There are two key pieces of legislation that deal with equality in the employment of people with disabilities. We’ve summarised both of them below and described a key term that arises in this legislation - Reasonable Accommodation.
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Disclaimer: This information is not comprehensive but is simply a summary for readers. It is not, and should not be taken as, a legal interpretation of the Acts.
One of the most significant pieces of legislation to be enacted in recent years is the Employment Equality Act (EEA) (1998). The Employment Equality Act 1998 was amended by the Equality Act 2004; together they are known as the Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2004. The purpose of the act is to promote equality and positive action and to prohibit direct and indirect discrimination across nine distinct grounds, including disability. The act requires appropriate measures for people with disabilities in relation to access, participation and training in employment
Under the Act, discrimination is described as:
"…the treatment of a person in a less favourable way than another person is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation on any of the nine grounds"
The aspects of employment covered in the act include:
- Equal Pay
- Access to employment, training and work experience
- Terms and conditions of employment
- Promotion, re-grading and classification of posts
The EEA also states that an employer:
"… shall do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person who has a disability by providing special treatment or facilities…"
The act therefore places an onus on employers to ‘reasonable accommodate’ people with disabilities when accessing employment, in the participation or advancement within employment and in accessing training. However there is a provision which states that accommodations for employees should not give rise to more than a ‘nominal cost’ for the employer. In 2004 The Equality act made amendments to the 1998 act and the nominal cost issue was revised so that an employer could only now refuse to provide facilities for disabled workers if doing so would entail a ‘disproportionate burden’.
What constitutes a disproportionate burden in relation to reasonable accommodations depends on the size and resources of the employer while also taking account of grants or public funding that may be available.
Equality legislation now covers employment and the provision of goods and services, including education. The Equal Status Act 2000 was recently amended by the Equality Act 2004; together they are known as the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004. Their main aim is to promote equality by prohibiting discrimination on nine grounds including disability, in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements and the provision of goods and services. People who provide services to the public (e.g. recreational services, transport or travel services, banking services etc.) cannot discriminate on any of the nine grounds outlined in the legislation. It also has provisions for the attaining of reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in the provision of goods and services.
A Reasonable Accommodation is any action that helps to lessen a substantial disadvantage due to a disability or medical condition.
People with disabilities encounter many different types of barriers in their everyday lives, for example, inaccessible buildings, transport or websites and poor communication or service facilities. Reasonable accommodations are put in place to help reduce these barriers in order to provide equality of access and opportunity for all.
Accommodations or adjustments can, and have been successfully, put in place across a variety of environments from supports in third level education for students with disabilities to service providers ensuring all customers can access their goods and services. In a work context, reasonable accommodations are put in place to enable a qualified person with a disability to fully undertake the job tasks they are hired to do, without which they would potentially be restricted due to a disability or medical condition.
Examples of Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable accommodations are often inexpensive and uncomplicated to put in place. Adjustments and supports that are available vary greatly. Many such supports require minor adjustments i.e. increasing the font size on a computer screen or relocating someone so that they are near an accessible toilet. The best practice is to consult with the person on their particular needs.
Common reasonable accommodations include the following:
- Assistive listening devices: e.g. amplified telephone handset for a worker to enable use of telephone.
- Induction loops, FM systems and infrared systems which are designed for group situations.
- Software that will read out loud information on the computer screen such as JAWS and screen magnification software.
- Speech to text software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking
- A closed circuit television system (CCTV) for reading printed materials.
- An optical scanner that scan printed material and ‘read it’ into a computer or voice synthesizer.
- Ramps and accessible building.
- Corridors and office space free from obstacles.
- Moving desk location to accommodate an employee with a disability.
- An accessible website and internal network systems.
- Colour coding of files
- Rest space or room for employees.
- Alternative office furniture such as height adjustable desk or ergonomic chairs.
- Flashing and audio alarms
- Time off for medical appointments or flexi-time to accommodate an individual.
- Breaks to allow individuals take medication.
- Allow later start to accommodate sleeping patterns.
- Job Sharing
- Mobility training for employees who are blind as part of their induction into the workplace.
- Allow time for mobility training for employees who are blind where required.
- Sign language interpreters for interviews and training.
- Inclusive teaching practices for classroom style training.
- Notes and handouts given out in advance.
- Allow dictaphones or cassette recorders.
- Be aware that individuals learn in different ways and when training people in you may have to adjust your teaching methods.
Written materials in alternative format, such as in large print, Braille, or computer disk.