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How Equality Act 2010 applies to adult communication impairments in Britain

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Statutory guidance on 'disability': Extracts and examples

This page has some examples on communication disorders from the 2011 Statutory Guidance on definition of disability. The guidance is not binding but should be taken into account by tribunals.

Introduction

This page sets out some extracts and examples from the statutory Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability. This Guidance is not an authoritative statement of the law, but should be taken into account by tribunals where relevant. For more about the Guidance, see Statutory Guidance and Codes of Practice. The current version took effect in May 2011.

What follows are some isolated extracts and examples related to communication disabilities. However, the Statutory Guidance rightly makes the point that the Guidance should be read as a whole: "Those using this Guidance for the first time should read it all, as each part of the Guidance builds upon the part(s) preceding it. It is important not to consider any individual element in isolation." For the full guidance see: Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability (pdf, link to Office for Disability Issues website)

The Guidance also makes the point that "In the vast majority of cases there is unlikely to be any doubt whether or not a person has or has had a disability, but this guidance should prove helpful in cases where the matter is not entirely clear."

Paragraph D17 of Statutory Guidance

"Some impairments may have an adverse impact on the ability of a person to carry out normal day-to-day communication activities. For example, they may adversely affect whether a person is able to speak clearly at a normal pace and rhythm and to understand someone else speaking normally in the person's native language. Some impairments can have an adverse effect on a person's ability to understand human non-factual information and non-verbal communication such as body language and facial expressions. Account should be taken of how such factors can have an adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities.

A six-year-old boy has verbal dyspraxia which adversely affects his ability to speak and make himself clear to other people, including his friends and teachers at school.

A woman has bipolar disorder. Her speech sometimes becomes over-excited and irrational, making it difficult for others to understand what she is saying.

A man has had a stammer since childhood. He does not stammer all the time, but his stammer, particularly in telephone calls, goes beyond the occasional lapses in fluency found in the speech of people who do not have the impairment. However, this effect can often be hidden by his avoidance strategies. He tries to avoid making or taking telephone calls where he believes he will stammer, or he does not speak as much during the calls. He sometimes tries to avoid stammering by substituting words, or by inserting extra words or phrases.

In these cases there are substantial adverse effects on the person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day communication activities.

A man has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. He finds it hard to understand non-verbal communications such as facial expressions, and non-factual communication such as jokes. He takes everything that is said very literally. He is given verbal instructions during office banter with his manager, but his ability to understand the instruction is impaired because he is unable to isolate the instruction from the social conversation.

This has a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day communication."

Comment on paragraph D17

(This comment is not part of the Statutory Guidance.)

It it clear that both difficulties in speaking and difficulties in understanding can be relevant.

The example on stammering is one which many people who stammer will be able to recognise themselves in. The impairment does not have to be severe. That example also illustrates how effects of the impairment may not be evident to other people - see further Avoidance, and hiding the disability.

Environmental effects

In paragraph D20 an example on tinnitus is used to illustrate that environmental conditions may have an impact, and that account should be taken of whether an environmental effect is within such a range and of such a type that most people would be able to carry out an activity without an adverse effect:

From Statutory Guidance on definition of disability
"A woman has tinnitus which makes it difficult for her to hear or understand normal conversations. She cannot hear and respond to what a supermarket checkout assistant is saying if the two people behind her in the queue are holding a conversation at the same time.

This has a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out the normal day-to-day activity of taking part in a conversation."

See further Substantial effects: Variability.

Combining effects of more than one impairment

Paragraph B6 of the Statutory guidance uses a speech impairment to illustrate the situation of a person having more than one impairment, any one of which alone might not have a substantial effect. The guidance says that here account should be taken of whether the impairments together have a substantial effect overall on the person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities:

From Statutory Guidance on definition of disability
"A person has mild learning disability. This means that his assimilation of information is slightly slower than that of somebody without the impairment. He also has a mild speech impairment that slightly affects his ability to form certain words. Neither impairment on its own has a substantial adverse effect, but the effects of the impairments taken together have a substantial adverse effect on his ability to converse."

Medical treatment

Paragraph D23 uses a hearing impairment to illustrate disregarding medical treatment and other measures:

From Statutory Guidance on definition of disability
"A man has a hearing impairment which has the effect that he cannot hold a conversation with another person even in a quiet environment. He has a hearing aid which overcomes that effect. However, it is the effect of the impairment without the hearing aid that needs to be considered.

In this case, the impairment has a substantial adverse effect on the day-to-day activity of holding a conversation."

See further Disregarding treatment and therapy.

Children

Paragraph E2 uses an example on communication to illustrate the statement that, in considering the ability of a child aged six or over to carry out a normal day-to-day activity, it is necessary to take account of the level of achievement which would be normal for a person of a similar age. (There are special rules for children under 6.)

From Statutory Guidance on definition of disability
"A six-year-old child has been diagnosed as having autism. He has difficulty communicating through speech and in recognising when someone is happy or sad. When going somewhere new or taking a different route he can become very anxious. Each of these factors amounts to a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, such as holding a conversation or enjoying a day trip, even for such a young child."

Appendix to the Statutory Guidance - examples

Reasonable to see as substantial effect

These are some of the examples given by Statutory Guidance of factors which, if they are experienced by a person, it would be reasonable to regard as having a substantial adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities.

  • Inability to converse, or give instructions orally, in the person's native spoken language;
  • Difficulty understanding or following simple verbal instructions;
  • Difficulty hearing and understanding another person speaking clearly over the voice telephone (where the telephone is not affected by bad reception);
  • Persistent and significant difficulty in reading or understanding written material where this is in the person's native written language, for example because of a mental impairment, or learning disability, or a visual impairment (except where that is corrected by glasses or contact lenses);
  • Persistently wanting to avoid people or significant difficulty taking part in normal social interaction or forming social relationships, for example because of a mental health condition or disorder;

Not a substantial effect

These are some of the examples given by the Statutory Guidance of factors which, if they are experienced by a person, it would be not be reasonable to regard as having a substantial adverse effect on normal day-to-day activities.

  • Minor problems with writing or spelling;
  • Inability to fill in a long, detailed, technical document, which is in the person's native language, without assistance;
  • Inability to speak in front of an audience simply as a result of nervousness;
  • Some shyness and timidity;
  • Inability to articulate certain sounds due to a lisp;
  • Inability to be understood because of having a strong accent;
  • Inability to converse orally in a language which is not the speaker's native spoken language;
  • Inability to hold a conversation in a very noisy place, such as a factory floor, a pop concert, sporting event or alongside a busy main road.