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Duty to make reasonable adjustments (s.20)

The duty to make reasonable adjustments under s.20-21 EqA is arguably the most important head of disability discrimination.

The duty applies where, broadly, a provision, criterion or practice of A's puts a disabled person, or disabled people, at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled. A may be an employer, service provider, college etc. A must take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage.

An employer allows a person who stammers longer for a job interview, and perhaps takes account of information in the person's written application even though they have not said it in the interview.
(What adjustments are appropriate will depend on the particular case. See Employment: Examples of reasonable adjustments.)

A bank's practice is that certain issues should be resolved over the telephone. Some disabled customers, including some people who stammer, will find it difficult to sort out an issue over the phone. The reasonable adjustment duty may require the bank to allow disabled customers who find phone calls difficult to discuss the issue face-to-face or in writing, perhaps through a secure online chat facility.
See a similar example (link to consumeractiongroup.co.uk).

Substantial means only "more than minor or trivial" (s.212(1) EqA).

There is a similar duty to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to provide an auxiliary aid or service, if a disabled person (or people) would otherwise be put at a substantial disadvantage. There is also a reasonable adjustment requirement in relation to physical features of premises, but that is not normally relevant to stammering.

Legislation: s.20 and 21 EqA (link to legislation.gov.uk) - plus many Schedules.
Codes of Practice: Employment Code, Chapter 6; Services Code, Chapter 7.

Different flavours of the reasonable adjustment duty

Schedules to the Equality Act modify the reasonable adjustment duty for the various different contexts in which it can apply:

Individual vs anticipatory duty

There are two basic types of reasonable adjustment duty:

The difference is explained on Services: Reasonable adjustment duty, which also gives more detail on which types of claim the different types of duty apply to.

Schedules to the Equality Act modify the reasonable adjustment duty for the various different contexts in which it can apply:

Employment

Here the type of reasonable adjustment duty based on individual disadvantage applies.

An employer may have a 'lack of knowledge' defence if it could not reasonably have been expected to know of the disability (or possibly of the substantial disadvantage).

More generally on reasonable adjustments in employment:

Provision of services

As regards provision of services and education (apart from exams), and functions of public authorities, the duty to make reasonable adjustments is based on disadvantage to disabled poeple as a group, and therefore 'anticipatory'. This means that providers should not wait until a particular disabled person tries to use the service before considering adjustments. More on this: Services: Reasonable adjustment duty.

Services Code, paragraph 7.4
The policy of the Act is not a minimalist policy of simply ensuring that some access is available to disabled people; it is, so far as is reasonably practicable, to approximate the access enjoyed by disabled people to that enjoyed by the rest of the public. The purpose of the duty to make reasonable adjustments is to provide access to a service as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard normally offered to the public at large (and their equivalents in relation to associations or the exercise of public functions).
Para 7.3 of the FHE Technical guidance is very similar, as regards students in further and higher education.

A service provider does not have to take steps which would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, or of its trade, business or profession.

More on reasonable adjustments by service providers:

Education

Also in education (apart from exam providers) the duty to make reasonable adjustments is anticipatory, so education providers should not wait until a particular disabled person tries to use the service before considering adjustments. More on this: Services: Reasonable adjustment duty.

Also for education, there are provisions on taking into account how far an adjustment is consistent with a request for the nature or existence of a disability to treated as confidential (EqA Sch 13 para 8).

For more see

Relation with indirect discrimination

The reasonable adjustment duty has close similarities with indirect discrimination in that both refer to a 'provision, criterion or practice' (PCP) putting someone at a disadvantage. But the reasonable adjustment duty is more straightforward, less technical.

A reasonable adjustment claim may also be easier because in an indirect discrimination claim the employer etc has a defence if can objectively justify the PCP. In the case of reasonable adjustments, the focus is not on whether the PCP itself is justified, but whether it is reasonable to make particular adaptations to reflect the different needs of disabled people. However, it is not clear whether this theoretical difference will make much difference in practice.

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Last updated 31st August, 2014