Disability discrimination and the law

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination and promotes equality of opportunity for people who are disabled. This section will give you more information about the rights you have if you are deaf.

For more information about discrimination, see the Advice Now website(opens in new window).

RAD Legal Service (external link, opens new window), part of the Royal Association for Deaf People, is a dedicated legal service providing specialist, independent legal advice to people whose first or preferred language is sign language.

What is the Equality Act?

Please install the Flash Plugin The Equality Act passed into law in 2010, combining and replacing previous discrimination legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995. The Equality Act applies in England, Wales and Scotland but not Northern Ireland.

The Equality Act protects people against unfair treatment (discrimination) on the grounds covered by the previous laws. These are called the 'protected characteristics' and they are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

If you met the definition of a disabled person under the DDA, you will now be covered by the Equality Act in the same way.

For more detailed information, see our factsheets: 

What does 'disabled' mean in the Equality Act?

'Disabled person' has a specific legal meaning under the Equality Act, which may be different from the way that you see yourself.

The Equality Act defines disability as:

'A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day to day activities'.

For people with hearing loss, that would include difficulty hearing and understanding another person speaking clearly over the voice telephone (when the telephone is not affected by bad reception), and difficulty understanding or following simple verbal instructions.

So, who fits this definition?

  • If you are profoundly deaf and use British Sign Language you are likely to fit this definition of disability. 
  • If you wear hearing aids you may fit the definition, depending on the situation.
  • Minor hearing loss is unlikely to fit the definition.

See our factsheet The Equality Act - what is meant by disability? (PDF 234kb) for more information.

What is discrimination?

The Equality Act protects you from various forms of discrimination relating to disability, and also discrimination and harassment:

  • Direct discrimination is when you are treated less favourably than another person because of your disability. This also extends to people who are discriminated against because of their association with someone who has a disability or because they are thought to be disabled.
  • Discrimination arising from disability is when you’re treated less favourably because of something connected with your disability (rather than the disability itself). But it’s not discrimination if the employer or service provider can justify how they treat you, or if they didn’t know that you are disabled.
  • Indirect discrimination happens when a rule, policy or practice is applied to everyone, but it has a particular disadvantage for disabled people. But it’s not discrimination if it can be justified.
  • Failure to make reasonable adjustments is when you need a reasonable adjustment so you are not at a 'substantial disadvantage', but the adjustment has not been made. The duty to make reasonable adjustments covers the way things are done, a physical feature (such as steps to a building), or the absence of an auxiliary aid or service (such as an induction loop or an interpreter).
  • Harassment is unwanted behaviour that has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
  • Victimisation – when you're treated badly because you've made or supported a complaint under the Equality Act.

See our range of factsheets on your rights for more information. 

You can download a free PDF viewer (external link, opens new window) from the Adobe website.