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Disability refers to someone who:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment.
  2. The impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The Equality Act 2010 definition replaces the similar provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The definition of disability does not only refer to people who may be visibly disabled, for example those who are blind or have mobility difficulties, like wheelchair users. It also includes a broad range of conditions like Depression, Diabetes, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Asperger's Syndrome, Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, HIV and Schizophrenia.

Like other protected groups, disabled people are not allowed to be discriminated, harassed or victimised for past or present disabilities. Protection for some disabilities, like Multiple Sclerosis, HIV and Cancer, starts at diagnosis even if there are no apparent symptoms. The University has additional responsibilities in relation to disability. These are:

  1. A prohibition on discrimination arising from disability.
  2. A duty to make reasonable adjustments.

It should be noted that under the Equality Act (as with the previous legislation), it is permissible to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person. For example, the University can give a disabled student extra time to sit an examination which it may deny to a non-disabled person.

Information advice and guidance for disabled University staff is available from the Human Resources web pages and from the Disabled Staff Network.

For students, the Disability Resource Centre can provide information, guidance and equipment to support disabled students both before and during their studies at the University.

Discrimination arising from disability

The Equality Act introduces this new protection for disabled individuals. It is now prohibited to treat a disabled person unfavourably not because of the person's disability itself but because of something arising from, or in consequence of, the disability, such as the need to take a period of disability-related absence. It is, however, possible to justify such treatment if it can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For this type of discrimination to occur, the employer or other person must know, or reasonably be expected to know, that the disabled person has a disability.

The purpose of this new protection is to redress the imbalance that arose from a 2008 House of Lords case, London Borough of Lewisham v Malcolm [2008] UKHL 43 that resulted in a lower level of protection for a disabled person experiencing disadvantage arising from a disability whilst allowing an employer to defend this where it is legitimate.


  • An employee with Multiple Sclerosis is dismissed because he cannot do as much work as a non-disabled colleague. If the employer sought to justify the dismissal, he would need to show that it was a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

Reasonable adjustments

The University as an employer, educator and provider of goods and services has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff, students and visitors who may encounter substantial disadvantage in work, study or accessing goods or services. Examples of this could include:

  1. Providing additional time for students taking examinations.
  2. Making documents available in a particular format, for example larger fonts.
  3. Making available a specialist telephone to support a blind staff member in carrying out her duties.
  4. Providing a ramp to make a building accessible.
  5. Loaning books for longer periods to students with a disability.
  6. Rearranging an office so it is more accessible to person with a disability.

There are a wide range of possible adjustments depending on the specific needs of the disabled individual. The adjustment(s) should help the disabled person overcome the disadvantage potentially or actually encountered and enable him to benefit from the work offered or the service or good provided.

An important point to note is that a disabled person is not expected to pay for the costs of an adjustment.

What is ‘reasonable’ is a matter of context and depends on a range of factors which makes it difficult to create rules about when adjustments need to be made. However, in making a decision about what is appropriate, factors courts have considered include the cost of the adjustment, the resources available to the organisation that would need to make the adjustment, the number of likely beneficiaries, the protection of listed buildings and the availability of alternative providers (in the case of services).

The Equality Challenge Unit has produced guidance for higher education on reasonable adjustments.

Research resources

  • Sensory access in higher education is an ECU publication on the experiences of disabled students who are blind or partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing, or within the autistic spectrum. It provides guidance for estates managers, management, support service providers, learning managers and others.
  • A History of Disability  explores how disabled peoples' lives are integral to the heritage all around us.