Provision of Services and Disability Discrimination
Author: Nicola O'Dwyer
In FirstGroup PLC v Paulley, the Supreme Court considered the extent to which reasonable adjustments should have been made by a bus operator to accommodate a wheelchair user.
Mr Paulley was unable to board a bus operated by FirstGroup because a woman with a pushchair refused to vacate the space reserved for a wheelchair user, even when asked by the bus driver. FirstGroup PLC operated a policy requiring its drivers to ‘request’ rather than ‘require’ non-wheelchair users to vacate the designated space for a wheelchair user, if it 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 space designated for a wheelchair. As such, FirstGroup’s policy was considered unjustified and should have been extended to ‘require’ its’ drivers to take further steps to pressurise a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space, if the request to vacate has been unreasonably refused.
Whilst each case is considered on its own merits, this ruling provides a timely reminder for all organisations. The obligation to make reasonable adjustments applies not just to your employees but also to the members of the public if services are provided to them. There is no defined list of what amounts to a reasonable adjustment, but organisations should be flexible enough to accommodate such adjustments and review their policies and procedures to ensure they are non-discriminatory.