Last reviewed: 24 November 2021
This resource is part of our Disability Essentials range. You can find the other free resources that are included in this range by clicking here.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination by anyone who provides goods, facilities or services or public functions to members of the public whether paid for or free.
Providing goods and services could range from selling groceries in a supermarket to buying train tickets online or booking an appointment to see a GP.
A public function is something that only a public authority can carry out – for example, arresting and detaining a suspect; imprisoning someone who has been convicted of a criminal offence; collecting taxes, or processing applications for benefits.
Service providers and providers of public functions must also make reasonable adjustments to the way their services are provided to prevent disabled people being placed at a substantial disadvantage.
Sometimes public functions are outsourced to a private company. In this case the private company is still providing a public function on behalf of the public authority. An example might be waste and recycling collections for a local authority.
Anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments
Unlike the employment provisions where an employer only has to make reasonable adjustments when it knows (or ought reasonably to be expected to know) that a disabled person needs them, service providers must anticipate that they will have disabled customers and have made adjustments for them in advance.
If, however, even with the anticipatory adjustment, a disabled person is still substantially disadvantaged when using the service because of their disability, the service provider must make a further adjustment specifically for that person.
A shop owner has widened walkways and lowered shelves in anticipation of the needs of wheelchair users. However, a customer who is a wheelchair user is still not able to reach goods on the shelves because he has limited movement and cannot lift heavy items off the shelves. A further reasonable adjustment for this customer would be for a shop worker to help him with his shopping by taking items off the shelves and taking them to the checkout for him.
Remember that a reasonable adjustment is sometimes a person who can help the disabled customer.
Specifically, service providers must consider:
- Providing equipment or other aids which make it easier for disabled people to use their service, if it is reasonable to do so. For example, an induction loop for people who use hearing aids, or information in an alternative format such as large print for someone with sight loss or easy read for someone with a learning disability.
- Changing any provisions, criteria or practices which place disabled people who use the service at a substantial disadvantage. An example is accepting enquiries by email for individuals who are unable because of their disability to comply with a policy requiring all enquiries to be made by telephone.
- Altering, removing or finding means of avoiding physical features of their premises where this is needed to provide reasonable access to disabled people (for example by installing ramps or widening doorways).
- Where physical features of premises place disabled people at a substantial disadvantage when using the service and it is not reasonable to alter them because of cost or the nature of the building for example, service providers must find other ways of letting disabled people use their services. For example, if a library’s reference section is on the first floor and it is not reasonably possible to install a lift, library staff could offer to bring reference books to a disabled person who cannot climb stairs.
If a service provider has a choice of adjustments that could be made to overcome a barrier that a disabled person faces, they must make the one that would enable the disabled person to enjoy a service that is as close as possible to that of non-disabled people.
However, a service provider is not required to make changes which affect the fundamental nature of the business. For example, dim lighting could be considered essential to a nightclub even though it may cause difficulty for someone with poor eyesight. The most important adjustment, however, is to attitude. All staff who serve customers should be trained in how to make reasonable adjustments to help a disabled customer to use the service.
A department store which is in an old building has always kept men’s shirts and ties in a narrow mezzanine area that can only be accessed by a curving flight of steps. This means that a wheelchair user cannot get to that area. The store has a choice between providing an assistant who will personally serve the customer and get the shirts and ties in the size and colours he wants from the mezzanine area or moving all the men’s shirts and ties to an accessible part of the store.
A reasonable adjustment that would provide the customer with as close an experience as possible to people who aren’t wheelchair users would be to move the department to a fully accessible area. The mezzanine floor could be used for some other purpose such as clothing display. If this is not reasonably possible then the service provider must make the alternative adjustment of bringing the customer the items.
© This resource and the information therein are subject to copyright and remain the property of the Business Disability Forum. They are for reference only and must not be copied or distributed without prior permission.
If you require this resource in a different format, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.