The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 was created to safeguard the rights of disabled people and to ensure fair treatment in the workplace for people with disabilities. It is now part of the Equality Act 2010.
A key provision of the DDA, and the Equality Act, is the Disability Equality Duty. This is a legal requirement that all public bodies (which includes universities and government departments and institutes) must take active steps to promote equality for people with disabilities and to fight discrimination.
What constitutes a disability?
The definition of ‘disability’ is wider than many people realise. It covers more than just visible disabilities such as mobility impairment or blindness.
The DDA (and the Equality Act) define ‘disability’ as “a physical or mental impairment” which “has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [the disabled person’s] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” This can cover a range of conditions including:
- chronic illnesses or medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, arthritis, epilepsy)
- learning difficulties (e.g. dyslexia)
- mental illnesses (e.g. depression).
These conditions are not always disabilities; the test is if the effect on the person’s day-to-day life is ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ (which usually means it has lasted longer than a year, or is likely to).
You will notice that many disabilities are ‘hidden’. Colleagues or line managers may not realise that an employee has a disability.
What do I have to tell my employer?
It is up to you whether or not you tell your institution that you have a disability or not. The law does not insist that you disclose this information. However your employer will be unable to make any adjustments to your working environment if you don’t tell them!
If you become disabled or aware of your disability while you are employed as a member of research staff, you will need to find out what works best for you. Make sure you get all the advice and help you can get. Most institutions have a disability resource centre, disability adviser or similar, who can advise you and suggest possible ways of supporting you.
Try to include your line manager in this process. It will make him or her more aware of the implications of your disability for you and your research. You may be experienced in dealing with your disability in a research environment. Bear in mind that your line manager may not have any such experience!
Every disability is different. It may be hard for people to judge what you can and cannot do. Be clear to yourself and to other people about your own limits and boundaries.
If your disability causes a difficulty in your working life, a proactive, solution focused approach may be the best way of sorting it out. When you raise an issue, try to have a solution or possible solutions worked out. The disability adviser in your institution may be able to work with you to find possible solutions.
Your employer has an obligation to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace in order for you to be able to undertake your work. If your disability is physical, the Health and Safety officer should be able to advise you on adaptations that can be made available. There is external funding available for some of these adaptations, and your disability adviser may be able to help arrange this for you.
Examples of typical ‘reasonable adjustments’ are:
- electronic doors, ramps and lifts to assist wheelchair users
- computer equipment (both hardware and voice activated software) for a member of staff with a visual impairment or learning disability
- digital hearing aids and adapted telephones for a member of staff with a hearing impairment.
Sometimes adjustments to the nature and volume of work undertaken may also be appropriate, particularly if you are returning to work after a long sickness absence or depression. These adjustments will need to be made with your line manager’s agreement so it is best to involve him or her in the process as much as possible.
Access to Work
Access to Work is a government scheme offering equipment funding and personal support for disabled employees. Its aim is to ensure that people with disabilities are able to keep their job by providing an employer with a share of the costs of any adjustments that will help the applicant stay in work (over and above those adjustments that the employer is legally obliged to make). Your Personnel Department or disability adviser will normally be able to help you make an application.
You can find out about your eligibility by contacting the Disability Employment Adviser through your local Jobcentre.
There is some concern that the scope of Access to Work funding will be cut back as a result of the recession. The future extent of availability of this funding is not currently known.