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A brief guide to disability in the Equality Act 2010

What is the Equality Act?

The Equality Act 2010 aims to protect the rights of individuals from unfair treatment, promoting a fair and more equal society. The Act replaces the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and other discrimination laws. So, many of the rights and duties under the DDA remain largely the same and are carried forward under the new Act. Some of these rights and duties are now stronger and there are also new rights and duties.

90% of the Act came into force on 1 October 2010. Some provisions in the Act come into force later, to allow people and organisations time to prepare.

The Act prohibits discrimination against people with a protected characteristic as follows: age; disability; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; and pregnancy and maternity.

The Act protects the rights of a wide range of people with sensory, mental or physical impairments from unlawful discrimination. It gives disabled people rights to buy goods and access facilities, services and public functions, as well as employment, transport, education, and premises. Carers and other people associated with a disabled person or disabled individuals are also protected for the first time.

Anyone who has duties under the Act should think and plan ahead. It is their duty under the Act to make reasonable adjustments to remove physical and attitudinal barriers to make goods, facilities, services, public functions, employment, transport, education, or property accessible to disabled people.

In some cases this could mean structural alteration, but in others it may just mean altering the way they do things, by changing practices, policies or procedures so disabled people are not at a substantial disadvantage. An example of this would be for a shopkeeper to remove goods from a doorway or aisle and give a wheelchair user the same use of the shop as a non-wheelchair user. This would be making reasonable adjustment.

In general, better access and treating individuals with fairness, dignity and respect will mean a better quality of life for disabled people, a more open and inclusive society, and better business opportunities for service providers. Society as a whole will benefit from the increased contribution that disabled people will make in day to day life.

Do not make assumptions about disabled people based on speculation or stereotypes. Ask disabled people themselves how they can best be served. Consult with disability organisations. If you are a disabled person, do not allow yourself to be discriminated against.

What does the Equality Act 2010 mean for disabled people?


The Act introduces new duties and rights and strengthens existing ones from the previous DDA. The Act:

• Makes it easier for some people to show they are disabled and protected under the Act’s definition of disability; in particular how they have difficulty carrying out day to day activities.

• Provides new protection from being discriminated against or harassed because of being associated with a disabled person (such as being a carer or parent) or because of being wrongly perceived to be disabled.

• Makes it unlawful to have a rule or policy that applies to everyone but disadvantages disabled people, such as a ‘no dogs’ policy. This is known as indirect discrimination under the Act.

• Makes it unlawful to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability (for example, the tendency to make spelling mistakes arising from dyslexia, or where a guide dog user is discriminated against because of their dog). This is known as discrimination arising from disability under the Act.

• Triggers the duty to make reasonable adjustments when a disabled person is put at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled people.

• Makes it explicit when there is a duty to provide accessible information.

• Provides protection from disability related harassment in more areas, including getting goods, accessing services, facilities and private clubs.

• Makes it unlawful to treat someone badly because they have complained about discrimination or harassment or helped someone else to make a complaint. This is known as victimisation under the Act.

• Makes it more difficult for disabled people to be unfairly screened out when applying for jobs, by restricting circumstances in which employers can ask job applicants questions about health or disability. Pre-employment health questionnaires are banned.

• Makes employers liable for harassment of staff by people they don’t employ, such as contractors and customers. This is known as third party harassment.

• Gives employees the right to complain of behaviour they find offensive, even if not directed at them.

• Gives Employment Tribunals powers to make recommendations that an organisation takes steps to eliminate or reduce the effect of discrimination on other employees.

• Promotes positive action as good practice. This allows service providers, employers and people running associations to take action to achieve greater equality in practice for disabled people. This includes targeting services to disabled people or a particular impairment group, for example an employment programme aimed at people with learning difficulties only.

From 2011 – dates still to be confirmed

• Places a duty on schools to provide aids and services for disabled pupils (for example large print books and specialist equipment).

• Places duties on drivers of wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles (PHV) to provide physical assistance to wheelchair users. It will also be unlawful to make an additional charge.

• Extends the public sector duty to promote equality to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation; advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations.

For up to date information on the Equality Act visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission's website Disability section.

The history of the campaign for civil rights for disabled people

In 1979, pressure from disabled people and disability organisations resulted in the then Labour Government setting up the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People (CORAD). It was charged with the task of establishing whether or not disabled people encountered discrimination in their everyday lives and if so to make further recommendations as to how this could be tackled.
CORAD reported in 1982, finding that disabled people experienced widespread discrimination and recommending the introduction of comprehensive anti- discrimination legislation to combat it. However, by the time the report was published the Government had changed and the new Conservative Government remained unconvinced that such legislation was necessary.

In 1985 Voluntary Organisations for Anti-Discrimination Legislation (VOADL) was set up. Its aim was to secure the legislation that was required. This group was eventually to become "Rights Now!"
Slowly the campaign began to gather momentum. Between 1982 and 1993, some 15 Private Members Bills were introduced into Parliament. At first they were just broad statements of principle but soon began to increase in sophistication borrowing much from the US experience with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1991 the prototype Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was introduced in to Parliament. It was defeated but was reintroduced in 1992 and 1993.

By 1993, the campaign had gained a considerable amount of support inside and outside Parliament and it looked as if the Bill might succeed in getting onto the Statute Book. The Government's opposition to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was based on a belief that it would place too high a burden on businesses and would thus inhibit their ability to compete in the market place - a view that was continually rebutted by the disability lobby. When it became clear that these arguments were not persuasive the Government then used procedural means to defeat the Bill, introducing over one hundred amendments so that the Bill ran out of parliamentary time.

However, because of the public outrage these tactics caused the Government was forced to introduce its own legislative proposals - The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 introduced new laws aimed at ending the discrimination that many disabled people face. This was amended in 2005.