The three requirements of the duty

Multipage Guide

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  • Individuals using a service

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The duty contains three requirements that apply in situations where a disabled person would otherwise be placed at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who are not disabled. The duty is slightly different for associations, in relation to management of premises, and for transport services. These differences are explained at the end of this section.

For most organisations and in most situations:

  • The first requirement involves changing the way things are done (equality law talks about where the disabled service user is put at a substantial disadvantage by a provision, criterion or practice of the service provider).  
  • An organisation may have rules or ways of doing things, whether written or unwritten, that present barriers to you as a disabled person.

They may stop you using the service altogether, or make it unreasonably difficult for you to use it.

Unless the practice can be justified, it might be reasonable for the organisation to drop it completely, or to change it so that it no longer has that effect.

For example:

  • A private club has a policy of refusing entry during the evening to male members who do not wear a shirt and tie. A disabled member who wishes to attend in the evening is unable to wear a tie because he has psoriasis (a severe skin complaint) of the face and neck. Unless the club is prepared to change its policy at least for this member, its effect is to exclude the disabled member from the club. This is likely to be an unlawful failure to make a reasonable adjustment.
  • A shop receives feedback from a customer with facial scars from severe burns that the ways in which its staff interact with her have made her feel uncomfortable and failed to provide a helpful service. The retailer decides to introduce disability awareness training, with a particular emphasis on issues around disfigurement, to improve the customer service of its staff. This is likely to be a reasonable adjustment to make.

The second requirement involves making changes to overcome barriers created by the physical features of an organisation’s premises, if these are open to the public or a section of the public.

Where a physical feature puts disabled people using a service at substantial disadvantage, an organisation must take reasonable steps to:

  • remove the feature
  • alter it so that it no longer has that effect
  • provide a reasonable means of avoiding the feature, or
  • provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service available to disabled people.

It is better for an organisation to look at removing or altering the physical feature or finding a way of avoiding it (such as replacing steps with a ramp or, if it is reasonable for it to do this, a lift) before it looks at providing an alternative service. An alternative service may not give you a similar level of service.

Exactly what kind of changes are needed will depend on the kind of barriers the premises present. An organisation needs to look at the whole of the premises that are open to the public or a section of the public, and may have to make more than one change.

Physical features include: steps, stairways, kerbs, exterior surfaces and paving, parking areas, building entrances and exits (including emergency escape routes), internal and external doors, gates, toilet and washing facilities, public facilities (such as telephones, counters or service desks), lighting and ventilation, lifts and escalators, floor coverings, signs, furniture, and temporary or movable items (such as equipment and display racks).

Physical features also include the size of premises (for example, the size of an airport where a clearly signed short route to departures might enable people with a mobility impairment to use the airport more easily, or of a shopping centre, where wheelchairs, buggies and extra staff to help shoppers find their way around are made available). This is not an exhaustive list.

For example:

  • A pub improves the paths in its beer garden so that the outside space can be accessed by disabled customers with a mobility impairment or a visual impairment.
  • A small shop paints its doorframe in a contrasting colour to assist customers with a visual impairment.
  • A hairdressing salon moves product display stands from just inside its door to create a wider aisle which means that wheelchair users can use its services more easily.
  • A cinema designates a screening of a film as being autism friendly and ensures adjustments are made to reduce stress and sensory input, such as low lighting and sound, freedom to move and staff trained in autism awareness.

The third requirement involves providing extra aids and services like providing extra equipment or providing a different or additional service (which equality law calls auxiliary aids or auxiliary services).

An organisation must take reasonable steps to provide auxiliary aids or services if this would enable (or make it easier for) disabled people to make use of any of its services.

For example:

  • A shop keeps a portable induction loop on its counter so conversations with staff can be heard more easily by disabled people who use hearing aids.
  • A club records its handbook onto audio CD for members with a visual impairment, and sends out its newsletters by email as an audio file if members ask for this.
  • An accountant offers to make a home visit to a client with a mobility impairment when usually clients would come to the accountant's premises.
  • A leisure centre has a regular booking by a group of deaf people. The leisure centre makes sure that the members of staff who have had basic training in British sign Language (BSL) are rostered to work on that day to make sure that the deaf customers get the same level of service that other people would expect.

The kind of equipment or service will depend very much on the individual disabled person and what the organisation does. However organisations may be able to think in advance about some things that will help particular groups of disabled people.

Technological solutions may be useful in overcoming communication barriers, but sometimes a person offering assistance will be what is needed.

For example:

  • Asking a disabled person with a visual impairment if they would like assistance in finding goods in a shop or having information read to them.
  • Taking the time to explain services to a disabled person with a learning disability.
  • If someone is being asked to make a major decision, providing a disabled person who uses British Sign Language (BSL) with a BSL to English interpreter, if it is reasonable for the organisation to do this.

If an organisation does provide equipment, the equipment must work and be maintained. It is also important that staff know how to use the equipment

The duty is slightly different for associations, in relation to management of premises, and for transport services. These differences are explained at the end of this section of the guide. 

Last updated: 01 Jul 2020

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.


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Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.