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Disability and Reasonable Adjustments

This section looks at the approach required to remove barriers which might make facilities, products, services and workplaces less accessible for disabled people


Under the Equality Act (2010), a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

This means that the term ‘disability’ relates to a wide variety of circumstances and impairments and, just like any other group, disabled people are a diverse group and have differing cultures, needs and preferences.

There is a legal requirement to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to take account of the specific barriers which might make facilities, products, services and workplaces less accessible for disabled people.

This approach is based on what is known as the social model of disability which says that disability is created by barriers in society.

Reasonable adjustments

Under the Equality Act (2010), employers and service providers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. This duty arises when there are factors that would place a disabled person at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ compared with a non-disabled person.

In these situations, we are expected to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ and the employer or service provider must take reasonable steps to avoid the disadvantage.

Reasonable adjustments could include:

  • formal policies or procedures
  • informal or regular ways of working
  • work plans or the way that work is organised

This depends on context, but also on how effective the adjustment is for the disabled person and other relevant factors for considering whether adjustments are reasonable. These include:

  • how effective the change will be in assisting disabled people or a specific disabled person
  • the practicality of the change
  • its cost
  • the size and resources of the organisation making the adjustment
  • any relevant safety issues

The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides examples of reasonable adjustments and a table with examples of reasonable adjustments for specific disabilities.

Look at several of the examples of adjustments detailed on this site and consider the following questions:

  • what impact do you think that they would have for the disabled person?
  • would these adjustments be possible in your workplace? Why or why not? 
  • has what you have read and considered made you view the environment differently?

Making reasonable adjustments

Barriers that are identified by the social model of disability generally fall into three categories:

  • the environment - including inaccessible buildings and services 
  • people’s attitudes - stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice 
  • organisations - inflexible policies, practices and procedures

Using the social model helps identify solutions to the barriers disabled people experience and encourages the removal of these barriers within society, or the reduction of their effects.

Can you think of any examples, of provisions, criteria, practices or other barriers (e.g. physical barriers, inaccessible information). In your work setting that might disadvantage a disabled person? Remember that this person could be a patient/client, visitor, staff member or learner.

Carry out a web search to see what information is available about possible improvements or adjustments, then answer the following questions:

  • what sources of information did you find to be most helpful and why?
  • what reasonable adjustments might address these issues?
  • how would these adjustments reduce or eliminate disadvantages?

Discuss your findings with your mentor. Consider the changes or adjustments you identified and identify opportunities for making improvements in your work setting.