UK: Disability Discrimination And The Duty To Make Reasonable Adjustments

Last Updated: 27 November 2012
Article by Aisleen Pugh

The duty to make reasonable adjustments was first introduced under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was replaced by the Equality Act 2010 from 1 October 2010. The duty now operates slightly differently but its object is essentially the same: to avoid as far as possible by reasonable means, the disadvantage which a disabled pupil suffers because of his or her disability. In this briefing, we look at the duty in more detail, consider the types of adjustments that can be made and also the possible consequences of failing to comply with the duty.


Under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010), schools have a duty to take reasonable steps to avoid disadvantage experienced by disabled pupils. Discrimination occurs when a school has not complied with that duty. The EqA 2010 applies to all maintained and independent schools, including academies, and maintained and non-maintained special schools.

Definition of disability

Disability is one of the "protected characteristics" contained in the EqA 2010. It is defined as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

"Impairment" is given its ordinary meaning and includes sensory, progressive, developmental and organ specific impairments, mental health conditions and learning difficulties. "Long-term" means at least 12 months, likely to be at least 12 months or to last for the life of the child. "Normal day-to-day activities" are those activities carried out on a daily or frequent and fairly regular basis.

What is the duty to make reasonable adjustments?

Schools must take reasonable steps to ensure that disabled pupils are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled pupils.

Schools owe this duty to existing pupils, applicants and in certain limited circumstances, former disabled pupils in relation to admissions and the provision of education or access to a benefit, facility or service.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments therefore demands positive action which can be summarised as follows.

  • Taking steps to avoid a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) which puts a disabled pupil at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled. A PCP includes any formal or informal policies, rules, practices, arrangements, criteria, conditions, perquisites, qualifications or provisions.
  • Providing an auxiliary aid where a disabled pupil would, but for the provision of that auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled. This requirement was introduced by the EqA 2010 and came into force on 1 September 2012, following consultation by the Department of Education. An auxiliary aid is something which provides support or assistance to a disabled person (for example, voice recognition software or an adapted keyboard) and can include auxiliary services such as the provision of a sign language interpreter.

It does not require schools to make alterations to physical features because this is already covered by their planning duties.

What is a substantial disadvantage?

A "substantial disadvantage" is one which is more than minor or trivial. Whether a substantial disadvantage exists is a question of fact and will be determined on an objective basis.

In considering what may constitute a substantial disadvantage, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) guidance on what equality law means for schools suggests that the following factors should be taken into account:

  • the time and effort that might need to be expended by a disabled child;
  • the inconvenience, indignity or discomfort a disabled child might suffer; and
  • the loss of opportunity, or the diminished progress a disabled child might make in comparison with his or her peers who are not disabled.

What is reasonable?

The EqA 2010 does not set out what would be a reasonable adjustment. Cost will inevitably play a major part and it is more likely to be reasonable for a school with greater financial resources to make more costly adjustments. The EHRC guidance suggests that a useful starting point when determining what is reasonable is to consider how to ensure that disabled pupils can be involved in every aspect of school life.

  • Relevant factors might include:
  • the financial and other costs of making the adjustment;
  • the extent of the school's financial and other resources;
  • the practicability of the step;
  • the effectiveness of the particular step; and
  • the availability of financial or other assistance.

The level of support a disabled pupil receives under the Special Education Needs (SEN) provisions, which complement the duty to make reasonable adjustments, will also be relevant.

What adjustments can be made?

The EHRC guidance suggests that it is good practice for schools to work with pupils and their parents in determining what reasonable adjustments can be made. Schools should not expect pupils to make suggestions for reasonable adjustments. As the duty is anticipatory and continuing, schools should plan ahead for reasonable adjustments that may be needed to help disabled pupils.

Many adjustments involve little or no cost and are easily made. The EHRC guidance includes the following example of a reasonable adjustment:

A teacher always addresses the class facing forward to ensure that a pupil with hearing difficulties is able to lip-read.

Other adjustments might include:

  • providing information in accessible formats e.g. in Braille or on audio tape; and
  • acquiring or modifying equipment e.g. speech recognition software.

Is there any defence for a failure to make reasonable adjustments?

A failure to make reasonable adjustments cannot be justified. If the duty arises, it will be an objective question as to whether or not the necessary adjustment is reasonable. If it is, then there can be no justification for why it is not made.

Nor can a failure to comply with the duty be defended on the basis of lack of knowledge (as it could be under the old Disability Discrimination Act 1995).

What happens if the duty is not complied with?

All disability discrimination claims against independent schools are heard by the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) in England and the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales.

Claims must be brought within six months of the alleged discrimination, or where there has been a continuing act of discrimination, within six months of the last discriminatory act. The Tribunal can, however, decide to hear claims brought outside the time limit, if it considers it just and equitable to do so.

If the Tribunal finds that a school has failed to comply with its duty to make reasonable adjustments, it may make any order it thinks appropriate. This will usually be with a view to removing or reducing any adverse effect suffered. For example, a school may be ordered to apologise to a pupil, change its policies and procedures and/or carry out staff training. The Tribunal cannot order the payment of compensation.

What should you do now?

If you have not done so recently and given the extension of the duty to cover the provision of auxiliary aids from 1 September 2012, now is the time to review your policy on reasonable adjustments to ensure that it is up to date and that all relevant members of staff are aware of and understand the policy.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Aisleen Pugh
In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions