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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Disability duties

Public Authorities

Disability Duties on Public Authorities

By mainstreaming disability duties into their own policies, practices and procedures, public authorities can make a substantial and tangible difference to the lives of a large number of disabled people in Northern Ireland.

At present disabled people do not have the same opportunities or choices as non-disabled people. Nor do they enjoy equal respect or full inclusion in society on an equal basis. Often it is attitudinal and environmental factors (such as the way in which services are designed or delivered), rather than limitations arising from a disabled person’s disability, which unnecessarily restrict a disabled person’s ability to participate fully in society.

In order to address these barriers Public authorities are required undertake certain duties. These duties apply to designated public authorities including government departments and agencies, local councils, health trusts, housing associations, colleges and universities, and education and library boards. See the full list of designated bodies (pdf).

What disability duties must public authorities undertake?

  • When exercising their functions public authorities must have due regard to:
- promote positive attitudes towards disabled people, and
- encourage participation by disabled people in public life.

This helps eliminate ignorance and prejudice towards disabled people. Whilst many people have positive attitudes towards disabled people, some express pity, fear, lack of respect and/or contempt. Negative attitudes can result in disabled people being rejected, avoided or subjected to physical or verbal attacks, jokes, bullying or other harassment. It can also result in their being rejected for jobs. Such behaviour can have a serious and long term impact on the lives of disabled people.


  • These duties apply to all public authorities subject to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (see designated authorities)
  • Promoting positive attitudes can include taking steps to portray disabled people in a positive role, as well as taking steps to eliminate ignorance and prejudice towards disabled people.
  • Encouraging disabled people’s participation in public life can include taking measures to involve disabled people in public policy decision making, as well as encouraging their participation in political life (e.g. as members of consultative forums, as elected representatives or as voters).
  • The duties can make a substantial and tangible difference to the lives of a large number of disabled people in Northern Ireland. Public authorities can also benefit from implementing the disability duties.
  • The duties apply to all disabled people. When implementing the duties, the full diversity of disabled people should be considered, (in terms of type of impairment as well as other dimensions e.g. race, age, gender etc). The fact that a disabled person may have multiple disabilities should also be taken into account.
  • Although both the disability duties and the existing disability duty under Section 75 are mainstreaming duties, there are differences.

What is a Disability Action Plan?

Public authorities must submit a disability action plan to the Equality Commission (unless an exemption has been granted) showing how they propose to fulfil the disability duties in relation to their functions. The plan must contain certain key elements including an outline of the practical measures public authorities intend to take, the timescale over which these measures are to be implemented, performance indicators or targets and details of how the plan will be published.

Public authorities must submit an annual progress report to the Equality Commission on the implementation of their plans. This report should form part of the authority’s annual report to the Commission on the implementation of its equality scheme.

GB public authorities subject to the disability duties must submit action plans to the Commission in accordance with the legislative timescale.


Does a disability action plan differ from an equality scheme?

Yes, an equality scheme shows how a public authority proposes to fulfil its duties under Section 75, which relates to the promotion of equality of opportunity and the promotion of good relations. In contrast, a disability action plan has a much narrower focus relating to the need to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people and encourage the participation of disabled people in public life.


There are also differences as regards the way in which the disability duties and the duties under Section 75 are enforced. If a public authority fails to submit a disability action plan to the Equality Commission, the Commission must report that failure to the Assembly. An individual can also make a complaint against a public authority arising out of its alleged failure to comply with an equality scheme, or the Equality Commission can carry out an investigation if it believes that a public authority may have failed to comply with its scheme.


How should public authorities implement the disability duties?

  • mainstream the duties
  • prepare a disability action plan and submit it to the Equality Commission
  • report annually on the implementation of their plans
  • review their plans every 5 years.


We recommend that public authorities consult on their action plans, allowing a period of at least 2 months for the consultation period. The consultation should be inclusive, targeted and use appropriate methods.


Public authorities should also put in place the following important mechanisms for successful compliance with the duties:

  • commitment
  • focusing on effective change
  • partnership working
  • procurement; and
  • provision of disability equality generally.

For further information download our guide for public authorities:

Here is a selection of publications that are most relevant to the equality duties on public authorities

Disability duties on public authorities:


Short guides:

Public Authority statutory duties - template and guidance:

"Every customer counts: promoting accessible services":

We have developed the "Every Customer Counts" initiative to support service providers seeking to promote accessible services. Our goal is to encourage businesses and organisations to consider how open their services currently are to disabled people. As part of this we have produced a range of helpful publications:
Every Customer Counts

If you are looking for a particular publication you can search our publications database


How we can help

We believe that helping you promote and encourage good equal opportunities practice is as important as enforcing the equality law. Every year, the Commission helps hundreds of businesses and organisations comply with equality laws.

We recognise that employers' needs differ across sectors and businesses – so we tailor our services to meet employers’ varying needs.


We provide high quality training seminars and information sessions to employers on a wide range of equality issues.

These events provide advice and guidance on employers’ duties under current equality laws and on introducing best practice. We recommend that employers carefully consider their needs and choose the seminars and sessions which are of most benefit to them.


    Training sessions include:

   •  Introduction to understanding equality
   •  Recruiting fairly
   •  Managing harassment in the workplace
   •  Pregnancy and maternity at work
   •  Promoting disability in the workplace 
   •  Gender equality at work
   •  How to complete an Article 55 Review
   •  Monitoring form workshops







We are flexible in terms of themes covered and can tailor courses to suit employers’ business needs. Further details are available on our employer training page or email - Tel: 02890 500561


In-house training

On occasion, the Commission can provide in-house training for organisations.  Where we agree to such a request, we will normally deliver one session to key staff within the organisation and assist them to disseminate the training internally. For in-house training requests email or Tel: 028 90 500561.

Speakers for your event

If you are organising an equality related event, our staff can share their expertise to highlight relevant issues in equality law that relate to your business priorities. For further information, contact Paul Oakes  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Employer news ezine

To receive updates on our training seminars, events and employer equality networks sign up to receive our Public Authorities Newsletter using the subscribe button at the bottom of the page.


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