Hearing access specialists
Hearing access specialists

What the Equality Act 2010 says about discrimination

The UK Equality Act 2010 says you must not discriminate against disabled people, including those who have hearing loss.

Disability discrimination is when someone is treated less well or put at a disadvantage for a reason that relates to their disability.  This applies to situations that are listed in the Equality Act, as follows:

  • when you are in the workplace
  • when you use public services like healthcare or education
  • when you use businesses and other organisations that provide services and goods (including shops, restaurants, and cinemas)
  • when you use transport services
  • when you join a club or association (e.g. a community or civic group, a sports club, a cultural society)
  • when you have contact with public bodies, like the local council or government departments

Sketch showing 7 people sitting round a table with a microphone between them

A line drawing of 7 people with 2 people crossed out and the microphones in the middle of the group crossed out


What if it is unintentional?

The discrimination does not have to be intentional to be unlawful.

The discrimination can be related to something that is done or that fails to be done.  It might be a one-off action, or the application of a rule or policy, or the existence of a barrier that makes accessing something difficulty or impossible (this includes accessing communication).

What is ‘substantial disadvantage’ for people with hearing loss

Under the Equality Act, employers, service providers and other organisations have a responsibility to make sure that people legally defined as disabled are not placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability compared with non-disabled people or people who don’t share that disability.

This can include hearing aid and cochlear implant users even if they do not themselves identify as disabled.

‘Substantial disadvantage’ means more than minor or trivial.

  • If you have hearing loss, this could include difficulty hearing and understanding a phone or video conversation (when the phone/video call is not affected by bad reception or poor signal).
  • It could also include difficulty hearing and understanding announcements, discussion or information conveyed verbally in a meeting or via tanoy public address systems.
  • It would almost certainly include situations when it is not possible for you to hear an emergency alarm or vital announcement.

What is ‘reasonable adjustment’ for people with hearing loss?

To avoid putting someone at substantial disadvantage, organisations have a ‘duty to make reasonable adjustments’.  If that reasonable adjustment is not made then discrimination can be experienced.

When it comes to people with hearing loss, examples of reasonable adjustment include:

  1. changing the way things are done so that people with hearing loss are included more easily
  2. making the environment more hearing-friendly e.g. by adapting the lay-out, lighting and managing noise and reverberation
  3. providing equipment that makes hearing and following easier for people e.g. microphones, loudspeakers and hearing loops; digital subtitling apps; high clarity headsets for phone calls
  4. offering language and communication support e.g. speech to text transcription services or English/British Sign Language interpreters
  5. staff training programmes that promote clear speaking and inclusive communication