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Discrimination because of something connected to your disability

This advice applies to England

If you’ve been treated unfairly by someone because of something connected to your disability, you may have been discriminated against. The Equality Act 2010 calls this discrimination arising from disability. If you’ve been discriminated against, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about discrimination arising from disability.

What’s meant by discrimination arising from disability?

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts.

Discrimination arising from disability is when you’re treated unfairly because of something connected to your disability rather than the disability itself. The Equality Act says you’ve been treated unfavourably.

Examples of things connected to your disability

Here are examples of things which might be connected to your disability:

  • the need for regular rest breaks or toilet breaks
  • a restricted diet
  • difficulties in using public transport
  • the need for regular hospital appointments
  • the need for specialist computer equipment
  • the need for a quiet working environment
  • the need for an assistance dog
  • behavioural issues
  • speech or movement difficulties.

Example

You're blind and need a guide dog. You’re refused entry to a restaurant because the restaurant doesn’t allow dogs inside. The need for an assistance dog is connected to your disability. This would be unlawful discrimination, not because of your disability itself, but because you need an assistance dog. You're being put at a disadvantage because you need the dog to help you. It doesn’t matter that other people can’t take their dogs into the restaurant because they don't need a dog to help them.

What’s meant by unfavourable treatment?

Being treated unfavourably means you’re worse off because of the way you've been treated – for example, by being refused a service or disciplined at work.

Unlike direct discrimination, there’s no need to compare your situation with that of someone else. All you need to show is that you were treated unfavourably because of something to do with your disability.

Example

You apply for a place at a nursery for your disabled daughter. She has a condition which means that she doesn’t have full bowel control. The nursery says they can’t admit her because she’s not toilet trained and all the children at the nursery are. The refusal to admit your daughter is not because of her disability itself, but she’s being treated unfavourably because of something connected to her disability. Here it’s the fact that she’s not toilet trained.

Example

You’re given a new shift pattern at work which includes late night shifts. You have kidney failure, for which you have nightly dialysis. You’re therefore unable to work late at night as a consequence of your disability. This would be unfavourable treatment because of something connected to your disability. Here it’s the need to have dialysis at night.

Can discrimination because of something connected to your disability sometimes be lawful?

Discrimination because of something connected to your disability can sometimes be lawful.

If there’s a good enough reason for treating you unfavourably

Sometimes it’s not unlawful discrimination if someone treats you unfavourably because of something connected to your disability. The Equality Act says they can justify discrimination if there’s a good enough reason for treating you unfavourably.

If someone wants to justify discrimination, it will be more difficult to do so if they’ve failed to make reasonable adjustments in relation to your disability.

If the person discriminating against you doesn’t know you’re disabled

It’s not unlawful discrimination, if the person who discriminates against you can show that:

  • they didn’t know you’re disabled
  • they couldn’t reasonably be expected to have known you’re disabled.

This means that if someone discriminates against you, they must show that they did all they could reasonably be expected to do to find out about your disability.  

Example

You have ME which means you experience severe fatigue. Recently, you went to the pub with some friends but felt so tired you had to lie down on the bench seat for a while. A pub employee told you to leave the premises as she thought you were drunk. You explained to her that you were lying down because of your disability, but  she refused to accept your explanation or listen to your friends. She made no attempt to talk with the other bar staff who had served you only one drink.

This would probably be unlawful discrimination. There was enough information available to the pub employee for her to find out about your disability. You could therefore argue that she should have known about it.

Next steps

Other useful information

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)

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