Skip to main content


A seagull wearing glasses and reading a textbook.

Disability Rights: An Introduction

This is the first in a series of blog posts regarding Disability Rights and Discrimination in its many guises. In this post I will give an introduction to Disability Rights and outline what you should expect from companies, organisations and public bodies.

This information is designed to help you know both your Disability Rights (or those of others) and be able to determine if they are being upheld or have been violated both in the past, present and in the future.

This information will help you to determine if you have been discriminated against, or potentially if your place of work has behaved discriminatorily and give insight on what options and outcomes are available if this is the case.

These blog posts are purely for educational, information purposes and do not constitute legal advice.


Disability law in the UK

The Equality Act 2010 is a UK law that grants disabled people specific rights. If you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, long-term and adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, you can use the Equality Act to protect yourself against discrimination in education, work, and services provided for you.

The Equality Act requires employers, colleges, venues and service providers to make reasonable adjustments, provide support and make things accessible.


Your rights at work

First, we will review your rights relating to disability within the workplace. Your employer has to make certain changes to the workplace to allow you to work (or to continue to work) or to be able to join their workforce. When starting a new job, be sure to ask for any reasonable adjustments you may need.

There is no concrete definition of the limits of what a reasonable adjustment is, it is often a case of pure practicality. For example, supplying special equipment to help you do your job, or providing information in an accessible format, these are minimally expensive to an employer and take only a moderate amount of organisation, so these are usually possible.

However, it is important to note that when employers are deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable, they can take into account several things, including the cost of making an adjustment and the size of their business.

If you are already in the job, your employer can also take into account your skills, experience and the length of time you have worked there. This means that they can (if it would be deemed beyond reasonable) not make adjustments when requested or would be required, though this is unusual. That is not to say however that the employer can simply refuse to make reasonable adjustments. For example, the creation of a ramp within a tiered office would be expensive but would (almost certainly) be reasonable. Refusal of this just because the employer doesn’t want to make any accommodation for a disabled employee would amount to discrimination.


Your rights as a consumer of goods, facilities and services

In this section, we will examine the basic rights to all consumers of goods, facilities and services and (specifically) the additional rights granted to people with disabilities.

People with disabilities have rights which protect them against discrimination when buying goods and services or using certain facilities. This applies regardless of the size of the organisation or company providing the goods, services or facilities. For example, providing it is possible due to building regulations and the structure of the premises (basement stores for instance may not be able to install access), shops should be accessible for all to buy their products. Failure to be accessible (when it would be entirely reasonable to provide it) would be discriminatory.

It is also discriminatory to be refused service just because of your disability. For instance, a hotel cannot turn you away just because the staff assume they’ll have to do extra work to accommodate you.

As per the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, all public buildings (such as libraries, council halls etc.) must be accessible. Should you have accessibility issues with a public building, you should raise the issue as it is illegal.


Your rights and public transport

Equality laws also apply to transport services as well as to other related services.

Should you find that you have not received the fair treatment required by law, you can raise complaints with the travel companies, then their governing bodies and finally (if necessary) make claims against them in court.


In the UK, Taxi drivers can lose their licence and face a fine of £1,000 if they fail to transport wheelchair users.

Taxi drivers must provide passengers in wheelchairs with assistance and charge wheelchair users the same rate as non-wheelchair users.


Bus companies must give people in wheelchairs priority in using the wheelchair space. The driver can, for example, ask someone to leave the bus if they refuse to leave the wheelchair space when they do not need it.

A bus driver can only leave the wheelchair user behind if it's reasonable. For example, if the bus is full or a wheelchair user is already using the wheelchair space.

Air travel

When you travel by air, airport operators must provide services which allow you to board, disembark and transfer to another flight. They must not charge for these services.

There are also special rules protecting disabled passengers when they travel by air in Europe. Airlines and travel companies are not allowed to refuse to accept bookings from disabled passengers. This applies to all flights leaving an airport in the European Union (EU) and to any flight arriving in an EU country on an EU airline.


Ships are an exception to the rule and are not covered by equality law in the same way as other transport, although their related services are. For example, if you're disabled, you must not be treated less favourably at the ferry port.

This is something to consider should you be disabled and wishing to use a ferry service, though it is likely access will be fine.


Your rights and education

Providers of education must not discriminate against students (or applicants) by treating them less favourably than students who are not disabled, unless they can justify this treatment. For example, if a school refuses to take a child diagnosed with epilepsy unless they stop having fits, this will count as discrimination.

Providers of education must not discriminate against disabled students (or applicants) by failing to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate their disability. If this places a disabled student at a substantial disadvantage (compared with students who are not disabled), this will be regarded as discrimination.

For example, a deaf pupil who lip-reads would be at a disadvantage if teachers do not face them when speaking during class. Making reasonable adjustments could include providing special aids such as equipment like speech recognition software or sign language interpreters.

There are some circumstances in which an education provider may be able to justify not making an adjustment for a student's disability. For example, schools do not have to make reasonable adjustments to buildings and the physical environment of the school. However, all local education authorities must have plans to make their schools more accessible to disabled pupils.

Maintained schools, independent schools, and non-maintained special schools must produce their own accessibility plans. These plans must be in writing and publicly available. Schools can also be challenged as to why they have not implanted aspects of their accessibility plans.

Providers of Further and Higher Education do have to make reasonable adjustments to their premises to allow better access for disabled students. However, issues (such as cost) can be taken into account when they decide whether an adjustment is reasonable.

Unfair treatment in education

If you have a child who has special educational needs, in England, and you cannot resolve the problem with the school’s education department, you may be able to complain to via a Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal which deals with disability claims for school pupils. 

Find out more or make a complaint of disability discrimination in England.

If you think you have suffered discrimination in education because of your disability, you can talk to an advisor at the Citizens Advice Bureau. 

Contact Citizen’s Advice for specific advice if you think you have experienced disability discrimination.


Read next

Watch this space for an upcoming blog about what to do if you feel discriminated against.

Read our recent blog about support available for families living in Cornwall.

Read our recent blog about whether disability causes stress.


Profile photo of Mark Curtis.

About the author

I’m Mark Curtis, I’m a Trustee for Active8 and have been involved with the charity since I was a member 12 years ago. I’m a law graduate from the University of Exeter which required in depth study of UK equality legislation. I currently work as a paralegal in Exeter and have a keen passion for disability rights.

I want to use lived experience, together with a background in law, to raise awareness of what equality law means and what you can do about it if you think these laws have been broken.


The small print made big

The Active8 blog is designed as a platform for our members and the disabled community to share their personal experiences and discussions which they are passionate about. Any views and opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of our charity.

To the best of our knowledge, the information in blog posts was accurate at the time of publication. Please contact the Active8 manager if you believe any content is incorrect or if you consider any content to be offensive or inappropriate:

Where information in blogs has been taken from third party sources, every attempt has been made to give appropriate credit.

From time to time, writers may receive sponsorship, cash payment, free products, services and/or other forms of compensation from companies and organisations that they promote. Active8 will accept no form of payment for blog content or advertising.

Unless otherwise stated, our blogs (and any links they may contain) are not written or reviewed by medical professionals and do not provide health/lifestyle advice. They are not suitable for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any suggestions these blogs contain are based on the writer’s personal experience. Should you have any concerns about your health (including mental health) then we advise you should speak with your GP or consultant, in the first instance, or call 999 in an emergency.


  • Big Lottery Fund – National Lottery Funded
  • Clare Milne Trust, Transforming Lives in the South West
  • Cornwall Community Foundation
  • HM Government
  • Cornwall Council Logo
  • Sported Logo
  • postcode lottery