Waqas Zaib, deputy vice chair of the Lawyers with Disabilities Division, explains how the act affects members of the Lawyers with Disabilities Division

The Equality Act 2010 replaced most of the Disability Discrimination Act, and aims to protect disabled people and prevent disability discrimination. It provides legal rights for disabled people in the areas of:

  • employment
  • education
  • access to goods, services and facilities including larger private clubs and land based transport services
  • buying and renting land or property
  • functions of public bodies

The act also provides rights for people not to be directly discriminated against or harassed because they have an association with a disabled person. This can apply to a carer or parent of a disabled person. In addition, people must not be directly discriminated against or harassed because they are wrongly perceived to be disabled.

So how does the act affect you as a Lawyers with Disabilities Division member?

Those in employment

The act makes it unlawful for an employer to directly discriminate on the grounds of disability (s. 13 of the act) and as such all employees should in theory be treated equally. If discrimination had taken place then the employee must show a link between disability and the way he or she were treated.

Section 15 of the act provides further protection from discrimination arising from a disability, such as being treated unfavourably. For example if your firm did not take reasonable steps to ensure you had access to resources; however it is important to note that under this section, the employer would not be held responsible for discrimination if he or she did not know that you had a disability.

There is also indirect discrimination protection provided through s.19 of the act, a slightly more complex area but it puts an emphasis on employers to think about and plan ahead for disabled applicants/employees irrespective of whether a disability has been declared.

Reasonable adjustments

If a disabled person is facing a disadvantage due to their disability then the employer or educational establishment if you are a student, must take all necessary steps to make reasonable adjustments to put the disabled person on a level playing field with able bodied people, emphasis on reasonable.

From an employer’s prospective, they should consider adjustments that may help. Such as:

  • making adjustments to the work area
  • altering an employee’s working hours
  • providing additional supervision or support
  • acquiring or modifying equipment
  • or suggestions that the employee deems relevant.

What is reasonable depends on many factors for the employer but extends to the financial costs associated with making the adjustments, the disruptions to services involved, extent of adjustments and the practicality to carry out adjustments.

The duty on the employer though is still a positive one but only applies where the employer has some knowledge that an employee (or job applicant) has a disability.

Students

All of what has been said above applies to students as well, whether you study in a public or private institution. Anyone providing services to the public or a section of the public, and who exercise a public function are under a duty not to discriminate against any disabled person in the way they operate, and this includes a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments.

The provisions relating to disability discrimination in education are stated in part six of the act which protect students from discrimination in the way they are to be offered admission and in the way education and other benefits or services are provided, and are also entitled to have reasonable adjustments put in place.

Educational institutions should therefore:

  • anticipate the requirements of disabled students
  • make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to assessments
  • ensure that assessment procedures neither disadvantage, nor advantage disabled students.

I hope the above information provided you with a snapshot of what the act covers and the benefits given to individual in a variety of areas. Again, the areas covered in the article were those which I deemed most beneficial for our members and only gives a very brief outline, for further information please visit direct.gov.uk.