Disability discrimination in the provision of services

In the recent case of FirstGroup PLC v Paulley, the Supreme Court considered the extent to which reasonable adjustments should be made by a bus operator to accommodate a wheelchair user.

Doug Paulley was unable to board a bus operated by FirstGroup because, when asked by the bus driver, a woman with a pushchair refused to move from a space designated for a wheelchair user. At the time, the policy operated by FirstGroup required its drivers to ‘request’ rather than ‘require’ non-wheelchair users to vacate the designated space, if the space was needed.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously held that it was not enough for a bus driver to simply ‘request’ a non-wheelchair user to move from the designated space. Therefore, FirstGroup’s policy was considered unjustified and should have been extended to ‘require’ the driver to take further steps to pressurise a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space if the request to vacate has been unreasonably refused.

While cases like this will always turn on their own particular circumstances, this ruling provides a timely reminder for all organisations.  The obligation to make reasonable adjustments applies not just to your employees but members of the public if services are provided to the public.  There is no defined list of what amounts to a reasonable adjustment, but all organisations should be flexible enough to accommodate such adjustments and review their policies and procedures to ensure they are non-discriminatory. 

If you have any concerns regarding the content of this article, please do not hesitate to contact your Designated Employment Solicitor or alternatively please do call 01483 411 533 where we would be delighted to assist you.