term which bans pets for a disabled person who has an assistance dog.
What is reasonable will depend on the individual circumstances including:
- the type and length of your tenancy
- how much difference the adjustment will make to you
- whether the landlord could reasonably afford to make the adjustment.
It may also count as discrimination if your landlord tries to evict you or increase the rent, because of the cost of the adjustment you asked them to make.
If you think you have been discriminated against when buying or renting a property because you are disabled, you should talk to an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Providers of education must not discriminate against disabled students, or disabled people applying to be students. Providers of education include providers of further education, higher education, adult and community education.
Providers of education must not discriminate against students or applicants in the following ways:
Less favourable treatment
Providers of education must not discriminate against students or applicants by treating them less favourably than students who are not disabled, unless they can justify this treatment. This means that education providers must not:
- refuse to offer a disabled student a place because they are disabled, or offer them a place on less favourable terms than a student who is not disabled
- treat a disabled student less favourably in any aspect of educational life including trips, excursions and extra-curricular activities
- exclude a disabled student from school because of their disability
For example, if a school refuses to take a child who suffers from epilepsy unless she stops having fits, this will count as discrimination.
In some cases, an education provider can treat a disabled student less favourably if it can justify this. A school can justify less favourable treatment if it is because of a permitted form of selection. For example, a child with learning difficulties applies to a school that selects its intake on the basis of academic ability and fails the school's entrance exam. Under these circumstances, the school would be able to justify not offering the child a place.
Making reasonable adjustments
Providers of education must not discriminate against disabled students or applicants by failing to make reasonable adjustments to allow for their disability. If this places a disabled student at a substantial disadvantage compared with students who are not disabled, this will be regarded as discrimination. For example, a deaf pupil who lip-reads is at a disadvantage if teachers continue to speak while facing away to write on a whiteboard.
Making reasonable adjustments includes providing special aids such as equipment and sign language interpreters.
There are some circumstances in which an education provider may be able to justify not making an adjustment for a student's disability.
Schools do not have to make reasonable adjustments to buildings and the physical environment of the school. However, all local education authorities must have plans to make their schools more accessible to disabled pupils. Maintained schools, independent schools, and non-maintained special schools must produce their own accessibility plans. The plans must be in writing and publicly available.
Providers of further and higher education do have to make reasonable adjustments to their premises to allow better access for disabled students. However, issues such as cost can be taken into account when they decide whether an adjustment is reasonable.
For more information about the rights of disabled students at school or in post-16 education, visit the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at: www.equalityhumanrights.com.
Providing for children with special educational needs
In England and Wales, all schools must comply with a statement of special educational needs where one has been issued for a child. For example, a school must recruit a learning support assistant or provide information in Braille or audio tape where the student's statement provides for one. In some cases, colleges of further education must also comply with a statement of special educational needs.
For more information in England and Wales about special educational needs, see Special educational needs.
In Scotland, a child with special educational needs has to have a record made of these needs in a coordinated support plan called a Record of Needs. The local authority must provide information on its general policy and practice with regard to provision in schools for pupils with additional support needs.
For more information, see Guide for parents on additional support for learning.
What action can you take about discrimination in education
If you have a child who has special needs, in England, you may be able to complain to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). The Tribunal publishes a guide to bring a disability discrimination case. This is available on the Tribunal website at: www.sendist.gov.uk. The Tribunal also has a helpline. The number is: 01325 392760.
In Wales, you can complain to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales. You can find information about discrimination appeals on the Tribunal's website at: www.wales.gov.uk.
In Scotland, if you can’t resolve the problem with the school, you should approach your local authority education department.
If you cannot resolve the problem with the education department you can raise a claim at the Additional Support Needs Tribunal service that deals with disability claims for school pupils. For more information, see: www.asntscotland.gov.uk.
You may also need to get specialist support.
For more information about getting specialist support, see Guide for parents on additional support for learning.
For more information about the rights of disabled students at school or in post-16 education and what action you can take if you want to make a complaint, visit the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at: www.equalityhumanrights.com.
If you think you have suffered discrimination in education because of your disability, you should talk to an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Access to public transport
If you’re disabled, providers of public transport must not treat you less favourably than they would treat a person who isn't disabled (unless they can show that the treatment is justified). They have the same duties as other providers of services. These rules apply to the transport service itself as well as to other related services, for example, at a railway station.
There are exceptions these rules – ships are not covered by the rules although their related services are. For example, if you're disabled, you must not be treated less favourably at the ferry port.
When you travel by air, airport operators must provide services which allow you to board, disembark and transfer to another flight. They are not allowed to charge for these services.
There are also special rules protecting disabled passengers when they travel by air in Europe. Airlines and travel companies are not allowed to refuse to accept bookings from disabled passengers. This applies to all flights leaving an airport in the European Union (EU) and to any flight arriving in an EU country on an EU airline.
More information about moving around and the assistance you can get when you fly to andfrom Europe, including domestic flights, is available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) website at: www.equalityhumanrights.com.
For further information about public transport for disabled people, see Transport options for disabled people.
If you are disabled, make sure that you're getting all the help you have a right to. For example, you might be entitled to benefits. You might have care needs that the council can help with. There are transport and parking concessions for disabled people.
For more information about benefits, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.
For more information about help from the council, see Community care.
For more information about transport and parking concessions, see Transport options for disabled people.
Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)
If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at www.equalityhumanrights.com.
Directgov (England and Wales only)
The government website at www.direct.gov.uk has a lot of information for disabled people living in England and Wales. For example, there is information on employment, housing options, education and housing rights and obligations.
Is that discrimination? (England and Wales only)
Is that discrimination? is a website produced by Advicenow. It has information on how to tackle discrimination in the workplace. It also features a problem page and case studies about discrimination. Go to www.isthatdiscrimination.org.uk.