Disabled people in the UK still face many difficulties and you only have to go on public transport or to a local cinema to see that there is an awful long way to go to create anything like a situation of equality. Certainly, employment law is leading the way in terms of protecting disabled peoples rights and yet, notwithstanding the high unemployment rates at the present time, the proportion of unemployed disabled people willing and able to work is statistically still far higher than for any sector of the able bodied population. This means there is a difficult balance to be struck, in employment law, as with society. Make the laws ever more stringent and employers will be more reluctant, without grounds based on substance, than before, to find a way not to employ a disabled person, not due to some kind of prejudice against disabled people but simply on economic grounds.
For small employers, the concept of having to try and ascertain where the line is in terms of making “reasonable adjustments” is very difficult. The underlying legal position varies greatly depending on the type of disability, the type of work being undertaken and the size and resources of employers.
Somewhat bizarrely, the way the law works is perhaps more likely to create future increased discrimination for people with mental rather than physical disabilities. As an example, depression – is this a disability, and what kind of adjustments are needed. It can be an ongoing process, requiring careful monitoring in a changeable situation. The one thing no employer likes is uncertainty, whereas with an obvious physical disability, sometimes the position is a lot clearer. with an increase in depression and other mental health law issues, this looks like it will be an increasing problem in the future, so, whilst it is inherently tricky to define, in employment law in England & wales, what is or is not a disability, and a flexible approach to a degree is obviously need, more clarity in the law would also perhaps be useful both for employers and those with disabilities to avoid matters ending up in the English courts.