When is an adjustment reasonable?

Last week the Employment Tribunal ruled that Lewisham Southwark College had discriminated against a blind employee by failing to make a reasonable adjustment to his working conditions.

Mr Lambert, the disability officer at the College was blind.  He made repeated requests over a number of years asking the College to make software changes to enable him to access the student database.  The software he requested read text on the screen out loud, allowing him to access it.  However, he was repeatedly told that the software was too expensive to install and that his role did not require it.  The matter came to a head when Mr Lambert applied for a new position at the College and needed to access the database as part of the application process.  He brought a claim of disability discrimination against the College.
The Tribunal found against the College.

This case is a good reminder about the duty to make reasonable adjustments.  The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on employers to help disabled job applicants, employees and former employees.  The duty arises where the disabled individual is placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled individuals.  Employers are not required to implement all adjustments, only those that are reasonable in the circumstances.  In deciding what is reasonable, a tribunal will consider whether the adjustment would have ameliorated the disadvantage, the cost of the adjustment in the light of the employer’s financial resources and the amount of disruption the adjustment would cause to the employer.
Employers must not ignore requests by disabled employees or applicants for adjustments to be made.  Further, when introducing new software or systems, it is a good idea to consider the needs of disabled employees and applicants to avoid future claims.

Petra Venton