There are three key pieces of legislation which specifically address the rights of disabled people in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The key UK legislation is the Equality Act (2010).
The UK is also bound by the articles of the European Convention of Human Rights
And thirdly, the UK is also signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
There are some excellent resources already in existence on what this legislation means for disabled people and we will link to those at the end of this guide.
The Equality Act (2010)
The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It came into force in October 2010 and replaced previous laws with one Act, making the law easier to understand.
Discrimination means treating you unfairly because of who you are. Under the Equality Act it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of their:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- sexual orientation
These are called ‘protected characteristics’. Discrimination against one or more of these ‘characteristics’ is unlawful under the Act.
The Equality Act sets out the different ways it is against the law to treat someone, such as: ‘direct and indirect discrimination’, ‘harassment’, ‘victimization’ and ‘failing to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled person’. It protects you from discrimination by:
- businesses and organisations which provide goods or services (like shops and banks)
- public bodies (like government departments and local councils)
- health and care providers (like care homes and hospitals)
- someone you rent or buy a property from (like housing associations and estate agents)
- education providers (like schools and colleges)
- transport services (like buses trains and taxis)
The Equality Act defines a disabled person as:
“someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.
The Equality Act includes special rules that ensure that people with HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis are seen as disabled people from the point they are diagnosed, rather than from when the conditions stops them carrying out normal day-to-day activities. Some conditions aren’t covered by the disability definition e.g. addiction to non-prescribed drugs or alcohol.
For further information on the definition of disability, see the Equality Act Guidance.
Duty to make reasonable adjustments
Employers, service providers and education providers have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, these are,
- Change the way things are done: you could ask the place to change the way it does the thing which makes it difficult for you to access. This could be a policy, rule or a practice. The Equality Act calls this a ‘provision, criterion or practice’
- Change a physical feature: sometimes a physical feature of a building or other premises may make it more difficult for you to access or use it. Examples of reasonable adjustments to this could include providing ramps, widening doorways and better lighting.
- Provide extra aids or services: You may need a particular aid, piece of equipment or an additional service to help you access or do something. The Equality Act calls this ‘auxiliary aids and services’. Examples of auxiliary aids and services could include a portable induction loop for people with hearing aids or providing a British Sign Language interpreter.
Finding a reasonable adjustment can be a creative process as there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer. It might depend on:
- how easy it is to make the changes
- if the change you ask for would stop the problem you and other disabled people experience
- the size of the organisation
- how much money or resources they have
- the cost of making changes
Public Sector Equality Duty
The Public Sector Equality Duty came into force in April 2011. It places a duty on public authorities to consider or think about how their policies and decisions affect people who are protected under the Equality Act. There are also Scottish Specific Duties.
European Convention on Human Rights
The Council of Europe was formed after the World War II and the European Convention of Human Rights came into force in 1953. It has been amended and added to over the years since. Here is a list of the rights it protects.
- the right to life (Article 2)
- freedom from torture (Article 3)
- freedom from slavery (Article 4)
- the right to liberty (Article 5)
- the right to a fair trial (Article 6)
- the right not to be punished for something that wasn’t against the law at the time (Article 7)
- the right to respect for family and private life (Article 8)
- freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9)
- freedom of expression (Article 10)
- freedom of assembly (Article 11)
- the right to marry and start a family (Article 12)
- the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights (Article 14)
- the right to protection of property (Protocol 1, Article 1)
- the right to education (Protocol 1, Article 2)
- the right to participate in free elections (Protocol 1, Article 3)
- the abolition of the death penalty (Protocol 13)
How these rights apply in individual countries is complex as domestic laws are not the same, some countries have not signed up to all of them and there are exemptions in particular circumstances. For example the right to liberty is not absolute. Your liberty can be taken away in certain circumstances such as when you break laws that could result in a prison sentence.
Rights under the Convention are protected by the European Court of Human Rights but only after cases have been taken to the highest courts in the individual country. The European Court may rule that a particular action was illegal under European Human Rights Law but sometimes the ruling is less concrete than that. Some European Court rulings are “guidance” rather than law.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an international treaty which has existed since 2006 and which the UK signed in 2009. CRPD details a lot of specific rights that disabled people should have. In summary the aims of CRPD are:
eliminating disability discrimination
enabling disabled people to live independently in the community
ensuring an inclusive education system
ensuring disabled people are protected from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse
You can view the UNCRPD in full here:
You can also access the latest reports on how the UK is doing in relation to CRPD and human rights on the Equality and Human Rights Commission here:
EasyRead and other versions can be found here:
Information last updated on 15 March 2023. Please note that information may be subject to change. All information is provided in good faith but Disability Information Scotland does not endorse any product or service referred to within this resource.
If you would like this information guide in another version then please contact us and we will post or email you a copy.
Equality, Legal & Advocacy, Legal & Advocacy:Frequently Asked Questions
Through our helpline we receive enquiries spanning a wide range of different topics. Here is a selection of those most asked:
What can I do if I feel that I have been discriminated against?
The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. For further information on the definition of disability, see the Equality Act Guidance.
If you feel you have been treated unfairly there a number of steps that you can take. You can speak to an advisor at an advice agency such as your local citizens advice bureau or you can call the Equality Advice Support Service (EASS) who can advise and assist people on issues relating to equality and human rights.
If you need employment advice, ACAS provide free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. You can call their helpline on 0300 123 1100.
If you can’t sort out the problem at work, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. You should use the ACAS free Early Conciliation service before applying to a tribunal. In most cases the tribunal must receive your claim within three months of the dispute.
Making a complaint
There are several steps that you can take when making a complaint.
- Complain directly to the person or organisation. You can write a formal letter or complaint. Your letter should also say what you would like to happen next. For example: an apology; changes to the way they do things; money as compensation. You can use a template form available from the Equality Advisory Support Service.
- You can ask someone else to help you sort it out. Some mediation services offer free or subsidised mediation. Contact Scottish Mediation.
- An advocate can support you to say what you want to say, or will say what you want to say, when you are not able to do so. Contact the Scottish Independent Advocacy Service.
- Make a claim in Court. Be aware that if you do decide to make a claim in court, you need to tell the court about your claim (by filling in a form and paying a fee) within six months of what happened. Information about how to make claim in Scotland can be found on the Scottish Courts Service website.
You do not have to choose only one of these. Instead, you could try each of them in turn. You can, if you want to, make a claim in court straight away. Do think very carefully about whether making a claim in court is the right course of action for you. Making a claim may be demanding on your time and emotions, and before starting the process you may want to look at whether or not you have a good chance of succeeding.
If you need further information, or help to contact your local advice service please call our helpline on 0300 323 9961.
Equality, Legal & Advocacy, Legal & Advocacy:Search for Local Organisations
Our quick search tool can connect you to over 3000 service providers, suppliers and organisations supporting people across Scotland. To find support near you, simply enter your search term and select your local authority.