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The effects of failing to make reasonable adjustments for service users with disabilities

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Disability discrimination in universities

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against someone because of their disability.

The definition of disability is met for the purpose of the Act if someone suffers with a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. Guidance from the Equality Commission states that, you should disregard any ‘treatment or correction’, that improves or alleviates the effects of the disability.

One head of claim that can be brought under Section 20 and 21 of the Equality Act 2010 is a claim for a failure to make reasonable adjustments. If any physical feature of an organisation’s/service provider’s premises, or other arrangements, causes a substantial disadvantage then the provider is under a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments to prevent it, (i.e. altering premises or offering assistance to help you). An organisation/service provider is under a duty when they are aware, or should be aware, that you are suffering from a disability and are likely to suffer a disadvantage because of it. If the organisation/service provider does not know, and could not reasonably be expected to know that you have a disability then the duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' does not apply. 

The duty of the organisation/service provider is to take reasonable steps. When considering what is 'reasonable' the organisation/service provider may consider such things as how effective it would be in preventing the disadvantage, practicality, the financial/other costs, the disruption likely to be caused, the extent of their financial resources (a civil court is likely to impose greater obligations on large organisations than on smaller organisations) and the availability of assistance to make the adjustment(s).

It was recently reported by the BBC that some women with disabilities are having difficulties obtaining/accessing smear tests at their local GP surgeries, due to the adjustments they would need for the service to be accessible to them. The example has been given where some disabled women may need the provision of hoists or assistance in order for them to be able undergo a smear test and some GP surgeries may not be able to support those requirements due to the lack of facilities or size of the GP assessment rooms. 

In this instance, the GP surgeries should be considering what reasonable adjustments they could offer their disabled patients so that they are able to receive the same access to the service that a non-disabled patient would. Adjustments in this instance are likely to vary depending on the size of the GP surgeries and the nature of the adjustments required. However, if the GP surgeries could not make amendments to their particular service, by making speedy referrals to a local centre/hospital that could provide the adjustments required or by providing home visits to the disabled patient, they could potentially be considered by a Court to be reasonable should they be able to prove that doing so was in pursuit of a legitimate aim.

If the GP surgeries were to decline or refuse to make reasonable adjustments without evidence of a legitimate aim to justify their actions, they potentially could be liable for a claim of discrimination being brought by their disabled patient, who is being placed at the detriment of not being able to access a service they require.

If you would like further advice, or if you believe that you have been discriminated against, please contact Stephensons discrimination law team on 01616 966 229.