Disability: Equality and Discrimination
In the UK, those who have a disability receive protection against discrimination. As a result, they also have laws in place to ensure they are entitled to equality in various environments, especially the workplace. Disabilities can range from those that are physical, to those that are mental. For those who breach disability equality laws, there are hefty penalties to be faced.
What is a disability?
Disabilities in the UK are defined under the Equality Act . In simple terms, those who have disabilities have conditions that cause substantial and long-term affect on their daily tasks. However, this term does appear to be quite broad, and therefore needs to be defined further. This can be done by using examples. For example, somebody who has a physical disability may find that they have trouble getting dressed; this constitutes a condition that has a substantial impact on their daily life. In addition to this, somebody who is depressed may find leaving the house hard; this too constitutes an impact on their daily life. In terms of long-term, it could be assumed that 12 months or longer means that the disability is having an impact.
For many people, deciding what is and what is not classed as a disability can be quite challenging. Fortunately, the Equality Act  provides a comprehensive guide. It clearly states that some disabilities may be immediate, while others are progressive. For example, those who are suffering from HIV/AIDS are classed as having an immediate disability. Those who suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) will have a disability that is getting progressively worse.
While the Equality Act  protects people residing in England, Wales, and Scotland, it does not cover people living in Northern Ireland. People living in Northern Ireland receive the same level of protection under the Disability Discrimination Act.
What is done to ensure that equality is achieved?
There are three main areas that are covered when it comes to protection from discrimination: dealing with the police, employment, and discrimination.
In the workplace, those who are disabled receive protection in many ways. They must be treated fairly during the interview and application process, as well as in the workplace itself. If you are disabled and working for someone, or you acquire a disability while working for them, they must make reasonable adjustments in order to ensure performing your job is manageable. For example, those who are working in an office environment with depression may find that sitting near a window that provides extra lighting helps lift their mood and make work easier. If the employer is aware of this, they should strive to make this happen. Those with disabilities are also protected against being asked about their disability during the hiring process. The exceptions are when an employer is actively seeking to hire more disabled people, when they know a disability will affect performance, when they want to make adjustments for the selection process, and for any issues involving national security. Finally, you cannot be made redundant due to a disability.
As far as education is concerned, those with disabilities are protected against discrimination. Education providers cannot refuse access to education because somebody is disabled. It is also illegal to prevent a person from going outdoors at break time due to their disability making it more challenging. Teachers also cannot shout at a disabled student when their condition affects their performance in school, and they cannot victimise due to disability. All education providers are legally required to make adjustments for pupils with disabilities, and they also need to provide special educational needs support. As far as universities are concerned, it is necessary to ensure that there is an individual present at the university offering support specifically to those with disabilities.
When being interviewed by the police, those with disabilities are protected against discrimination and have certain rights that will make the process fairer. The police must provide support for those with learning difficulties, as well as those who suffer from speech impairments, are deaf, or blind. If somebody has a disability that requires medical treatment, the police must also meet this need.
What happens when discrimination occurs?
The above laws are in place to make sure that you are not discriminated against as an individual who is disabled. Although the above three examples focus on the places where disability discrimination most commonly occurs, the list is not exhaustive. You are also protected when traveling and in public places.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against, there are ways you can deal with it. For example, if you feel you have experienced discrimination in the workplace, you should complain to your HR department or to the person who employs you. If they do not provide a satisfactory resolution, you can seek mediation. Mediation, and alternative dispute resolution, are both ways of resolving discrimination cases by using a person who deals with the issue for you. If this does not resolve the problem, you can take the person to a tribunal, or to court.
Where to seek help with disability discrimination
If you have experienced disability discrimination in any form, it is not something that you have to deal with alone. There are charities available that can help you regain your rights and rectify the wrongs that have been carried out against you.
Scope is a charity that stands against disability discrimination and hate crime. It provides comprehensive guides for those who are disables, as well as assistance. Their helpline and email service both act as a vital point of contact to those who have disabilities, and have been discriminated against.
For those in the workplace or in education, there are governing bodies and unions that can prevent discrimination. Trade unions and student unions all work against discrimination, and assist individuals who suffer from it in tribunals. Alternatively, you can seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or a solicitor. Regardless of where you find help, knowing your rights and asserting them is central to your well being.