Disability rights in the UK were introduced into legislature in 1995 with the Disability Discrimination Act. This has since been fleshed out to form the Equality Act of 2010 that specifically addresses the rights of disabled people.
But how did disability rights come about in the first place, and what are disability rights in the workplace?
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Disability rights are now a staple in the lives of disabled people all over the UK, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, the UK has only begun to include the rights of disabled people in its legislation after World War II to accommodate veterans returning home with life-changing injuries.
The 1944 Disability Employment Act gave disabled people the promise of a job. And with the establishment of the NHS following on a few years later, disabled men and women who had sustained injuries through accidents in their jobs were given access to extended rehabilitation treatments.
Further afield, the Civil Rights Movement in the US sparked disabled activists to begin raising awareness and making throughout the 1960s and 1970s. This inspired UK-based activists to begin pursuing their own changes in legislation and rights that would afford them the same opportunities as able-bodied people.
Following years of fighting, the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 was passed in UK government. Although there is now more legislation than ever before addressing the rights of disabled people, activists are still fighting for equality across the globe.
Disability rights are put in place to ensure that disabled persons are afforded the same rights and opportunities that other people are. That includes things like employment, education, and financial help.
Disability rights also help to outline what classes as a ‘disability’. So to be considered disabled, you need to “have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities” (Equality Act 2010).
Disability rights also help protect you from any sort of discrimination in things like education, employment, healthcare, public transport, and other things. Your rights give you legal foundations to fight against any sort of mistreatment you may face.
With different acts in place, it’s important that you know your disability rights as a UK resident and what they affect.
One item of legislation in particular that you should be aware of is The Equality Act 2010. Not only does this law outline what it means to be disabled, but it is also the main reference for legislation on workplace regulations and workplace discrimination.
Under the Equality Act, you must not be treated any different to anyone else you work with because of your disability. An example of this would be if you were refused a customer-facing job (i.e., in a shop) because you have a visible physical disfigurement.
Your employer also has a duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to your working environment to ensure that you can carry out your job to the same standards as your other colleagues. This can include buying and setting up equipment that is more suited to your needs (e.g., a standing desk or a more specialist desk chair).
You might also need extra breaks throughout the day or time off for medical treatment. Your employer should make changes to accommodate this (within reason).
In addition, The Equality Act protects your carer (if you have one). Their employer cannot discriminate against them for caring for you; this includes them potentially being dismissed for absences taken to care for you.
Any sort of wider discrimination in the workplace is also banned under The Equality Act. This includes you being treated differently because of how people perceive you and your disability.
If you feel as though you are being treated unfairly in your workplace, then there are a couple of different options you can explore. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to bring it up with your manager, then there are other people you can speak to.
If you are part of a union then you can get help from your union representative. And do remember that you have the right to take someone into a meeting with you for moral support.
There are also plenty of organisations and charities that would be happy to help advise you if you are being discriminated against. The Citizens Advice Bureau has a wealth of information online, and charities like Disability Rights UK and Scope will be able to help as well.