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How Equality Act 2010 applies to adult communication impairments in Britain

  1. Introduction
  2. Disability
  3. Discrimination
  4. Employment
  5. Services
  6. Education
  7. Advice & links

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This website has been produced by the
Communications Forum.
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The Equality Act 2010 covers education and examinations. This website only deals with education/exams for those over 18. To be protected by the Act, the person usually needs to have a 'disability' as defined.

Note: This website is limited to the Equality Act 2010 (apart from some references to Disabled students' allowances). The website does not deal with section 139A Learning Difficulty assessments, for example.

Key points

  • This website only deals with people over 18, though the Equality Act itself includes children and young people.
  • The Equality Act can help make both tuition and exams accessible.
  • Disabled Students' Allowances may help by funding assistance in higher education.


This website focusses on the law, in particular the Equality Act 2010. However, it should usually be possible to resolve issues at university or college without recourse to legal rules. If one wants support on a communication disorder, or just to talk things over, there should be people one can talk to, such as the university's Disability Office, or one's personal tutor.

There is a separate page on Disputes.

Discrimination rules

In general, the normal types of discrimination claim apply. Examples include:

  • 'discrimination related to disability', here the question will often be whether the education provider is able to show that its unfavourable treatment of the disabled person is 'objectively justified';
  • the duty to make reasonable adjustments,
  • harassment.

See Education: Adjustments for some examples of steps that might be taken to make education more accessible.

There are some special rules on examinations and assessments. For an outline of these, as well as examples, see Exams.

From draft non-statutory Code of Practice
At a careers event for students and parents at an FE college, a student attends with her parents who are both deaf. They communicate using BSL and the student notices two support staff staring and silently mimicking them. The student is very upset by the conduct of these staff which prevents her from fully participating in the event as it creates a degrading and offensive environment for her as well as her parents. The student brings a claim of harassment related to disability.
Para 8.12, Consultation draft Code of Practice on Higher and Further Education.
The example illustrates that disability-related harassment can include harassment of someone other than the disabled person. When finalised, the code is likely to be issued as a non-statutory code.

From draft Statutory Code of Practice
A disabled student is not allowed to enter a public speaking competition because his speech is slurred as a result of having cerebral palsy. In this case there is no need for a comparator.
Para 6.6, Consultation draft Code of Practice on Higher and Further Education.
The example illustrates that the student has been treated 'unfavourably' for the purposes of discrimination arising from disability, so there should be a breach of the Equality Act unless objective justification is shown. When finalised, the code is likely to be issued as a non-statutory code.

Different parts of Equality Act 2010

Education may fall within different parts of Equality Act 2010, though the level of protection will often be the same whichever applies. In very broad terms, the relevant 'Parts' of the Equality Act are:

  • 'Education' rules in Part 6: public sector education will tend to fall within Part 6, including universities and further education colleges;
  • 'Provision of services' etc in Part 3: private colleges will often fall within Part 3 - see general rules on provision of services;
  • 'Work' in Part 5: includes claims against trade/professional bodies (including on qualifications), and some vocational/training courses.

The most important difference between the different Parts is probably that claims under Part 5 'Work' go to an employment tribunal. This tribunal is normally seen as more user-friendly than the County Court, or in Scotland the Sheriff Court, used for (non-school) claims under Parts 6 or 3.

This section of the website focusses on universities and further education colleges within Part 6. However, the pages on Exams also talk about trade and professional qualifications bodies within Part 5.

Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)

Universities and various other public bodies are also subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty. The main duty is to 'have due regard to' the need to promote equality of opportunity, and certain other 'needs'. However, this does not give a right against discrimination, as such. More on the Public Sector Equality Duty...

Who is liable

An organisation is generally liable for acts of its employees and agents. Employees and agents can also be personally liable. There is also potential liability for people who instruct, cause, induce or aid discrimination. More: Who is liable.

Disabled students' allowances

These grants are not part of the Equality Act 2010. However, it is worth mentioning that they may enable students in higher education to fund technological aids or assistance. There is a 'Skill' information booklet at The disability officer at the relevant university should be able to help. The supplier of any device being funded may also be able to help. Official guidance and forms depend on where you normally live:

Examples: funding by Disabled Students' Allowances
Examples of devices or services funded by a Disabled Student Allowance might include a computer to use as a spellchecker, a fluency device for a student who stammers, and specialist teaching. See Education: Adjustments.