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Public authorities: disability discrimination in Northern Ireland

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Last updated 21st August 2019.

Disability discrimination rights

Public authorities are subject to the normal disability discrimination rules on employment, provision of services and education (including schools).

Other public functions are also subject to the DDA. For example if the police arrest a disabled person, or interview them in the course of an investigation, that is not providing a service to the person. However it is still subject to disability discrimination protection under the DDA as a public function: see Services (including transport): disability discrimination in Northern Ireland>Public functions.

Though public authorities are subject to some additional duties as discussed below, the rights above are the main ways for an individual to claim disability discrimination.

Disability equality duty

Northern Ireland has its own form of disability equality duty in ss.49A-49B. A public authority must have due regard to the need to promote positive attitudes towards disabled persons, and the need to encourage participation by disabled persons in public life. The idea is to mainstream disability duties into the authority’s own policies, practices and procedures,

Like the Public Sector Equality Duty in the rest of the UK, the wording does not create an absolute duty to encourage participation etc, but to “have due regard to the need” to do so. Accordingly, the duty does not say that public bodies must not discriminate, or must make reasonable adjustments etc; for that see the Disability discrimination rights above.

A public authority must submit a disability action plan to the Equality Commission showing how it proposes to fulfil the disability duties (unless granted an exemption). It must also submit an annual progress report on the implementation of its plans, as part of its annual report on its equality scheme under section 75 (below).

There is guidance from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland: Disability duties: Public authorities (equalityni.org).

Section 75

The obligations above have equivalents in the rest of the UK. However in view of its history Northern Ireland also has s.75 Northern Ireland Act 1998. This obliges most public authorities in Northern Ireland to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between various groups of people, including those with a disability and those without. ‘Disability’ is as defined in the DDA. Under Schedule 9 public authorities must devise equality schemes addressing discrimination.

There is guidance from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland: Section 75 duties for Public Authorities (equalityni.org).

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