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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.


Providers of goods and services

What you need to know

How we can help



What does the law say?

It is unlawful to discriminate against people with disabilities by:


  • refusing or deliberately omitting to provide any service which is offered to or
  • provided to members of the public, or a section of the public
  • providing a service of a lower (inferior) standard or quality
  • providing a service in a worse manner
  • providing a service on less favourable terms

It is not necessary for customers to prove that you intended to discriminate against them, they only have to show that they received less favourable treatment.

What disabilities does the law cover?

Disability is defined as 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. Remember that disability doesn’t just cover physical/mobility impairments, but includes people with:


  • sight impairments
  • hearing impairments
  • learning disabilities
  • severe disfigurements

Further information is available in our ‘Definition of Disability' publication (pdf).


How should I make adjustments for disabled people?

As a service provider you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable people with disabilities to access your services. This may mean changing your practices, policies or procedures if they make it difficult for disabled people to access a service, providing extra help or changing the way a particular service is delivered.

For example:


  • Providing appropriate disability awareness training for frontline staff so they can provide assistance to people with learning disabilities, blind people, deaf people, people with mental health difficulties and people with mobility impairments when these people access your service.
  • Making changes to equipment such as providing a text phone for deaf people, installing induction loops for people with hearing loss or supplying adapted trolleys in shopping centres, etc.
  • Making literature available in alternative formats and websites more accessible for people who are blind and/or have sight loss.


Physical features
Where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access services, service providers have a duty to take reasonable steps to:

  • remove, alter or avoid the feature
  • provide an alternative method of accessing the service


Each business or organisation provides a unique service and this, in turn, affects the reasonable adjustments required to make a business accessible to as many disabled people as possible.


Anticipatory duties
The duties placed on service providers towards disabled people are ‘anticipatory’. This means that you need to consider the requirements of disabled people in general and not the individual requirements of each disabled customer that may come to use their service. Disabled people´s needs should be considered in advance, rather than waiting until a disabled person wants to use the service you offer.

For example:


  • A bank makes a bank statement available in large print for a person with sight loss or provides a sign language interpreter for a deaf person who is applying for a mortgage.
  • A leisure centre installs a textphone in its reception to ensure that deaf and hearing impaired customers are able to contact the centre regarding opening times, exercise classes or other facilities. The leisure centre advertises the textphone on brochures and its website.
  • A restaurant has a policy of not allowing dogs onto its premises. A customer arrives with an assistance dog and a reasonable adjustment is made to this policy, allowing the dog in the restaurant.

The "Every Customer Counts" initiative supports traders seeking to promote accessible services. It includes an easy to follow three step process including a self audit checklist, action plan template and customer service statement.

Am I liable for the actions of my employees?

Yes. As a service provider you are legally responsible for the actions of your employees in the course of their employment. An employee who discriminates against a disabled customer will usually be regarded as acting in the course of their employment, even if you have issued express instructions not to discriminate. This is called “vicarious liability”.

However, in legal proceedings against a service provider based on the actions of an employee, it is a defence that the service provider took 'such steps as were reasonably practicable' to prevent such actions. A policy on disability which is communicated to employees is likely to be central to such a defence. It is not a defence for the service provider simply to show that the action took place without its knowledge or approval.


What are the benefits to my business?

Adopting an inclusive approach can have practical benefits for your business. It should be remembered that:

  • 20% of people in NI have a disability (includes hearing, visual and cognitive impairments as well as with physical disabilities). This equates to 360,000 potential customers
  • 40% of households in NI include a disabled resident
  • £80 billion pounds is spent by disabled customers in the UK each year

The improvements you make may also broaden your customer base.

For example:

  • friends and families accompanying disabled people
  • customers with pushchairs or carrying heavy shopping or luggage
  • customers with prams, pushchairs or young children
  • older customers who may not consider themselves to be disabled but who appreciate easier access.

Download our fact sheet - 'Why Access Mean Business' (pdf)

Are there any exceptions?

Services not available to the public, such as those provided by private clubs, are not covered.  However, where a club does provide services to the public then the law applies to those services. For example, a private golf club refuses to admit a disabled golfer to its membership. This is not covered by the law. However, if the golf club hires out its facilities for a wedding reception, the law applies to this service. If the club allows non members to use the course, a refusal to allow a disabled golfer to play is likely to be subject to the law.

Private clubs are generally those where membership is a condition of participation and members have to comply with a genuine process of selection, usually by a club committee operating the club rules.

However, commercially run businesses which may require membership such as a health club or a video rental shop would normally still be providing services to the public and, therefore, would be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.

Every cusomter counts logoEvery customer counts: promoting accessible services

We have developed the "Every Customer Counts" initiative to support Northern Ireland traders seeking to promote accessible services. Our goal is to encourage businesses to consider how open their services currently are to disabled people.

We are also committed to providing additional support to anyone seeking to make adjustments to their current arrangements. Read more at:


< Service providers



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.

Employer Training Programme

Training sessions include:

   •  Introduction to understanding equality
   •  Equality training for line managers
   •  Recruiting fairly
   •  Bullying and harassment at work
   •  Pregnancy, maternity and flexible working
   •  Promoting disability in the workplace 
   •  Reasonable steps defence
   •  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 contact us Tel: 028 90 500 600, email



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 500600.

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 Employer & Service Providers' Newsletter using the subscribe button at the bottom of the page.


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