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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 equality

The Equality Commission's work in the area of disability and disability discrimination

What you need to know





Disability Equality

Part of the Equality Commission's remit is to tackle disability discrimination and promote equality of opportunity for people with disabilities. Details about our work on disability equality can be found in various sections across the website, but the information here sets out current and recent policy and research work along with relevant publications and legislation.

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 (UNCRPD), our legal casework and our public policy work.

The Equality Commission's priorities for action

  • Deliver Law Reform: to address widening gaps and shortfalls, and to ensure that people in Northern Ireland have at least the same levels of protection against discrimination and harassment as those in Great Britain.
  • Raise Awareness and Tackle Prejudice: through comprehensive and effective actions to raise awareness of rights, promote positive attitudes towards people with disabilities, and tackle hate crime.
  • Promote Participation in Public and Political Life: ensuring  accessible information and outreach to encourage participation; removing access barriers; providing appropriate support services; and provide training and capacity building opportunities.
  • Remove Access Barriers: to information, the  physical environment, public services, housing, and transport.
  • Address Key Inequalities: taking action to narrow key gaps and advance equality of opportunity in educational attainment, employment and health outcomes for people with disabilities.
  • Advance Independent Living: ensure that people with disabilities can live independently, enjoying an adequate standard of living and access to social protection.
  • Support Decision Making: ensure the provision of appropriate support for people who have reduced capacity for decision making.
  • Co-ordinate Actions to Advance Disability Equality: ensure the effective development, implementation, oversight and review of a co-ordinated, cross-departmental disability strategy and action plan.
  • Improve data analysis to enhance public services: address gaps in disability data collection and analysis to better inform public decision making and evaluation.

Our publication Working together  to close the gaps - Disability policies and programmes: how does NI measure up? (pdf) highlights some of the key issues by way of personal case studies.

Disability Law Reform Proposals

In April 2010, Great Britain introduced the Equality Act 2010 which strengthened, simplified and harmonized disability equality law for disabled people 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.

We are recommending urgent reform of the disability equality legislation protecting disabled people in Northern Ireland.  Recognising the important legislative protection which disabled people may already have, it is clear that there are significant gaps which need to be addressed.

In summary our recommendations are to:

  • Strengthen, simplify and harmonise the legislation
  • Improve protection against different types of discrimination
  • Reform of the definition of disability, including removal of the list of capabilities
  • Protect carers, family and friends of disabled people
  • Protect against harassment outside employment
  • Prohibit pre-employment disability questions
  • Place a duty on schools to provide auxiliary aids and services, where reasonable; and
  • Provide additional protection for disabled tenants
Download our disability law reform recommendations:

See our real stories of people who have experienced potential discrimination on grounds of their disability.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)

What is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? 

UNCRPDIt is an international treaty which identifies the rights of disabled people as well as the obligations on Parliament and the NI Assembly to promote, protect and ensure those rights.

UNCRPD explains that all disabled people have and should be able to enjoy the same human rights as other people. It sets an international benchmark for the human rights of disabled people. The areas covered by UNCRPD include: health, education, employment, access to justice, personal security, independent living and access to information. Read more>

What is the Equality Commission's role?
The Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) are jointly designated as the 'independent mechanism' to promote, protect and monitor implementation of UNCRPD. It is our responsibility to look at how UNCRPD is being implemented in Northern Ireland, and report on this to the UN Committee. We will be working with NIHRC to update and revise key recommendations in advance of the UN Committee examination of the UK State Party.

Northern Ireland 'Parallel' Jurisdictional Report
We have produced a working paper, containing details specific to Northern Ireland. This paper will raise awareness of key issues in Northern Ireland and drive action by Government and others to address identified shortfall, thereby advancing the full implementation of the UNCRPD in Northern Ireland. Download the NI 'Parallel' Jurisdictional Report Working Paper' (pdf, Jul 2014)

UKIM 'List of Issues' interim report
The UK Independent Mechanism has released its list of issues interim report (pdf). The report was drawn together by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission and brings together the available evidence to set out the key issues faced by disabled people in the UK today.


Recent press releases and articles

Recent disability related press releases, articles and speeches:

Press releases
For a full list of our disability related press releases, articles and speeches, check our searchable news archive

Recent legal cases


Consultation responses

Recent consultation responses relating to disability:

All consultation responses are available in our main consultation responses search page

Programme for Government
The Equality Commission has set out its recommendations in relation to the next Programme for Government (PfG) and Budget of the NI Executive.  We have highlighted the need for a clear commitment in the PfG to address key inequalities experienced by S75 groups, underpinned by robust measures, as well as a commitment to promote good relations.  Read our key point briefing (pdf) or recommendations in full (pdf, 2016). Further information is available on the Programme for Government section of our website

< Delivering equality
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Disability rights in:
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Disability related research

Disability programmes and policies: How does Northern Ireland measure up?

Gaps in Northern Ireland disability policies and programmes, 2014 and 2012

To assist in our role to monitor implementation of the UNCRPD we commissioned research in 2012 and subsequently 2014 to find out if any substantive shortfalls in public policy and programme delivery in Northern Ireland exist.

The 2012 research identified three priority areas:

  • Awareness-raising
  • Participation in political and public life
  • Statistics, data collection and access to information

How does Northern Ireland measure up?

The 2014 research found that the priority gaps identified in the 2012 research report remain.  It also identified additional potential and significant shortfalls, namely:

  • Transforming your care (which aims to reform Health and Social Care in NI)
  • NI Mental capacity bill
  • Welfare reform programme
  • Special educational needs and inclusion review

UNCRPD Shortfalls in public policy and programme delivery in Northern Ireland relative to the articles of the UNCRPD

To show the impact these gaps have on the lives of disabled people in Northern Ireland, four people shared their experiences with us.


Law reform - stakeholder survey

Law reform stakeholder survey 2012 – key findings

In 2012 we undertook a small on-line survey with stakeholders, disability organisations, employer groups and MLA’s to seek their views on disability equality legislation reform in Northern Ireland.  Key findings include:

  • 78% of respondents agreed that the disability laws are in need of reform. 6% disagreed that reform was needed, while 17% said they “didn’t know”
  • The vast majority of respondents were in support of the Commission’s specific proposals for legislative reform 81% agreed that the definition should reflect the social model of disability while 60% agreed that the list of capacities should be removed
  • 97% of those who responded agreed that there should be stronger protection for disabled people against harassment outside employment
  • 97% of those who responded agreed that there should be specific protection for people such as carers, friends or family members who are subject to discrimination or harassment because of their association with a disabled person
  • 83% of those who responded agreed that there should be protection for those who are wrongly perceived to be disabled
  • 91% of those who responded agreed that disabled people should have protection from indirect discrimination and discrimination arising from disability (to remedy the impact of the House of Lords’ decision in Malcolm)
  • 71% of those who responded agreed that employers should be prohibited from asking questions about a job applicant’s health or disability prior to making a job offer (except in limited circumstances)
  • 98% of those who responded agreed that the reasonable adjustment duty on schools should be extended to cover auxiliary aids and services
  • 92% of those who responded agreed that disabled tenants who live in rented accommodation should be given additional protection in relation to the making of reasonable adjustments by landlords to the common parts of their property.

For full findings download the ‘Disability Law Reform Survey: Summary of Key Findings’ (pdf, 2012)


Effectiveness of the Disability Duties

In 2009 we commissioned research to review the effectiveness of the disability duties under Section 49 of the DDA. The general opinion from stakeholders, was that, although the timescale between the introduction of the duties and this research was short, there had been no change to the participation of disabled people in public life.

Evaluating effectiveness of disability duties - research findings:


Working together to close the gaps

We published a report entitled 'Working Together to Close the Gaps' (pdf), containing short stories about the everyday lives of people with disabilities, sharing their experiences, challenges and achievements.

The word of individuals is important when considering how policies and programmes deliver to and for people with disabilities and helps to demonstrate the impact shortfalls in public policy and programme delivery have on the lives of individuals.

Equality awareness survey

A Question of Attitude (2018)
Question of AttitudeWe asked respondents a series of 'social distance' questions to assess public attitudes towards ten equality groups. The scenarios explored how comfortable people felt with varying degrees of closeness to a member of a 'different' group. Respondents were asked whether they 'would mind' or 'would not mind' having a member of each group as a work colleague, a neighbour or if one of the group members were to marry a close relative.


Do You Mean Me? (2011)
Do you mean meThe Commission's equality awareness survey 'Do You Mean Me?' includes social attitudes in Northern Ireland on a number of equality grounds, including Disability.

People were asked their views and perceptions of people with physical and learning disabilities and mental ill health.  Public attitudes found that in terms of the three types of disability covered in the research, mental ill-health evoked the greatest number of negative responses:
  • 26% said they would mind (a little or a lot) having a person with mental ill-health as a work colleague
  • 24% and 37% respectively would mind having this person as a neighbour or as an in-law



Formal investigations

In 2008, we conducted a formal investigation into how accessible health information was for people with a learning disability.  Five years later, we revisited the subject to see what progress had been made.

Review of the Formal Investigation into the Accessibility of Health Information for people with a Learning Disability in NI:

The original 2008 investigation reports:

Formal Investigation - The Accessibility of Health Information in Northern Ireland for People with a Learning Disability:

  • Summary report (2008, pdf 60kb)
  • Full report (2008, pdf 760kb)
  • Health information in Northern Ireland for people with a learning disability - How easy is it for them to understand? - Easy read version (2008, pdf 200kb)

Read our press release or visit our page on 'Health and social care'.

If you would like to read more on Section 75 investigations, please visit our Investigations page


We have produced a range of publications and short guides to provide information on disability related issues to individuals, employers and service providers:

S75 and the disability duty

Disability law reform

Disability law reform publications:


Research & investigations

Disability research:

  • UNCRPD Shortfalls in public policy and programme delivery in Northern Ireland relative to the articles of the UNCRPD
Full report (pdf, 2014)
Summary report (pdf, 2014)
Short paper (pdf produced for IMNI's engagements in February 2014)
  • Disability programmes and policies: How does Northern Ireland measure up? (2012):
- Full Report (pdf, 2012)
Summary Report (pdf, 2012) 
Easy Read Version (pdf, 2012)
Case study examples (pdf, 2012)

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the Disability Discrimination (NI) Order 2006:
  • A formal investigation under the disability discrimination legislation to evaluate the accessibility of health information in Northern Ireland for people with a learning disability: Jun 2006 - Dec 2007:
 - Full report (pdf, 2008)
 - Summary Report (pdf, 2008)

Formal investigations:


  • Review of the Formal Investigation into the Accessibility of Health Information for people with a Learning Disability in Northern Ireland 2013:

Summary report (pdf, 2013) 
- Full report (pdf, 2013)
- Has health information for people with a learning disability got better? - Easy read version (pdf, 2013)


  • Formal Investigation - The Accessibility of Health Information in Northern Ireland for People with a Learning Disability 2008:

- Summary report (pdf, 2008)
- Full report (pdf, 2008)
- Health information in Northern Ireland for people with a learning disability - How easy is it for them to understand?
Easy read version (pdf, 2008)



UNCRPD publications:
  • Shortfalls in public policy and programme delivery in Northern Ireland relative to the articles of the UNCRPD:
- Full report (pdf, 2014)
Summary report (pdf, 2014)
Short paper (pdf produced for IMNI's engagements in February 2014)

Five short guides are also available:

If you would like to receive copies of these publications, please email us at

Additional resources:


Disability codes of practice


Disability Transport Regulations

Disability Transport Regulation publications:

  • Short guides for transport service providers in NI: 
- Bus and coach operators (pdf, 2009)

- Rail operators (pdf, 2009)

- Taxi operators (pdf, 2009)

- Breakdown recovery operators (pdf, 2009)

Vehicle rental operators (pdf, 2009)
(pdf, 2011)

  • Your rights when accessing transport services in Northern Ireland - Audio Publication (MP3 files)

other disability publications


  • Further disability related publications are available online

Disability equality legislation

The Law

Equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated. The law is also complex and can require interpretation. Please contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel: 028 90 500 600.

Main law for employment, goods, facilities, services and disposal of premises

• Disability Discrimination Act 1995


Main amending/supplementary laws:

• Disability Discrimination (Meaning of Disability) Regulations (NI) 1996

• Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2004

• Disability Discrimination (NI) Order 2006


Other amending/supplementary laws:

• Disability Discrimination (Employment Field) (Leasehold Premises) Regulations (NI) 2004

• Disability Discrimination (Service Providers & Public Authorities Carrying Out Functions) Regulations (NI) 2007

• Disability Discrimination (Premises) Regulations (NI) 2007

• Disability Discrimination (Private Clubs, etc.) Regulations (NI) 2008

• Disability Discrimination (Transport Vehicles) Regulations (NI) 2009

• Autism Act (NI) 2011


Main law for education:

• Special Educational Needs & Disability (NI) Order 2005


Amending/supplementary laws:

• Special Educational Needs & Disability (Educational Institutions) (Alteration of Leasehold Premises) Regulations (NI) 2005

• Special Educational Needs & Disability (NI) Order 2005 (Amendment) (Further & Higher Education) Regulations (NI) 2006

• Special Educational Needs & Disability (General Qualifications Bodies) (Relevant Qualifications, Reasonable Steps & Physical Features) Regulations (NI) 2008

• Special Educational Needs & Disability (2005 Order) (Amendment) (General Qualifications Bodies) (Alteration of Premises & Enforcement) Regulations (NI) 2008

• Special Educational Needs & Disability (General Qualifications) (Relevant Qualifications, Reasonable Steps & Physical Features) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2009

• Special Educational Needs & Disability Act (NI) 2016 (Rights of child over compulsory school age in relation to disability discrimination claims)


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