Equality Act 2010 was designed to simplify UK anti-discrimination laws by aggregating several related laws into one. It replaces, among other acts, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, (DDA, Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
In summary, the Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of a person’s race, religion or impairment. The goal is to promote equal opportunities in the workplace and in wider society.
As mentioned above, the Act replaces the old Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). It not only outlaws discrimination against disabled people but also states that organisations must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure equal treatment. The ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ part of the act outlines the obligations placed on public authorities (including NHS boards) to eliminate discrimination and positively enhance equality and relations between different groups.
The act also covers what it calls, ‘indirect discrimination’. For example, if an employer has a rule that applies to every employee but it is found that that the rule puts disabled people at a disadvantage – that is regarded as discrimination. An example of indirect discrimination would be telling a person with photosensitive epilepsy that they had to apply for in-house training ‘online’ – just like everyone else. The computer skills of someone with photosensitive epilepsy are likely to be poor – as using a computer could cause them to have a seizure – so this would not be considered a reasonable request. If no alternative application process is provided this would be regarded as discrimination.
The act also protects people who have an association with a disabled person, such as a carer.
The act applies to Government departments, Employers, service providers, education bodies and education providers (Schools, FE colleges and Universities), those who provide public functions, landlords and transport providers.
Employers and public bodies have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure disabled people are not put at a ‘substantial disadvantage’. One example of a reasonable adjustment would be to ensure that information provided on an organisation’s website is accessible to someone who is blind or has a visual impairment. Another example of reasonable adjustment would be to install a ramp to allow wheelchair users to access a building.
Employers have to make changes to the way things are done, if the current situation disadvantages disabled people ‘reasonable adjustment’ is required. For example, providing information in an accessible format; including on websites and documents (e.g. PDF’s and Word documents) provided as part of a public service.
The law allows employers to treat disabled people more favourably that non-disabled people. For example, providing employment opportunities specifically for people with a learning difficulty.
The public sector Equality Duty requires public bodies – such as the ‘listed’ authorities, the NHS and others with public functions – to take into account the impairments of disabled people when making decisions on policies or services. Public bodies have a duty to think about the need to eliminate discrimination in their work place. They now need to be pro-active rather than re-active in relation to ensuring equality
The Specific duties (Scotland) Regulation 2012 came in to force in 2012 and places duties on public authorities in Scotland. They are designed to help them develop better policies and practices and improve transparency and accountability – as well as to advance equality of opportunity between different groups.
Many organisations have websites and documents that are not accessible to disabled people and therefore they are discriminating against disabled people.
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If actions that put disabled people at a disadvantage can be justified – for example, because it would incur unreasonably high costs – that is not counted as discrimination by the act.