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Examples of adjustments and discrimination: service providers

Disclaimer – please read
This page does not apply outside Great Britain.
Last updated 2nd November, 2023 (part update 15th February, 2024).

Table of page contents

Preliminary points

What this page covers

This page gives, in relation to stammering –

  • examples of adjustments that may be reasonable, and
  • examples of discrimination

by service providers and by authorities exercising public functions.

“It is important that service providers do not assume that the only way to make services accessible to disabled people is to make a physical alteration to their premises (such as installing a ramp or widening a doorway). Often, minor measures such as allowing more time to serve a disabled customer, will help disabled people to use a service.”
Paragraph 6.10 of the 2006 Revised Code of Practice on Rights of Access, on the DDA 1995. This Code has been superseded, but the point remains valid.

What is reasonable will depend on circumstances

Much of the following are possible examples of reasonable adjustments. Further suggestions or comments are welcome – allan@atyrer.net. However what is appropriate and reasonable will depend on all the circumstances, and different people who stammer have different needs.

In deciding what is “reasonable”, access should be as close as possible to that enjoyed by others. It is not a matter of “just about accessible” is OK.

Because the reasonable adjustment duty for service providers and bodies exercising public functions is anticipatory, they should consider possible adjustments for different kinds of disability in advance of the particular disabled person presenting themself. So it is not a matter of just what is reasonable at little or no notice.

Examples below go beyond “reasonable adjustments”

This page is not restricted to the reasonable adjustment duty. Some examples below arise from the obligation to avoid discrimination arising from disability, harassment, and indirect discrimination.

In court

I have a separate page on adjustments related to Appearing in court.

Stammering as a “disability”

It is sensible for a service provider or public authority to assume that the particular person’s stammer is covered by the Equality Act (EqA): below Note: Assume stammer is within Equality Act.

Adjustments are not just relevant for stammering

“… at least 1% of adults stammer. Add in those who might have dysfluent speech for other reasons, such as those with Parkinson’s or who’ve had a stroke, and you can see why a review is important.”
STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023.

Also similar adjustments may be helpful for other disabilities affecting spoken communication, even if they do not involve dysfluency.

Talking with someone who stammers

  • Allow the person time to speak. Do not finish words/sentences or interrupt. Also below Telephone: Allow extra time and Allowing the time needed.
  • If talking face-to-face, maintain natural eye contact rather than looking away when someone stammers.
  • Don’t make supposedly “helpful” suggestions, like to take a breath, or to slow down.
  • There is more on talking with a person who stammers below, and particularly in the STAMMA resources, linked below.

Awareness training

Disability awareness training should encompass stammering and other communication impairments. This field is often neglected.

“Train call handlers, till operators, shop floor staff, security, and all those dealing with your customers to recognise stammering and to listen empathetically, patiently, and without interruption to customers who stammer.”
STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023. Similarly for GP Practices Patient Contact Guide, linked below.


Telephone: Offer alternatives to the telephone

People who stammer can find the telephone particularly difficult. Allow alternative options, such as face-to-face or communicating online: below Offer alternative ways of communicating.

Telephone: Voice recognition systems

Voice recognition systems can be a major barrier. They should include an option to press a key to speak to a real person, either in the initial menu or the first time a person is not understood. See separate page Voice recognition telephone systems.

Telephone: Don’t just hang up

This is pretty obvious. However, it happens far too often that someone hangs up on a person who stammers, eg when they are trying to book a taxi, or a table in a restaurant (Right to be heard).

Telephone: Silent calls

A person who stammers may find the start of a phone call particularly difficult. STAMMA (the British Stammering Association) says: “If a call is silent, or if there are sounds but no words, it may be a caller who stammers who is ‘blocking’ and working incredibly hard to get their words out.”

STAMMA suggests a script to use for silent calls, to create space for someone to speak if there is silence on the telephone, or sounds but no words: Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023, or for GP Practices Patient Contact Guide, linked below.

Don’t just assume it’s a prank call, or bad line.

Telephone: Profile flag feature

STAMMA (the British Stammering Association) suggests:

“Implement a flag for “communication differences” or “stammering”, which can be added to the customer’s profile with their consent. Invite your customers to register their communication preferences with you.”

STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023. Similarly for GP Practices Patient Contact Guide, linked below, where the second sentence reads “… Ensure your new patient registration forms captures these details and advertise the facility on your website.”

Telephone: Alternative ID procedures

STAMMA (the British Stammering Association) says:

“People who stammer often find those words which can’t be swapped or changed the most difficult to say. This can include their name, address, date of birth, account numbers, etc. Ensure that your call handlers are aware of this and develop alternative ID procedures that your customers can opt in to.”
STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023. Similarly for GP Practices Patient Contact Guide, linked below.

Telephone: Don’t laugh

See below Don’t laugh: Rudeness and mockery.

Telephone: Answering machines/systems

Do not set answering machines or systems to cut off after just a few seconds of silence.

People who stammer can be seriously disadvantaged by telephone answering machines or systems which cut off too soon. This may terminate the message in the middle of the person trying to say something.

The same applies if the machine or system has a maximum message length set, which is too short.

Telephone: Allow extra time

A person who stammers will often need extra time. Trying to hurry the person often makes the stammer more severe.

Allowing extra time needs to happen informally in individual situations, but also systems may need to be adjusted – see examples below.

Apart from the telephone, see below Allowing the time needed.

Call centres: extending time limits

If staff are instructed to give each client only a certain amount of time, for example in call centres, it may well be a reasonable adjustment for the instructions to make clear that this does not apply to people who stammer or others with communication difficulties. The caller should not be hurried, and should have the time to say what they need to. This may be required by the EqA.

If the normal practice is to tell a caller that the call can only last a certain time, or if the caller is otherwise likely to know of the time limit, it may help to tell the caller with a communication impairment that they can have a longer time than normal if they wish.

Adjusting targets for staff

Call centre staff may have a performance target of not spending too long on particular calls. If so, there should be a system for waiving this where the caller has a stammer or another disability affecting communication

An organisation may have a policy that calls must be answered within say three or five rings. It may be a reasonable adjustment to make clear to a receptionist, or others answering the phone, that this policy is flexible as regards disability. They should not feel they have to hurry a person who stammers for example – still less put the phone down on them – to answer another call.

Telephone: Call back

Presumably where a call has been initiated by the business or organisation, STAMMA (the British Stammering Association) suggests:

Offer a call-back service at a set time to allow people who stammer to prepare for the call. Keep to the agreed time for the call.
STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023. Similarly for GP Practices Patient Contact Guide, linked below, 2023.

Telephone: Don’t say someone else must call

An example of bad practice, which may well also be a breach of the EqA:

A woman who stammers phoned the hospital to confirm some details about her appointment. She was told that if she wanted to phone again she should get someone else to do it for her.

For legal discussion of why this may breach the EqA, see Right to be heard: provision of services>Can service provider require use of an alternative to speaking? and Not having to rely on friends and family.

Telephone: False assumptions


We’ve come across calls with banks and customer services where stammering has been misinterpreted as nervousness or even lying. The outcome of which can be significant for that customer.
STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023.

See further below False assumptions, including misinterpreted as dishonesty.

Telephone: Fraud detection through voice analysis

Voice analysis to flag up people who are potentially dishonest should not be used on callers with communication impairments. See Fraud detection through voice analysis.

Telphone: Systems which must receive information verbally

STAMMA says:

If your systems must receive information verbally, considering incorporating optional text-to-speech software.
STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023.

The reasonable adjustment duty on service providers and authorities exercising public functions is anticipatory, so organisations should consider accessibility for different disabilities when designing their systems. In the light of this, it may well be unreasonable for an organisation to select a system which takes only speech as its input.

However if an organisation does have such a system, text-to-speech software may potentially be a way to make it more accessible, if that works well in practice – for example, if the system reliably understands the speech generated by the software, does not cut out on someone who types slowly or makes a typing mistake, and the interface is easy to use.

Telephone: Recognising on the phone that someone stammers

Some people who stammer find it particularly difficult to speak on the phone. There may be sounds you can’t understand as the person struggles to speak, repetitions, prolongations, “filling-in” words like “well”, “um”, “you know”.

Or there may just be silence initially because the person is having a silent block: above Silent calls. It is important to remember that stammering may result in silence for a while.

A person may well also insert or change words, to try and help them speak – eg “Well, my address is…” rather than coming straight out with the address, which they are having difficulty saying.

In general it’s probably best to just wait and let the person say what they want, rather than making a comment. If a person is really having problems, it may seem a good idea to try and take the pressure off the person by saying something like: “That’s fine, take your time”. There is a risk some people may find this patronising, but others may like it.

Offer alternative ways of communicating

Alternatives to speech, such as online options, should be offered so far as reasonable. People who stammer often find telephone calls particularly difficult. As well as online where feasible, a face-to-face option can be more attractive than the telephone, preferably without a queue behind.

Offer alternatives to speaking

Consider the situations where customers etc need to speak, and possible ways to avoid them having to do so. It may not always be practicable to avoid speech, but consider the possibility.

Flexible communication channels
Ensure there’s more than one way for your customers to communicate with you. Speaking is just one of those options. For example, if you need a name on a coffee cup, offer customers the option to write their names on a cup themselves, rather than saying it.”
STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023

Or as regards contacting GP surgeries:

“Ensure there’s more than one way for your patients to communicate with you. Offer patients the facility to book sameday appointments online or be able to contact you via email, WhatsApp or an app as well as the phone.”
STAMMA Patient Contact Guide (linked below), 2023. See also below Health services.

Similarly as regards the actual consultation with a doctor etc:

Example: A GP surgery or hospital clinic is now holding many appointments over the phone. Where this does not work for a person who stammers, it may be a reasonable adjustment required by the EqA to offer an accessible alternative, such as face-to-face, or a video call if that works for the individual.

People who stammer differ greatly. Some will have no problem talking to a member of staff face-to-face, or even making a phone call. Others tend to avoid speaking situations, and there is a broad spectrum in between. See also below Note on stammering and avoidance.

The same doubtless applies to many people with other disabilities affecting speech. Further, some “non-disabled” people prefer to avoid phone calls, for example. Giving practical alternatives to speech broadens accessibility of goods and services for various sections of the public.

Even where a non-speaking alternative is available, a person who stammers may choose to use the speaking alternative and should generally be heard, even if it takes longer: Right to be heard: provision of services>Can service provider require use of an alternative to speaking?

There are some examples below. However, any organisation needs to look at its particular situation, to consider where it requires customers etc to speak, and what alternatives might be available.

Consider also face-to-face as alternative to phone

People who stammer can find a face-to-face conversation easier than the telephone, particularly if it is not under time pressure (eg not at a ticket window with a queue behind).

A bank allows a face-to-face meeting with someone who stammers to discuss something it would normally require to be sorted over the telephone. This might be a reasonable adjustment.

A video conversation could be a feasible alternative for some people who stammer: Examples of reasonable adjustments: Recruitment>Telephone or video interviews.

Do not say something can only be done by phone

Many people who stammer find the telephone (above) particularly difficult, more so than speaking face-to-face. Many people who stammer try to avoid phone calls so far as possible. Some will simply not access a service, or information, if all they have is a phone number. Quite a few more will think twice before doing so.

Case study:
A bank insisted on sorting out an issue by phone despite a person’s stammer. Particularly where an issue is complicated, or there is a lot of information to be communicated, a phone call may be a very daunting prospect. It may be simply impracticable.
See this example (consumeractiongroup.co.uk).

Accordingly, a service provider may well be required, by way of reasonable adjustment, to allow alternative means of communicating. These could include a secure online message facility, face-to-face conversation, WhatsApp, email or post.

A possible alternative, in some cases, may be to allow the person who stammers to set out the problem/information in an email or letter, and then have a telephone call to discuss it. This allows for some discussion, while not requiring the person to get over a lot of information through speech.

It is now possible to text the emergency services. One should register one’s mobile phone in advance.

Among “top tips” in an Ofcom document on disabled customers and call centres is:

“Offer customers the choice of contacting your business by post or email as well as phone”.
Disabled customers and call centres (ofcom.org.uk)

Shouldn’t have to rely on family or friends

Legally it may be difficult for an organisation to escape an EqA obligation to offer alternatives by saying the person can just get a friend or family member to phone or speak for them.

People have a right to respect for their private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. UK courts have to take this into account when applying the EqA. See LH Bishop v HMRC discussed on Human rights and provision of services>Offering an alternative to the telephone. Also in Enver Şahin v Turkey, discussed at the same link, the European Court of Human Rights emphasised the importance of personal autonomy in deciding what is a reasonable adjustment.

In addition, there are legal arguments for this which do not rely on human rights: see Human rights and provision of services>Domestic arguments (ie not human rights).

This does not alter the fact that it may be a reasonable adjustment to allow a person who stammers to be accompanied if that is what they want, eg below the example on being accompanied to a hospital appointment. (A similar point arises in employment, on being accompanied to a disciplinary hearing etc: Grievance and disciplinary procedures>Right to be accompanied.)

Online options

Many people who stammer love the internet (if they have it), since they don’t have to speak. Accordingly, ordering or booking online, online chat, emails, Whatsapp and the like can be attractive alternatives to speaking.

For example, for GP bookings, STAMMA recommends:

“Ensure there’s more than one way for your patients to communicate with you. Offer patients the facility to book sameday appointments online or be able to contact you via email, WhatsApp or an app as well as the phone.”
STAMMA Patient Contact Guide, linked below, 2003

In terms of breadth of what can be done online, it should be borne in mind that the aim (subject to what is practicable etc) is access as close as possible to that enjoyed by others who use speech.

It can be particularly important for people who stammer that emails are responded to promptly. Some will be unwilling or reluctant to phone to chase up an unanswered query.

On websites, it is helpful to include information which customers would otherwise need to telephone in for, such as shop opening times.


Post is a possible alternative, particularly for those less technologically minded. Where practicable, it is a good idea to include a postal address in advertisements or other literature, as well as a phone number.

However it will often be slower and less convenient. I suggest that communication by post should not be the only alternative to speaking on the phone, say.

Ticket machines and other automated selling

Some people who stammer dread asking for tickets, particularly as standing in the queue allows time for anxiety to build up, and then there is perceived time pressure at the ticket window. So automated ticket machines can be useful, as can other automated sales devices.


A person who stammers may avoid asking if they cannot find what they are looking for, eg particular items in a shop, or a particular book in a library. Clear signage therefore helps – including for the toilets!

Entryphones, speaking to gain entry/exit to car park or block of offices etc

Having to speak into an entry phone to get through a door, or speaking into a microphone at the entrance/exit of a car park, is very daunting for some people who stammer.

Consider possible alternatives. If the arrangements do have to stay, be sympathetic to any difficulties people who stammer may have.

Writing notes?

A few people who stammer may be willing to hand a note of what they want to say over the counter, and indeed may prefer to do so. However, people who stammer will normally see speech as their main mode of communication, and will most often wish to be allowed to speak rather than being asked to write something down.

If a person is having severe trouble speaking, it might be acceptable to politely give the person a choice as to whether they would prefer to write. However, there is a significant risk that this could cause offence.

Case study:
A person who stammers was giving her personal details to a health service receptionist. She got her name out with some trouble while the receptionist waited. The receptionist then handed her a piece of paper and pen and asked her to write down her address and telephone number. The receptionist did this as if she might have asked any fluent person to write down their details in the same way. Given the way it was done, this was perfectly acceptable to the person who stammered.
Note: People who stammer often have particular difficulty saying personal details such as name, address and phone number. See above Alternative ID procedures.

There is an example in the 2011 Services Code of Practice about exchanging written notes or using a textphone at a railway booking office, as a possible reasonable adjustment. However, a person who stammers should generally be allowed to speak if that is what they wish: see Right to be heard.

“The operator of a booking office at a small heritage railway decides to communicate with passengers who have speech or hearing impairments by exchanging written notes. This is likely to be a reasonable step for this service provider to have to take.

However, it is unlikely to be a sufficient reasonable adjustment for the operator of a ticket office at a mainline rail terminus to make for passengers. Instead, it installs an induction loop system and a textphone. These are likely to be reasonable steps for a large station to take. (My comment: induction loops and textphones are not generally helpful for people who stammer – see below on textphones.)
Para. 7.31, Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice: Services, public functions and associations, 2011.

Text Relay service, and textphones

Most people who stammer do not use textphones or the Text Relay service (see Telephone>Text Relay service – typing instead of speaking), and indeed do not know about them. The Text Relay service does have an “I’ll be typing and hearing” option for speech-impaired people – or both parties can converse by text where the business offers a textphone number. However, perhaps because people who stammer can talk to a greater or lesser extent, for the vast majority of people who stammer this app and textphones are not on the radar. Also speech therapists are likely to encourage people who stammer towards speaking in situations (such as the phone) which they may previously have been avoiding.

Some people who stammer (and many who don’t stammer of course) use messaging apps or perhaps mobile text messages a lot.

Note on stammering and avoidance

A person who stammers may be reluctant to take on a speaking situation because of difficulty speaking in it. But stammering is not simply a condition affecting speech. It often also affects the person’s attitudes to speech, with negative emotions such as fear, shame and embarrassment leading to the person seeking to hide their stammer. For example, the person may substitute words they cannot say, keep speech to a minimum, and avoid challenging speaking situations. This may all be going on while their speech sounds reasonably fluent.

Speech therapy tends to encourage a person who stammers to reduce avoidance. However, service providers are not speech and language therapists. Service providers considering whether to require a person to speak in order to access their services – and indeed courts considering the legal position – must bear in mind that stammering is not just the physical difficulty of speaking, but often also a complex of negative emotions which may make a speaking situation even more difficult, and perhaps impossible.

Don’t laugh: rudeness and mockery

Laughing when talking with a person who stammers seems to happen quite frequently. Laughter from someone they are speaking to can be extremely hurtful for the person who stammers. Staff need to be aware of this.

Case study
A person who stammers rang a public helpline. The lady at the other end laughed at her as she was trying to speak. When the caller said that wasn’t acceptable, the lady said: “You see, you can talk perfectly well when you want to!”

The caller wrote to the helpline who responded excellently. They listened to their recording of the conversation. The lady was taken off the helpline for re-training. The helpline also contacted the British Stammering Association (now STAMMA) for information to help them build stammering into their general training courses for helpline staff.

More on this, including further examples and legal discussion: Rudeness or mockery in services and public functions.

Allowing the time needed

Allowing a person who stammers more time will often be the single most important adjustment that can be made. Linked with this, it is best not to finish a person’s words or sentences, and not to interrupt them.

In telephone calls, see above Telephone: Allow extra time.

Case study
A patient who stammers 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.

Extending formal time limits

In relatively rare instances there is a formal time limit. It may be a reasonable adjustment to extend this.

Case study
A council’s planning sub-committee refused a person who stammers an extension of the five 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 futher complaint after the meeting, the council agreed to review its policy in the light of its obligations under (then) the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

False assumptions, including of dishonesty

STAMMA (the British Stammering Association) says:

We’ve come across calls with banks and customer services where stammering has been misinterpreted as nervousness or even lying. The outcome of which can be significant for that customer.
STAMMA Stammering & customer contact guide, linked below, 2023.

Stammering should not be mistaken for dishonesty. This applies generally, but I discuss some particular situations:

I have a separate page on adjustments related to Appearing in court.

Both practically and legally, it is likely to be helpful for the person who stammers to explain that they have a stammer, if there is a risk of its effects being misinterpreted in this way. See the links above for more detail.

Health services

The points above very much apply. Also STAMMA (below) has tailored resources on making healthcare accessible, including booking GP appointments. The following are some points particularly in the context of healthcare.

As an alternative to phoning up to book a GP appointment, a surgery offers the alternative of doing so online, or via Whatapp.

It also implements a “communication differences” flag feature which can be added to the patient’s profile with their consent, it trains staff in communicating with people who stammer, including silent calls, and it arranges an alternative way of confirming ID where the caller has difficulty giving the information the surgery normally asks for.

STAMMA resources, below on healthcare services

Example: A hospital or surgery ensures that people who find its voice recognition telephone system inaccessible can quickly get through to a real person.
Voice recognition telephone systems

An NHS hospital consultant requested a double slot for the next appointment of a patient who stammers. Unfortunately this did not happen, though.
More: Positive experience with hospital consultant.

Telephone consultations with doctors and other healthcare practitioners are now more common. Consideration of alternatives (above) to these is important:

Example: A GP surgery or hospital clinic is now holding many appointments over the phone. Where this does not work for a person who stammers, it may be a reasonable adjustment required by the EqA to offer an accessible alternative, such as face-to-face, or a video call if that works for the individual.

Some hospitals etc may still (following Covid) have a policy of not allowing anyone to accompany an outpatient:

It may well be a reasonable adjustment, required under the EqA, to allow someone to accompany an outpatient who stammers, to help communicate what they want to say. I know of a hospital which agreed this during the pandemic. It is sensible to try and agree it in advance.

As regards the emergency services, if you find it difficult to speak to them, you can register with Emergency SMS, preferably in advance. This lets you have a text conversation with the 999 services if you do later need to contact them. See www.emergencysms.net.

Assume stammer is within Equality Act

It does not make sense for a service provider or public authority, in deciding whether to offer an adjustment, to try to distinguish whether or not the customer who stammers has a “disability” within the EqA. The following explains why. In practice, a service provider or authority should assume that any stammer falls within the EqA, with the focus on what adjustments would be “reasonable”:

Business reason

It makes good business and customer service sense. Hopefully no organisation wants their service to be inaccessible, or difficult to access, for someone who stammers (or others with a speech disorder). Nor does it want its staff being rude to a customer because of a stammer. This is so whether or not the stammer is substantial enough to be a “disability” within the EqA.

Legal reason

Assuming that any stammer falls within the EqA also makes sense in terms of ensuring, so far as possible, that a business or other organisation complies with the Act and is not sued for compensation under it.

Legally a stammer may not be a “disability” within the EqA if it has only a minor or trivial effect on normal day-to-day activities. However if that were the case, the business quite likely wouldn’t be aware of the stammer, and/or the issue of how the business should respond to the stammer would likely not have arisen.

In any event, in practice the member of staff dealing with the customer cannot know whether the stammer meets the EqA definition of disability. A stammer may seem minor at the particular time, but there are several ways in which it could still be a “disability” within the EqA. For example, the stammer could be (and quite likely is) more severe in other situations. Or the individual may be switching words and perhaps limiting how much they say, to try and minimise the extent that they stammer openly. In practice it should therefore be assumed that the stammer is within the EqA.

The service provider etc may have a legal defence (at least in some cases) if it could not reasonably have been expected to know that the stammer was a disability. However, for example, the service provider – including staff member – is effectively deemed to know the details of the legal definition of disability, which of course they will not. Also there will be the issue of what steps should reasonably have been taken to find out whether it was a disability.

If a person who stammers is actually claiming compensation for discrimination, the service provider or public authority may want to look more closely at whether the particular stammer qualifies as a “disability” under the EqA.

Old Code of Practice

The Revised Code of Practice – Rights of Access: services to the public, public authority functions, private clubs and premises issued by the Disability Rights Commission in 2006 commented at para 5.13:

Service providers seeking to avoid discrimination… should instruct their staff that their obligations under the Act extend to everyone who falls within the definition of ‘disability’ and not just to those who appear to be disabled. They may also decide that it would be prudent to instruct their staff not to attempt to make a fine judgement as to whether a particular individual falls within the statutory definition, but that they should focus instead on meeting the needs of each customer.

This Code of Practice is no longer in force, but the advice seems equally valid today.

STAMMA resources

Resources from STAMMA (the British Stammering Association) include:

20th anniversary of stammeringlaw, 1999-2019