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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.

Description of positive action


What you need to know


Disability Action Plans - Description of the proposed or current positive action measures

A Disability Action Plan should inform the staff of the body and members of the public of the positive action measures the public authority is currently taking or intends to take.

There are various sources of guidance about positive action, for example, the Equality Commission has published the following:


Extracts are set out below from the Commission’s publication; Outreach Positive Action - A Guide for Employers (pdf, 2010) which although referring to employers and employees, reflects what is permissible by law in relation to the appointment of board members to public bodies:

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (“the DDA”) allows employers to do things that would not be allowed under the other anti-discrimination laws.

The DDA does not prevent employers from treating disabled persons more favourably than persons who are not disabled (but not vice versa). Therefore, it would be lawful for an employer, when taking outreach positive action, to reserve a quota of jobs for disabled people to the exclusion of people who are not disabled. Employers could also give disabled people preferential treatment in other aspects of a recruitment exercise. For example, employers could lawfully operate a “guaranteed interview scheme” for disabled job applicants.

However, employers who act in this way should still act with some caution. This is because it is unlawful to treat a person who has one type of disability more favourably than a person, or persons, who have other types of disability.

For example, it is likely to be unlawful to reserve a job vacancy for people who have sensory disabilities but to exclude from consideration people who have mental health disabilities…

Employers do not need the Equality Commission’s approval before taking outreach positive action of kind discussed here. However, we recommend that you nevertheless seek our advice first. This is because we have certain recommendations of good practice to make (see examples below).


Examples of emerging good practice:

The Business Services Organisation (BSO)

Matthew McDermottBSO provides equality advice and support to the Office of Research Ethics Committees Northern Ireland (ORECNI). Matthew McDermott, Equality Manager from BSO explains the role of positive action measures and a monitoring system in developing a strategy to address the underrepresentation of disabled people who sit on ethics committees:

  • A monitoring exercise conducted in 2009 indicated that there were no members of the ethics committees that self-identified as having a disability. This information strengthened ORECNI’s commitment to introduce an Action Plan designed to encourage greater participation by disabled people on these ethics committees
  • The Plan included a commitment for ORECNI to actively encourage applications for membership from people with disabilities by informing representative groups of advertisements for ethics committee posts, and by sharing information on the work of these committees with these groups.
  • The monitoring system, which was quantitative in nature, played an important part in identifying the problem of too few disabled people on ethics committees but was also essential in assessing the effectiveness of the action plan measures
  • Following an equality monitoring exercise, an analysis of the data demonstrated that the positive action measures taken had been successful as there has been a 5% increase in members of ethics committees with a self-declared disability
  • Dr Siobhan McGrath, head of ORECNI commented, ‘I am pleased that this targeted approach has increased the representation of persons with a disability as members on the health and social care research ethics committees. It is important that participants in medical and social care research reflect the general population, including people with a disability.

Northern Ireland Assembly

NI AssemblyMaria Bannon, Equality Manager at the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission, explains how they have taken steps to develop their website as a resource for disabled people:

  • The Commission recognised the central role that Information Technology (IT) plays in society and in the world of work. Given that, the Commission realised that it needed to ensure that all of its IT systems were accessible to disabled people
  • By ensuring that this happened the Commission was more confident that positive attitudes towards disabled people could be promoted and participation by disabled people in public life would be encouraged
  • The Commission makes use of the Web Accessibility Initiative which develops strategies and guidelines specifically to make the web more accessible for people with disabilities. As part of the tendering process for the Assembly’s website the importance of accessibility and usability was prioritised
  • Part of the development project involved meeting and working with various stakeholder groups, including people with disabilities, to find out what information, features and functions they wanted and/or needed. The Assembly also consulted with their internal Disability Advisory Group, asking for their advice, feedback and recommendations at key stages of the project
  • In December 2014, they launched a new responsive design (i.e. displaying content appropriately across a range of devices) for the Assembly website. While “responsive” doesn’t always mean “accessible”, the Commission ensured that the design met recommended accessibility and usability requirements. For example should, a visually impaired user need to significantly change the size of the text on a web page the layout of the site will adapt accordingly
  • Since launching the site, the Commission carries out regular reviews to ensure they are still meeting Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Disabled customers tell the Commission that this combination of measures has made it easier for them to engage with them as service users.

Department of Trade and Industry (DETI)

DETIWithin DETI there is a focused outreach plan, which aims to raise awareness of public appointments amongst disability groups, explains Catherine Synnott, Public Appointments Liaison Officer at DETI:

  • DETI is responsible for making non-executive board appointments to four Non-Departmental Public Bodies - (a) Invest NI, (b) Tourism Northern Ireland, (c) Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and (d) Consumer Council for Northern Ireland
  • DETI's procedures for making appointments are designed to comply with the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Northern Ireland (CPANI) Code of Practice (pdf). Consequently, DETI has an important role in encouraging participation by disabled people in public life
  • DETI representatives sit on the Public Appointment Forum (PAF), a liaison group of officials from all 12 government departments tasked with developing best practice in public appointments across the Northern Ireland Civil Service. PAF is currently working on ways to implement the 26 recommendations made by the CPANI Commissioner in his January 2014 report on “Under Representation and Lack of Diversity in Public Appointments in NI(pdf)
  • DETI has shared a number of initiatives with PAF including; promoting documentation relating to all competitions in accessible formats, proactively informing applicants of their right to a reasonable adjustment, using welcoming statements in respect of disabled people, issuing advance notification of forthcoming competitions to disability groups and automatically emailing application packs to disability groups on the same date as the public advertisement appears
  • In direct response to the CPANI Commissioner’s report, DETI has; trialed the Guaranteed Interview Scheme for disabled applicants, offered a choice of criteria for applicants in order to widen the pool and used ‘prompt questions’ within the application form to guide applicants on the types of evidence required.

Queens University Belfast (QUB)

Paul BrownePaul Browne, Equality Manager, at QUB outlines their ‘Inclusive Employment Scheme’ which includes positive action in employment for people with disabilities:

  • The aim of the Scheme is to provide people with a disability the opportunity to build up confidence, gain new work related skills and enhance their employment record to increase their job opportunities. The scheme  was developed in conjunction with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Department for Education and Learning and derived from the University’s commitment to persons with a disability, as set out in the their Disability Action Plan
  • Funding for 50% of the salary costs was secured from the Human Resource budget and after a series of meetings and presentations, 12 schools and directorates from across the University agreed to pay the balance of the costs, thus securing full funding for the initiative
  • The individuals on placement were identified by a number of disability umbrella organisations thus gaining support from key stakeholder groups. The Programme was launched by the Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr. Stephen Farry in May 2014
  • The positions offered paid employment lasting 11 months and were spread across the entire university.  Feedback has been very positive and the scheme, in a modified format, will repeat for a second year, commencing in September/October 2015.
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