Disability Discrimination Act

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

There are various laws and regulations in place to protect the rights and interests of those with a disability and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 aimed to do this. However, the Disability Discrimination Act has been repealed in recent years and replaced with the Equality Act created in 2010.

This Act states that an individual cannot be discriminated against because of their disability.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Discriminating against someone because of a disability is unlawful and individuals who find that they have been discriminated against can take further action. To bring a successful claim under the Equality Act 2010 you must be able to prove that you have one of the disabilities which are outlined in the Act.

Within the Equality Act 2010, there are specific pieces of guidance which allow an individual to determine whether they have a disability by answering the following questions;

  • Is it a mental or physical impairment?
  • Is it classed as being an automatic disability under the Equality Act
  • If not, how does the impairment affect your day to day life?

It must be noted that it is the effect that the impairment has on your life rather than being what causes the impairment.

The meaning of disability

It is important to fully understand what is meant by a disability before the Disability Discrimination Act can be applied. Disabilities are classed as any mental or physical condition which has a substantial and long term impact on daily life. Under the legislation certain conditions are automatically classed as disabilities and if you suffer from one of these conditions and you encounter discrimination because you have it, you can make a claim on the grounds of unlawful discrimination.

If however you don’t have a condition but you wish to make a claim under the disability discrimination law you must be able to show that you have a disability and this fits in with the definition which is provided in the Disability Discrimination Act.

There are certain conditions which are automatically classed as being a disability under the Equality Act and these include;

  • HIV
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Sever disfigurements which excludes piercings and tattoos
  • Cancer
  • Certified blind, have a severe or slight sight impairment or you have been classed as partially sighted by a qualified Ophthalmologist

In addition to the above, there are certain conditions both physical and mental which could be classed as a disability under the Equality Act but this will depend on how they affect your day to day life. Physical and mental conditions which could be categorised as a disability under the Equality Act include;

  • Hearing or sight problems
  • Conditions which vary in severity such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, ME or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Degenerative conditions such as muscular dystrophy, motor neurone disease and dementia
  • Heart disease, stroke, asthma or any other condition which affects the organs
  • Learning Disability
  • Learning Difficulty such as dyspraxia or dyslexia
  • Autism
  • Mental Health Conditions including bipolar, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder or depression
  • Injury to the body or brain which cause an impairment

The Equality Act was implemented to protect people from discrimination both in the community and while at work. When it was introduced it aimed to bring together a collection of anti-discriminatory laws and incorporate them in a single Act. This meant that the law in relation to disability was much easier to understand and it increased protection for individuals in certain situations. The new Act also defined when certain behaviours may be unlawful.


Prior to the Act there were three main pieces of legislation which applied to discrimination including the Sex Discrimination Act from 1975, the Race Relations Act introduced in 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. If you wish to make a complaint about unlawful treatment on the grounds of disability, there are two ways in which this can be approached depending on the time the incident occurred.

Prior to 2010 – Any unlawful treatment experienced before October 2010 must be dealt with using the legislation that applied at the time.

After 2010 – If an individual experienced unlawful treatment after 01st October 2010, they must use the Equality Act.

The new Equality Act specified certain provisions in relation to disability including;

  • Increasing protection for indirect discrimination which was committed as a direct result of a disability
  • Following a legal judgment, discrimination arising from disability was introduced which replaced protection under previous legislation
  • Implementing what is known as the detriment model when protecting individuals against victimisation
  • Establishing thresholds for creating a duty for individuals and businesses to make reasonable adjustments for disabled individuals
  • Extending protection for harassment in the workplace which relate to protected characteristics
  • Implementing strategies to make it more difficult for disabled individuals to be excluded in the job application process, restricting employers from asking questions about health or disability

The Equality Act states that an individual must not be discriminated against if;

  • They have a disability
  • A third party thinks that you have a disability (discrimination by perception)
  • You are linked with someone who has a disability (discrimination by association)

As soon as a diagnosis of a progressive condition has been made, in the law you are classed as being disabled. As another example, if you suffered from a mental illness which lasted for at least 12 months but you have made a full recovery, you are still protected in terms of disability discrimination legislation.

Discrimination can take many different forms and under the Act there are several main types.

  • Direct Discrimination – Where an individual is treated differently from another person in the same or similar situation and this treatment is because of a disability
  • Indirect Discrimination – Occurs when a business holds a particular viewpoint and they have a particular way of working or policy which can be detrimental to people with a disability in comparison with people who don’t. However, organisations can legally carry out indirect discrimination if they can demonstrate that there is a good reason for implementing the policy. This is often referred to as objective justification.

Reasonable Adjustments – In accordance with the Act, employers have an obligation to ensure that individuals who are disabled have equal access to education, services and employment opportunities. The term for this is a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Harassment – Behaviour which results in the disabled person feeling offended, degraded or humiliated

Victimisation – If a disabled person is treated poorly because they have complained about discriminatory behaviour, this can be classed as victimisation.

Rules surrounding the treatment of individuals with a disability continue to evolve and the most recent guidance, published through the Equality Act 2010 is there to safeguard the rights and protect disabled people from unlawful behaviour by employers or society in general.

About the author:

This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.