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Northern Ireland: Guidance on definition of disability

This page looks at differences between the Northern Ireland guidance on the definition of disability compared with the 2006 guidance applying to the rest of UK. A separate page deals with Northern Ireland more generally.

Legal definition

So far as relevant to stammering the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as it applies in Northern Ireland has pretty much the same definition of disability as the UK's Equality Act 2010. Accordingly my page on meaning of 'disability' should be useful (but the Northern Ireland position on perceived disability is the pre-Equality Act UK position).

Northern Ireland Guidance

However, there are some differences regarding stammering in the official guidance on how the definition of disability is to be applied. See Northern Ireland: Guidance on definition of disability.

This does not mean the law in NI is different, and indeed the House of Lords has declined to take the guidance into account when it comes to statutory interpretation - SCA Packaging v Boyle (2009). However, NI tribunals may perhaps in practice reach different results because of the different guidance.

Main differences related to stammering are discussed under the three 'Differences in Northern Ireland guidance' sub-headings below. There may be other differences in NI law which are not covered on this website.

Differences in Northern Ireland guidance

Example in NI 2008 guidance:

Para B8: "A man has had a stammer since childhood. He does not stammer all the time, but his stammer can appear, particularly in telephone calls, going beyond the occasional lapses in fluency found in the speech of people who do not have the impairment. However, this effect can often be hidden by his avoidance strategy. He may try to avoid telephone calls where he believes he will stammer, or he may not speak as much during telephone calls. He may sometimes try to avoid stammering by substituting words, or by inserting extra words or phrases.

In determining whether he meets the definition of disability, consideration should be given to the things he cannot do or only do with difficulty.

Paragraph B8/D25 examples

The 2008 Guidance on definition of disability for Northern Ireland (external link to pdf) unfortunately does not include the stammering example about telephone calls which is at para D25(1) of the UK's 2006 Guidance. In the UK guidance, this example is particularly helpful for people who stammer in that it expressly says it would be reasonable to regard the effects given in the example, including examples of avoidance, as 'substantial adverse effects', and thus within the DDA.

An example at paragraph B8 of the Northern Ireland guidance (see box on right) starts off with almost identical wording. However, the crucial final sentence that "it would be reasonable to regard these effects as substantial adverse effects" is missing. Intead, the Northern Ireland example ends simply saying: "In determining whether he meets the definition of disability, consideration should be given to the things he cannot do or only do with difficulty."

So the Nothern Ireland example says "consideration should be given to the things he cannot do or only do with difficulty", rather than the UK's "it would be reasonable to regard these effects as substantial adverse effects". The Northern Ireland wording is not so clearly helpful as the UK version, and this is a shame. Having said that, the Northern Ireland example does raise awareness of the kind of difficulties faced by people who stammer. I would hope that a tribunal reading it would come to the conclusion that the effects listed are 'substantial' within the legislation. For example, it can be argued that they constitute a limitation going beyond the normal differences in ability which may exist among people (see paragraph B1 of the Northern Ireland guidance - and, so far as relevant to the NI guidance, my page: Is any stammer a disability?)

There is a quite different example on stammering at paragraph B8 of the UK version, which does not make much sense.

Bullet point example

One difference in the Northern Ireland guidance is good: The UK wording "It would not be reasonable to regard as having a substantial adverse effect: inability to articulate fluently due to a lisp or other minor speech impediment" had been changed to "It would not be reasonable to regard as having a substantial adverse effect: inability to articulate due to a lisp."

Thus, the Northern Ireland version does not say that inability to articulate fluently due to an 'other' minor speech impediment would fall outside the DDA. The effect of the UK version saying that is unclear. However, the fact that the Northern Ireland version omits it may make it easier in some cases to argue that a stammer falls within the DDA.

Impairment

A small difference in the Northern Ireland version is that communication impairments including stammering are expressly mentioned as an impairment in para A6. They are not in the UK version. This makes no difference though to the fact that a stammer is an impairment in the rest of the UK as well as in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland

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Last updated 20th November, 2010