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Disability discrimination

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

Discrimination because of disability

It is against the law to discriminate against disabled people in various areas of their lives.

For example, it is against the law to discriminate against disabled people at work (see under heading Discrimination at work), and when providing goods, facilities and services (see under heading Access to goods, facilities and services). There is also limited protection against discrimination for disabled people who are renting or buying property (see under heading Discrimination when buying or renting property), and in education (see under heading Discrimination in education).

There are some important areas where it is not against the law to discriminate against disabled people, for example access to public transport services – see under heading Access to public transport.

What is disability

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.

An impairment will be treated as affecting your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities if it affects at least one of the following:

  • mobility
  • ability to use hands, for example, for writing or cooking
  • physical co-ordination
  • continence (the ability to control your bladder or bowels)
  • the ability to lift, carry or move ordinary objects
  • speech, hearing or eyesight
  • memory, or the ability to concentrate, learn or understand
  • being able to recognise physical danger.

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.

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, visit the website of the Equality Commission at: www.equalityni.org.

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.

Disability discrimination at work

It is against the law for an employer:

  • to discriminate directly against you if you are disabled or because you are associated with someone who is disabled, for example, your partner or child
  • to treat you less favourably because of your disability -including recruitment and selection, terms and conditions, dismissal and redundancy (but see below).
  • not to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to enable you to work or to continue to work (see below)
  • 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
  • transferring you to a different post or work place
  • altering your hours of work or giving you extra time off.

I've got a learning disability. I've just got an interview for a new job. But I'm very nervous and I think it would help me if I could have someone to come to the interview with me in case I forget to say something important. They have said I can't because that's not fair. Is this right?

You have the right to ask a company to make changes for you because of your learning disability. They shouldn't refuse to let you have someone with you at your interview. Get help to try and persuade them to take someone with you to the interview. An experienced adviser might be able to help, for example, at your local CAB. Or look on the website of the Equality Commission at www.equalityni.org. They have leaflets especially for people with learning difficulties.

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.

Access to Work

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. 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. 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 look on the Directgov website at: www.nidirect.gov.uk.

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:

  • you're a woman
  • of your race, ethnic origin or nationality
  • you're lesbian or gay
  • of your age
  • of your religion.

For example, you're a disabled woman who's been sacked because you're pregnant. You may have a claim for sex discrimination as well as disability discrimination. If you think you've been treated unfairly because you're disabled and because you're a woman, make sure you raise both issues if you make a complaint.

For more information about sex discrimination, see Taking action about sex discrimination in Northern Ireland.

For more information about race discrimination, see Taking action about race discrimination in Northern Ireland.

For more information about discrimination at work because of your age, see Age discrimination at work.

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 the Consumer Council website www.consumercouncil.org.uk

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 (unless they can show that the treatment is justified). 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 justified. 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 Code of Practice about disability discrimination. It is a statement of good practice which you can use when dealing with someone who provides goods, facilities or services. If you decide to take legal action because you have suffered disability discrimination, the court must consider the Code when it arrives at a decision. A copy of the Code is available from the website of the Equality Commission at: www.equalityni.org .

The Equality Commission has a guide to taking court action for disability discrimination which you can get from their website: www.equalityni.org Word .

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.

Discrimination when buying or renting property

The law gives certain basic rights to everyone who buys or rents property.

For more information about your basic rights when you buy a property, see Buying a home.

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 a person 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.

For more information about housing waiting lists or registers, see Finding accommodation.

Landlords who rent out accommodation in their own homes are allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities.

Services such as estate agents must make their offices accessible, as long as it is reasonable to do so.

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 property, and to their policies, when this is necessary for you to be able to live in the property. These changes are known as reasonable adjustments. Landlords who refuse to make reasonable adjustments, and who cannot justify this, are discriminating against you and they are breaking the law.

Reasonable adjustments can include:

  • providing aids and services, such as a copy of the tenancy agreement in Braille or a temporary ramp for a wheelchair user with a small step up to their flat
  • 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 letting agreement. An example of this would be changing a term in the letting 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 letting
  • how much difference the adjustment will make to you
  • how much money your landlord has.

Your landlord doesn't have to take any steps that involve the removal or alteration of physical features, for example, putting in a permanent, concrete ramp or major works which would involve serious damage to the property.

Your landlord must not discriminate against you, for example, by evicting you or increasing the rent because of the cost of the adjustment.

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.

Discrimination in education

Providers of education must not discriminate against disabled students, or disabled people applying to be students. Providers of education include the Education Authority, schools and providers of further or higher 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 (see below). 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 boards 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 Commission at: www.equalityni.org .

Providing for children with special educational needs

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 classroom 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.

What action can you take about discrimination in education

If you have a child who has special needs, you may be able to complain to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. The Tribunal is part of the Courts and Tribunals service and their website has further information on how to bring a disability discrimination case at: www.courtsni.gov.uk. The Tribunal also has a helpline. The number is: 028 90728757.

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 Commission at: www.equalityni.org.

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 (see under heading Access to goods, services and facilities).

These rules apply to the transport service itself as well as to other related services, for example, at a railway station.

More information on your rights when using public transport is available from the Equality Commission (ECNI) website at: www.equalityni.org.

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 and from Europe, including domestic flights, or take a ferry is available from the Consumer Council website at: www.consumercouncil.org.uk.

Further help

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 Commission for Northern Ireland

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast
BT2 7DP

Tel: 028 9050 0600
Textphone: 028 9050 0589

Enquiry Line: 028 90 890 890
Fax: 028 9024 8687
E-mail: information@equalityni.org
Website: www.equalityni.org

The Equality Commission may be able to help you take further action about disability discrimination by investigating alleged discrimination, applying to court for an order to stop discrimination, and by arranging (in some cases) for legal representation. The Commission can also provide conciliation for you if you believe that you have been discriminated against in access to goods, services or premises. For cases involving discrimination in employment, the Labour Relations Agency provides a conciliation service.

Nidirect

The government website at www.nidirect.gov.uk has a lot of information for disabled people living in Northern Ireland. For example, there is information on employment, housing options, education, housing rights, health and financial support.

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