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Equality Law

Equality Act 2010

Applies in England, Scotland and Wales

Protected characteristic

Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Protection and functions

Protection is provided against discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of disability and applies to employment, education, the provision of goods, facilities and services, the management of premises and the exercise of public functions.

The following forms of discrimination apply to disability

  • Direct discrimination (including discrimination by association and discrimination by perception)
  • Indirect discrimination
  • Discrimination arising from disability
  • Failure to make a reasonable adjustment

Direct discrimination generally cannot be justified.  However, it is not unlawful to treat disabled people more favourably than a non-disabled person.  

The duty to make reasonable adjustments affects us as an employer and provider of education.  The reasonable adjustment duty applies to

  • Provisions, criteria or practices
  • Physical features
  • Auxiliary aids

This means protection related to disability for people seeking work, current and former employees in terms of

  • Job recruitment
  • Access to benefits and services
  • Treatment they receive

This means protection related to disability for enquirers, current and past students in terms of

  • Student registration
  • Access to benefits and services
  • Treatment they receive

Public sector equality duty

Disability is included in the public sector duty under the Equality Act 2010 which means we have to have due regard to the need to

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Act.
  • Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant characteristic and persons who do not share it.
  • Foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not it.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Applies in Northern Ireland

The Act provides protection for disabled people against discrimination on the grounds of disability in the areas of

  • Employment and vocational training
  • Goods, facilities and services
  • Education
  • Premises
  • Transport 

The following forms of discrimination apply to disability

  • Direct discrimination
  • Disability related discrimination
  • Failure to make a reasonable adjustment
  • Victimisation
  • Harassment

Indirect discrimination is not dealt with explicitly, however it is addressed by the combined effect of the direct discrimination provisions and the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments affects us as an employer and provider of education.  In employment, we have a duty to make reasonable adjustments if a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage – it is a ‘reactive’ duty.  Whereas in education, the duty to make reasonable adjustments is anticipatory and reactive.  The duty applies to:

  • Provisions, criteria or practices (other than competence standards)
  • Physical features

Where the duty arises, failure to make reasonable adjustment cannot be justified.

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998

Applies in Northern Ireland

The protected characteristic of disability is subject to the duty placed on public authorities (which includes the OU) to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between

  • Persons of different age, religious belief, political opinion, racial group, marital status or sexual orientation
  • Men and women generally
  • Persons with a disability and persons without
  • Persons with dependants and persons without.

This entails more than the elimination of discrimination and requires proactive measures to be taken to ensure equality for disabled people in our policies and decision-making.