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Disability Discrimination Act 1995

The Disability Discrimination Act is a UK parliamentary act of 1995, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against people in respect of their disabilities in relation to employment, the provision of goods and services, education and transport. It is a civil rights law. Other countries use constitutional, social rights or criminal law to make similar provisions. The British Government set up the Disability Rights Commission to provide support for the Act. Equivalent legislation exists in Northern Ireland, which is enforced by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

It is still permissible for employers to have reasonable medical criteria for employment, and to expect adequate performance from all employees once any reasonable adjustments have been made.

In addition to imposing obligations on employers, the Act places duties on service providers and requires reasonable adjustments to be made when providing access to goods, facilities, services and premises (Part 3 of the Act).

Amending legislation

The Act was amended by the following legislation:

  • The Disability Rights Commission Act 1999, which replaced the National Disability Council with the Disability Rights Commission (DRC);
  • The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 inserted new provisions in Part 4 of the Act in connection with disability discrimination in schools and other educational establishments;
  • The Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs etc) Act 2002, which prevented operators of such vehicles refusing to take assistance dogs, or making additional charges for such dogs.
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Pensions) Regulations 2003 which amended the DDA in line with the EU employment directive.
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 2005, which completed the implementation of the Disability Rights Task Force recommendations, including the extension of the DDA to cover public transport, and the introduction of a duty on public authorities to promote equality for disabled people.

The details of the positive duty to promote equality are discussed in Delivering Equality for Disabled People.

A consultation document on the use of other regulation-making powers can be found here.

The Equality Act 2006 makes provision for the replacement of the DRC by a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), with powers to issue guidance on and enforce all the equality enactments (covering race, sex, disability, religion and belief, sexual orientation and age). The CEHR is expected to begin operation in October 2007.


The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) departs from the fundamental principles of older UK discrimination law (the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976). These Acts depend on the concepts of direct discrimination and indirect discrimination. However, these concepts are insufficient to deal with the issues of disability discrimination.

The core concepts in the DDA are, instead:

  • less favourable treatment for a reason related to a disabled person’s disability; and
  • failure to make a reasonable adjustment.

Reasonable adjustment or, as it is known in some other jurisdictions, ‘reasonable accommodation’, is the radical concept that makes the DDA so different from the older legislation. Instead of the rather passive approach of indirect discrimination (where someone can take action if they have been disadvantaged by a policy, practice or criterion that a body with duties under the law has adopted), reasonable adjustment is an active approach that requires employers, service providers etc to take steps to remove barriers from disabled people’s participation. For example:

  • employers are likely to find it reasonable to provide accessible IT equipment;
  • many shops are likely to find it reasonable to make their premises accessible to wheelchair users;
  • councils are likely to find it reasonable to provide information in alternative formats (such as large print) as well as normal written form.

The Disability Rights Commission’s Codes of Practice give more information to bodies with duties on assessing whether a particular adjustment is reasonable. In general, the factors to consider would include:

  • whether the proposed adjustment would meet the needs of the disabled person;
  • whether the adjustment is affordable;
  • whether the adjustment would have a serious effect on other people.

Sometimes there may be no reasonable adjustment, and the outcome is that a disabled person is treated less favourably. For example, if a person was not able to understand the implications of entering into a mortgage or loan agreement, and they did not have anyone authorised to act for them, it would not make sense to require a bank or building society to enter into that agreement. The Act therefore permits employers and service providers to justify less favourable treatment (and in some instances failure to make a reasonable adjustment) in certain circumstances.

What kind of disabilities are covered by the Act?

To be covered by the Act, you do not have to be formally ‘registered’. Instead the criteria is actually quite simple. An illness or disability is covered if:

  1. It has lasted or is likely to last 12 months or longer
  2. The illness or disability is terminal in nature

In addition, if 1. is the case, then the illness or disability must be something which affects your day-to-day living. Mental illnesses such as depression are covered by the Act, as well as physical illnesses such as amputated limbs, broken pelvis, etc.

Other jurisdictions

  • See Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for corresponding USA legislation – though this does not have a positive equality duty.
  • See Ontarians with Disabilities Act for the corresponding legislation in Ontario, Canada.

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