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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.
 
 

Disability

Law reform

Law reform

What you need to know

Case studies

Consultation responses

 

Strengthening Protection for Disabled People

 
Disability Law Reform

Strong legal protection for disabled people under the law is an important issue for us, one which we work on via the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, our legal casework and our public policy work.

In April 2010, Great Britain introduced the Equality Act 2010 which strengthened, simplified and harmonised disability equality law in GB. We are calling on the NI Executive to change the law here as significant gaps exist in disability equality legislation in Northern Ireland.

Commissioner Murray Watt introduces the report 'Strengthening Protection for Disabled People: Case Studies' (pdf) and explains how improving protection will help to address key inequalities that disabled people face.




Read more about our disability case studies



















What changes are required?
 
We believe key areas require urgent changes to disability legislation in Northern Ireland.

Here is a summary of the changes we recommend:

Disability equality legislation in NI is inconsistent and needs to be simplified and strengthened

We recommend urgent changes to address the following provisions across the scope of the disability equality legislation:
 

  • Prohibit direct discrimination which cannot be justified

Prohibit direct discrimination against disabled people when accessing goods and services and provide stronger protection for disabled pupils in schools.
 

  • Remove the justification defence for a failure to make a reasonable adjustment

We are of the view that if it is reasonable for a service provider to make an adjustment, then it should not be permissible to justify their failure to make that adjustment.
 

  • Introduce a single threshold for making reasonable adjustments

Currently there is no single threshold for making reasonable adjustments.  We recommend that everyone with responsibilities under the disability equality legislation, are placed under a duty to make a reasonable adjustment where a disabled person would be placed at a substantial disadvantage, compared with non-disabled people, if no adjustment was made.
 

Our recommendations reflect legislative changes which were implemented in Great Britain under the Equality Act 2010.

 

Improve protection for disabled people against indirect discrimination and discrimination

We recommend improving the protection for disabled people against indirect discrimination and discrimination arising from disability.  In the case of Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Lewisham -v- Malcolm (June 2008), the House of Lords’ decision compared the disabled person to an appropriate comparator, such as a non-disabled person, or a person with other disabilities.

Catherine Casserley of Cloisters advises on the judgement and impact of the Malcolm decision on disability law:
  Strengthened legislation will address the impact of this decision of replacing broader disability related discrimination with direct discrimination.
 

Remove the ‘list of capacities’ to make it easier for disabled people to fall within the definition of disability

Remove the ‘list of capacities’ to make it easier for disabled people to fall within the definition of disability.  Current disability equality legislation defines a disabled person as:

‘a person with a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

It also states that impairment is to be taken to affect the ability of a person to carry out normal day-to-day activities.  Below is the ‘list of capacities’ for defining normal day-to-day activities:

  • Mobility – moving from place to place
  • Manual dexterity – use of hands, wrists or fingers
  • Physical co-ordination
  • Continence
  • Ability to lift, carry or otherwise move ordinary objects
  • Speech, hearing or eyesight
  • Memory or ability to concentrate
  • Ability to learn or understand
  • Ability to recognise the risk of physical danger
  • Taking part in normal social interaction
  • Forming social relationships

The removal of the list of capacities will ensure the definition of disability is in line with legislation implemented in Great Britain.
 

Protection for disabled people from harassment should be extended to include accessing goods, services and private clubs

We recommend that protection for disabled people from harassment should be extended to include accessing goods, services and private clubs.  Currently disabled people are only protected from harassment in employment and the provision of further and higher education.
 

Extend protection from direct discrimination or harassment to carers, friends or family members of disabled people

We recommend extending protection from direct discrimination or harassment to carers, friends or family members of disabled people. 

People who are associated with a disabled person should not be harassed or subjected to direct discrimination because of their association with a disabled person.  Additionally, people who are wrongly perceived to be disabled and are subjected to direct discrimination or harassment should have protection under disability equality legislation.
 

Remove disability or health related questions from job applications

We recommend the removal of disability or health related questions from job applications.  This includes asking questions as part of the application process and during interview.

Questions of this nature can deter disabled people from applying for jobs and their removal from the application process will ensure disabled applicants can be assessed solely on their ability to do the job.
 

An additional duty on schools to provide auxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils

We recommend an additional duty on schools to provide auxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils.  Where reasonable, changes to the Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Order 2005 will ensure a disabled pupil is not put at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled pupil.

Provision of auxiliary aids or services would be of benefit to disabled pupils who do not have a special educational need but have a requirement for reasonable adjustments.  This for example could include extra support or the provision of an adapted computer keyboard.
 

A duty on landlords to make reasonable adjustments to physical features in common parts of residential premises

We recommend a duty on landlords to make reasonable adjustments to physical features in common parts of residential premises.  This change will ensure that if a landlord receives a request to make a reasonable adjustment he must consider and make any necessary changes to ensure the disabled tenant is not put at a substantial disadvantage.
 
 

Download our disability law reform recommendations:

 

 

< Law reform
< Addressing Inequality

 

 
Why reform of disability discrimination is needed - real stories

The following case studies demonstrate why reform of disability equality legislation is needed. They illustrate how disabled people, their families and their carers are being affected by gaps in the current disability equality legislation in Northern Ireland.

 
Kenny's story

Improving protection against discrimination

Bar
"I went for a night out in a bar in the centre of Belfast with a large group of my friends. We went into the bar and ordered our drinks. I finished my first drink and nipped out to get cash for the rest of the evening. But when I tried to come back in the security guard refused and told me 'You're not getting in - you're too drunk'". 

Read more about Kenny's story>




Philip's story

Pre-employment questions about disability

Man at computer
"I saw a job advertised by another large public sector employer and thought, I am very well qualified for this. So I sent off for the application form. When the form arrived and as I read through it I noticed that it asked a series of  questions about health and disability which were unrelated to the criteria for the post." 

Read more about Philip's story>




The Morgan family's story

Harassment outside employment

The Morgan Family
"The worst experience we had was going through airport security. As Thomas walked through the scanner the alarm sounded. The security guard said "He has to be searched". I said "I know he has to be searched but he is autistic, he does not understand what you are trying to tell him.”"

Read more about the Morgan Family's story>
 


Tell us about your experience
Have you experienced disability discrimination when trying to use services or facilities? Your story could help us to illustrate the type of unfair treatment experienced by disabled people in Northern Ireland and highlight changes that are needed to the law.

If you would like to discuss your experience in confidence contact Cynthia Rice on 028 90 500 673, or email  crice@equalityni.org

 
We would like to thank all participants for sharing their story with us.

 
 
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