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How Equality Act 2010 applies to adult communication impairments in Britain

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This website has been produced by the
Communications Forum.
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Services and public functions - adjustments

This page gives some examples of poor treatment, and also examples of how an accessible service might look.

From statutory Code of Practice
The policy of the Act is not a minimalist policy of simply ensuring that some access is available to disabled people; it is, so far as is reasonably practicable, to approximate the access enjoyed by disabled people to that enjoyed by the rest of the public. The purpose of the duty to make reasonable adjustments is to provide access to a service as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard normally offered to the public at large (and their equivalents in relation to associations or the exercise of public functions).
Services Code of Practice, paragraph 7.4


This page includes examples of what can be helpful and what may be unlawful. What is legally required under the Equality Act 2010, by way of reasonable adjustments or otherwise, will depend on the particular circumstances. Also the Equality Act usually only applies if the impairment is a 'disability' as defined.

Generally, including awareness training for staff

Disability awareness training of customer-facing staff should include communication disabilities. These are often neglected.

Case study: refused service in pub
A local pub refused to serve a man with a severe speech impediment. A member of the bar staff said the customer was drunk, and made derogatory and insulting remarks about him. A conciliation meeting was set up between the two parties. Once the issue became clear, the bar manager gave a full apology and agreed to his staff having disability training.
Case settled by the Disability Conciliation Service. Disability Rights Commission Press Release, April 2002.

Example: person who stammers in shop
A customer in a computer store is enquiring about different models of laptop. He has a stammer and is having difficulty getting his words out. The shop assistant gives him time to finish what he wants to say, maintaining soft eye contact.

Example: aphasia in shop
A shop trains staff so they better understand communication disabilities and how to communicate. A person with aphasia finds the shop assistant is friendly, gives him time, does not interrupt, and is open to using alternative ways to communicate such as body language and pen and paper.

The shop does not have background music, partly because of the problems that background noise can cause for those with aphasia. It also makes sure that the customer can see the price shown on the till, partly because of the difficulty a person with aphasia may have understanding numbers. (The shop finds other customers also like being able to see the price as they may not catch what the shop assistant says). The shop also reviews its signs.

Allowing the time needed

Allowing more time for communication will often be the single most important adjustment that can be made.

Case study: hospital
A patient with speech difficulties had an appointment with a hospital consultant, about symptoms she was very worried about. However the consultant kept interrupting her. While the consultation was valuable, she left feeling she had not been able to ask all she wanted.

If a helpline, for example, sets a time limit on phone calls, it may be necessary to waive this. Extending time limits could also apply in more formal situations:

Case study: planning meeting
A council's planning sub-committee refused a person with a speech impairment an extension of the 5 minute time limit to speak against a planning application. He requested the time extension in advance, and also at the meeting. At the meeting, he was told that if he spent time arguing for the extension, it would be deducted from his time available to speak against the planning application. Following a further complaint after the meeting, the council agreed to review its policy in the light of its disability discrimination obligations.

Alternative ways of communicating

People with communication difficulties will often find some ways of communicating more difficult than others. For example it could be a reasonable adjustment for the health service, government departments and businesses to provide alternatives to telephone calls - eg email and SMS - for arranging appointments, making enquiries and other communication.

Example: alternatives to the telephone
A company normally insists that an issue must be sorted out over the telephone. It may be a reasonable adjustment for it to be done in an alternative way, such as by email or a face-to-face conversation, if a communication disability makes phone calls difficult.

Case study: synthetic voice
A bank refuses to deal on the telephone with customers who use a synthesised voice (speech produced by a communication device). This may be for example a breach of the duty to make reasonable adjustments and/or discrimination arising from disability.

Providing information

Example: accessible leaflets and forms
A local authority designs leaflets and forms to take account of the needs of people who may find these harder to understand, eg people with aphasia. It also makes leaflets available in alternative formats, such as large print, and as a recording.

Example: clear signs
A public venue makes sure its signs are clear, in a large font and plain language. The signs use symbols and colours to help make them clearer. (A person with a communication impairment may find it hard to ask for information.)


Example: textphone
A service provider or authority offers a textphone/minicom number for people who wish to have a typed rather than a voice conversation.
On textphones: Text communications (pdf, link to Action on Hearing Loss).

Voice recognition systems

Voice recognition systems on the telephone can be a major barrier. They often cannot cope with the speech of someone with communication difficulties. The person needs an option to be put through promptly to a real operator. This will normally be through pressing a button (it should not be through speaking to the computer).

Example: giving choice of speaking to operator
A hospital is looking to introduce an interactive voice response system when people phone its main switchboard number. Callers will be invited to speak the name of the staff member, ward or department. In considering the impact of this on people with disabilities, the hospital realises that the computer will not be able to understand many people with a speech impairment, even though they can be understood by a human. These people will need to talk to a real operator. The hospital therefore gives an option to press 1 to speak to an operator. The option is given either in the computer's initial announcement, or the first time the computer fails to understand the caller.


Example: website that can be read aloud
An online retailer ensures that its website can be read aloud by text to speech software, to be more accessible to people with language impairments who find writing harder to understand.

In court

On appearing court, including some links on law enforcement, see In court: examples of cases.

Some links on adjustments in services and public functions:


Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)