Skip to main content
In order to provide complete functionality, this web site needs your explicit consent to store browser cookies. If you don't allow cookies, you may not be able to use certain features of the web site including but not limited to: log in, buy products, see personalized content, switch between site cultures. It is recommended that you allow all cookies.
Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.


Service related problem

Have I been discriminated against because of my disability?

If you have been treated unfairly on disability grounds, this may be unlawful discrimination.  

Disability is defined as:

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

Long-term means: lasting, or likely to last, at least 12 months.  Normal day to day activities include:


  • 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


If as a result of your disability you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation, or find it difficult to access services because reasonable changes have not been made, you can challenge the treatment under the disability discrimination law.


Your rights also apply if you have had a disability in the past.  For example:   If you were disabled by mental ill health in the past but are now fully recovered you can challenge unfair treatment under the disability discrimination law.

Is all disability discrimination the same?

No, there are different types of disability discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.

The main forms are:


  • Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others, on grounds of your disability, when a service provider:
- Refuses or deliberately fails to provide a service
- Provides a service of a lower quality, in a worse manner or on worse terms than is normally the case

For example: When a customer with Down’s Syndrome requests a single room in a hotel, the receptionist pretends that all of the single rooms are taken.  She does not think that people with learning disabilities should stay in hotels unaccompanied.


  • Reasonable adjustment is specific to disability discrimination law.  Service providers must consider all requirements and remove barriers, physical or otherwise, that could make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for you to use their services.
For example:  A leisure centre provides a leaflet containing their opening times and class timetable to all its customers, but as the print is small a woman with sight impairment asks for the leaflet in large print.  The leisure centre refuses to provide a large print leaflet, which results in the woman unable to find out what classes she could attend.


  • Harassment is not specifically included in the law, but such a complaint can be made under the direct discrimination provisions.


  • Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of disability discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint about a service provider under the disability discrimination law, and suffered as a result. For example:  A man who provides a witness statement to support a wheelchair user being refused entry to a local shop is subsequently barred from the shop as a result of this action.

How am I protected against disability discrimination?

You are protected from disability discrimination in the provision of a wide range of services whether they are paid for or free.


They include: 
  • Access to public places
  • Housing / Accommodation
  • Health
  • Getting or using services such as:
– Some forms of transport
– Entertainment
– Government departments
– Financial services – Banking / Insurance
  • Professional or trade services
  • As a member or guest of a private club or association


However, there are limited circumstances where disability discrimination is allowed:

  • Private clubs with fewer than 25 members are exempt from the general principal of discrimination for a reason related to disability
  • Landlords providing adjustments to features in public spaces
  • Owners of certain types of buildings

What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with the service provider and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further we may be able to provide you with legal representation. You must lodge your complaint of discrimination with the County Court.

NB: Only a County Court decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.


Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600.


Useful publications


Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of disability discrimination. Complaints relating to services must be made to the court within six months of the discriminatory act.

Even if you are attempting to resolve problems, the statutory time limits still apply.  You may wish to issue proceedings to protect your legal interests if the matter has not resolved close to the expiry of the time limit.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim; this is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.

< Problem with a service

Ask for advice
If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.

Make a discrimination complaint
We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, gender, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.

Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600

Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

We have listed below current legislation relevant todisability discrimination. You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated. The law is also complex and can require interpretation. Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel: 028 90 500 600.

Disability Discrimination Laws

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



Main amending/supplementary laws:

Other amending/supplementary laws:


Michaela's Story
Michaela has spinal muscular atrophy, uses a wheelchair and depends on carers.  She wanted to study genetics and needed to change schools to take A level chemistry.

Michaela identified a suitable college and, after meeting with them, believed she was accepted.  However the college phoned her later to say she had to undergo a separate admissions procedure.

She complained that this was disability discrimination and the case was settled with the Commission’s help.  Schools and colleges are required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students to enable them to have the same access to education as those who do not have a disability.  As a result of Michaela’s case, the Southern Education & Library Board took steps to ensure that schools under its management understand their obligations to disabled students.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements
Nicola's Story

Nicola Nesbitt received £2,000 when she took a case of disability discrimination against Value Cabs, Belfast, to the county court.  Nicola, who has cerebral palsy and has been a wheelchair user since birth, ordered a wheelchair accessible taxi.  For a short trip she was charged a total of £14.50 which included an £8 call out fee.  Her able bodied husband had been charged only £7 for exactly the same trip in the same vehicle.


With the Commission’s help, Nicola complained that this was disability discrimination.  The service provider must make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers to ensure that they are able to access a service as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard normally offered to the general public.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Tony's Story
Tony Bell was awarded £4,000 when he won a case against the Southern Health & Social Care Trust.  He complained that Craigavon Hospital refused to perform a diagnostic procedure called “flexible sigmoidoscopy” because he was HIV positive.  The Trust had confirmed in writing that the reason the procedure was denied was his HIV status.

People with HIV are protected from discrimination as HIV is considered a disability.  Tony won his disability discrimination case because he was denied a service that would have been offered routinely to a patient who did not have his condition.  He also received an apology from the Trust for the way he was treated.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Print All