Support for disabled people has increased over the years. As the legal implications of the Equality Act become clearer to employers and society in general, the treatment of disabled people has vastly improved. Better opportunities to get into work and stay in work, as well as the dignity of being treated fairly are more readily available, and rightly so. However, many people are still unaware of what the Equality Act is, what legal rights are enshrined under the Act and what you can do if you are disabled and feel you are not being treated fairly. This article seeks to explain a bit more about the Equality Act and make you more informed.
What is the Equality Act?
The equality act brings under one umbrella, legal protections against discrimination, including disability discrimination. Disability Rights are in place to protect you as a disabled person from discrimination and they cover most areas. The areas covered by disability rights include the following:
- Employment and work.
- Education and training.
- Dealing with the police.
- Access to goods, facilities and services.
- Buying or renting property.
The Equality Act and the United Nations Convention on disability rights all help to protect, promote and enforce your rights. Disabled rights also protect people associated with disabled people including parents and carers.
Disability Rights at Work
Disabled people have rights when it comes to employment, during the application and interviewing process, as well as when they are at work. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you on the basis of your disability. The Equality Act provides protection in the following areas of employment:
- Application forms.
- Making suitable interview arrangements to accommodate people with disabilities.
- Aptitude and proficiency testing should be fair for all applicants.
- Job offers, terms of employment and pay should not be made on condition of disability.
- Disabled people should be offered the same opportunities for promotion, transfers and training.
- Dismissal and redundancies should not discriminate against disabled people.
- Discipline and grievance procedures should apply equally to all employees.
- Your employer cannot force you to take early retirement if you become disabled.
The disability laws are making the workplace an equal and fairer environment for people with disabilities. The employer is legally obliged to make “reasonable” adjustments to ensure you are not at a disadvantage to your colleagues, as well as giving you the equipment you need to do your job.
Making education more accessible to disabled people
The Equality Act and the change in disability laws are making education accessible to more disabled people than ever before. Schools and other education providers such as universities and colleges cannot treat disabled students differently to the rest, it is against the law. The law protects students with disabilities in the following ways:
- Direct or indirect discrimination – refusing admission to a disabled student or not providing application forms or information in accessible formats to people with disabilities.
- Harassment due to disability.
- Victimisation and unfair treatment of disabled students when they raise concerns about discrimination.
Schools, universities and colleges are also required to make “reasonable adjustments” to enable disabled students to access education facilities without discrimination. Examples of these adjustments include; providing easy access to buildings by installing ramps and providing specialist equipment to students who need it.
Special Needs Education (SEN) Students
All schools receiving funding from the government must assess and identify children with special needs, and then put in place measures to support them.
Universities and colleges must also have a department to deal with disability issues to make sure they comply with the law. These are commonly called disability support officers, although the job title may differ, they are responsible for ensuring the needs and welfare of disabled students are met.
Disability rights when dealing with the police
Disabled people are protected when dealing with the police, especially if blind or have speech or hearing impairment. Unless in exceptional situations, the police must provide a translator or interpreter to be present when they interview you.
If you have a learning disability, the police can only legally interview you if you have a “responsible person” or an appropriate adult present. The responsible adult cannot be someone who works for the police, and they have to have experience working with people with learning difficulties.
Carers rights under the Equality Act 2010
The disability laws also offer protection to carers against discrimination when they are out and about. It is against the law to refuse entry to someone to a public place, say a pub, to someone caring for a disabled person due to the person’s disability. In such a case, the carer and the disabled person may have been discriminated against. The law also protects you as a carer, either against direct or indirect discrimination. Examples are given below:
- Direct discrimination occurs when you are treated unfairly because you have caring responsibilities for a disabled person. This may happen when you are at work (leave of absence is refused because you “have taken too much leave already” to care for a child, partner or parent). Outside of work, you are directly discriminated against if you receive worse service than someone who is not a carer.
The law is there to create a fairer society for disabled people and those who care for them, and therefore it offers protection against discrimination, harassment as well as victimisation.
Disability laws in the UK protect disabled people and their carers in different ways as shown above. The Equality Act of 2010 covers these protections in detail and as discussed in brief above, if you are disabled, you have the right to be treated the same as everyone else, by law. In employment or education, the law allows for the provision of support and equipment necessary to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged. You can read in more detail about disability rights here.