The Equality Act 2010 as described in the 'Equality Challenge Unit Managing Reasonable Adjustments in Higher Education Report'  gives the definition of disability as follows:

‘A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.’ (Equality Act 2010, Section 6)

Schedule 1 of the Equality Act 2010 provides determination of disability, stating the effect of impairment as long term if:

  • it has lasted for at least 12 months,
  • it is likely to last for at least 12 months, or
  • it is likely to last for the rest of the life of the person

The Equality Act 2010 replaces the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and its associated duties, and will introduce a new public sector equality duty which replicates the general duties in the disability equality duty (DED). As in current disability equality legislation, it is permissible to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person. The Act will continue the existing duty upon HEIs to make reasonable adjustments for staff, students and service users in relation to:

  • a provision, criteria or practice
  • physical features
  • auxiliary aids

The new specific duties included in the public sector equality duty for England, Scotland and Wales are likely to change the way HEIs are required to report on actions and objectives for achieving disability equality. These are currently under consultation. The new general duty is likely to be introduced from April 2011; until this time, HEIs are required to comply with the DED.

As the Equality Act does not cover Northern Ireland, the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 (SENDO) and the Disability Discrimination Order 2006 are likely to stand. SENDO, as amended, extended protection to young disabled people in schools and disabled persons in further and higher education. Furthermore, the Disability Discrimination Order 2006 makes some changes to the DDA.

Under the Equality Act 2010, reasonable adjustments are required where disabled staff, students or visitors personally experience substantial disadvantage in comparison with non-disabled people. The measure of what is a reasonable adjustment will depend on an institution’s circumstances in relation to the:

  • resources available
  • cost of the adjustment
  • practicality of the changes
  • potential benefit to other staff, students and visitors. (DRC, 2007)

The extent of the duty to make adjustments will differ slightly depending on the context. Most significantly, there is no anticipatory duty in the employment field. However, there is an anticipatory duty to provide reasonable adjustments for students, which means service providers must plan ahead and take a strategic approach to addressing the barriers that potentially impede disabled students. This will involve institutions putting in place systems that can be activated as appropriate for disabled students, staff and/or visitors. Alongside this, disabled students and staff are entitled to individual reasonable adjustments for specific requirements.

Disabled staff and students should be actively involved in strategically identifying anticipatory adjustments, and in making decisions regarding their individual reasonable adjustments.

HEIs can monitor and evaluate the range of individual adjustments that have been made, in order to effectively resource and implement anticipatory adjustments across the whole institution, which may diminish the need for individual adjustments. HEIs should, however, be aware that individual adjustments may still be required.

This approach allows an institution to develop an accessible learning and working environment where a range of support mechanisms are available to all users of the institution. Such support would no longer need to be activated through individual requests. Furthermore, anticipatory adjustments can support staff and students who have not disclosed their disability.

Where the term ‘reasonable adjustment’ is used alone in this guidance, it refers to both individual and anticipatory adjustments.