The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations. It sets out the different ways in which it is unlawful to treat someone. Before the Act came into force there were several pieces of legislation to cover discrimination, including:
• Sex Discrimination Act 1975
• Race Relations Act 1976
• Disability Discrimination Act 1995
The public sector Equality Duty came into force across Great Britain on 5 April 2011. It means that public bodies have to consider all individuals when carrying out their day-to-day work – in shaping policy, in delivering services and in relation to their own employees.
It also requires that public bodies:
• have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination;
• advance equality of opportunity; and
• foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.
But the Equality Act does not only apply to public sector bodies, organisations and agencies; it also applies to all service providers and those providing goods and facilities in Great Britain. This includes, for example, those providing information, advice and day care or running leisure centre facilities. It applies to all services, whether or not a charge is made for them. It also applies to private clubs and other associations with 25 or more members which have rules about membership and select their members.
The Act protects anyone who has, or has had, a disability. So, for example, if a person has had a mental health condition in the past that met the Act’s definition of disability and is harassed because of this, that would be unlawful. The Act also protects people from being discriminated against and harassed because of a disability they do not personally have. For example, it protects people who are mistakenly perceived to be disabled. It also protects a person from being treated less favourably because they are linked or associated with a disabled person.
How does the Equality Act 2010 apply to deaf people in Scotland?
Service providers are required to make changes, where needed, to improve service for deaf people. There is a legal requirement to make reasonable changes to the way things are done – such as changing a policy; to the built environment – such as putting in an induction loop system; and to provide auxiliary aids and services – such as providing information in an accessible format, an induction loop for customers with hearing aids, providing appropriate professional registered language/communication support or additional staff support when using a service. Where a service is delivered from a building that cannot be made accessible through reasonable adjustments, it may be a reasonable adjustment to provide the service at a different venue, including a home visit.
Reasonable changes are required wherever deaf customers or potential customers would otherwise be at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled/hearing people. A substantial disadvantage is more than a minor or trivial disadvantage. Service providers cannot charge disabled customers for reasonable adjustments.
Many of the recommendations made in our Position Statements can be looked at as ‘reasonable adjustments’ for deaf people, so by applying them service providers will be complying with their duty under the Equality Act 2010.