Equality Act and disability discrimination

Deafblind people are protected against unlawful discrimination by the Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and other non-discrimination legislation. 

People are protected on the basis of their ’protected characteristics’, which includes disability.   

These pages summarise a person’s right not to be discriminated against because of their disability. The Equality Act also offers protection to carers, friends, or relatives of disabled people if they are discriminated against because of their association with a disabled person. Those who are discriminated against because people perceive them to be disabled are also protected.

Prohibition of unlawful discrimination applies to employment settings, including recruitment processes, education settings, provision of goods, facilities and services, exercise of public functions, the disposal and management of premises and associations including private clubs.

Disabled people can experience discrimination in a number of ways so the Equality Act makes different types of discrimination unlawful. It also protects disabled people from victimisation and harassment and imposes a duty to make reasonable adjustments

Direct discrimination is when a person is treated worse than others because of their disability. Direct discrimination can never be justified.

To be successful in your direct discrimination claim you will have to show that there is a direct link between the poor treatment you encountered and your disability. You also need to be able to demonstrate that someone without a disability whose circumstances are materially the same as yours would have been treated better. 

Indirect discrimination happens when an apparently neutral provision, policy or practice disadvantages disabled people more than other people.

For example, if a call centre has a policy not to talk to a third party on the phone, this may discriminate against a deaf person who might need to use an interpreter. 

Indirect discrimination can be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. If it is possible to show that the aim could be achieved in less restrictive ways, or that reasonable measures to mitigate the negative impact on disabled people were not considered, the discrimination usually cannot be justified.         

Discrimination arising from disability occurs when a person is treated poorly for a reason connected to their disability (not their disability itself) and this treatment cannot be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, and the alleged discriminator was reasonably expected to know about the person’s disability.

This type of discrimination is usually very closely connected to the duty to make reasonable adjustments. The Equality Act requires employers, service or education providers, associations, public bodies and other organisations exercising public functions to make reasonable adjustments to avoid disabled people being put at a substantial disadvantage. 

In the context of support or service provision it does not matter whether the service is free or not. If you can show that reasonable adjustments could have been made to the job or to the service being provided, and that this could have prevented the discrimination from happening, the discrimination cannot be justified. 

This duty is anticipatory and requires taking proactive steps. Reasonable adjustments could include the provision of interpreters, information in alternative formats, equipment, alternative ways of support and service provision, changing policies, or making the building accessible. 

Disabled people should not be asked to pay any cost associated with making reasonable adjustments. The adjustment needs to be suitable for the specific person and what is reasonable will depend on each individual case.

If you think you have been discriminated against you can challenge this in a number of ways:  

  • Initially it is a good idea to raise the issue with the person / organisation concerned
  • If the situation is not resolved you should get legal advice as soon as possible as there are very tight deadlines for bringing discrimination claims 
  • Claims for discrimination in employment and the education of under-16 year-olds should be brought at tribunal; all other claims will have to be brought in the county court.  

You can get information and advice on the Equality Act from the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s helpline (EHRC). 

EHRC has published guidance and statutory codes of practice explaining the Act, all of which are available on their website.

You can also find Equality Act factsheets on the government’s Equalities Office website.

First published: Tuesday 29 May 2012
Updated: Tuesday 31 March 2015