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Equality and diversity

This policy outlines our legal obligations with regards to equality and diversity as well as a reasonable adjustment process at fitness to practise hearings.

Equality and diversity/reasonable adjustments

Last updated: 26 November 2019

About this guidance

This policy outlines Social Work England’s legal obligations with regards to equality and diversity as well as a reasonable adjustment process at fitness to practise hearings. It’s vital that people with disabilities can use our services, whether they’re members of the public, referrers, complainants, social workers, witnesses, or anyone else involved in a case.

What is a disability?

The Equality Act 2010 (The Act) gives rights to people who are, who have, or have had, a disability that makes it difficult for them to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

A disability may be visible or hidden, permanent or temporary, and may have a minimal or substantial impact on a person's life. The term ‘disability’ in this guidance covers learning difficulties as well as physical and mental impairments that have a substantial and long-term effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. A long-term effect is defined as lasting, or is expected to last, at anywhere between 12 months and the rest of the person’s life.

HIV, multiple sclerosis and cancer are considered disabilities from the date of diagnosis. People with severe disfigurements are also considered disabled by the Act, as are people who are registered as blind or partially sighted with their local authority or an ophthalmologist.

As well as these listed conditions, the Act’s definition of a disability is broad enough to cover people with a range of common impairments such as hearing, visual and speech impairments as well as other conditions such as dyslexia, arthritis, depression, diabetes, asthma and back problems.

Mental illness is a very broad category covering a range of very different conditions with various levels of severity and covers conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and panic attacks. A mental illness primarily and significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, or interacts with other people.

Anyone working on behalf of Social Work England should not make judgments on whether or not a person meets this legal definition. If a person informs us that they have a disability, long-term injury or health condition and they are finding it difficult to access our services, we should focus on exploring whether we can make any reasonable adjustments to make our service more accessible.

Similarly, we do not need to request any medical evidence of a person's disability. In most cases, we would not require medical advice on what adjustments to make because the person with the disability will often advise us on how to make our service more accessible to them.

What are reasonable adjustments?

Reasonable adjustments are changes to the way we offer our services to prevent people with disabilities from being placed at a substantial disadvantage and make sure they have a fair and equal chance of accessing our services. Examples of reasonable adjustments may include (but are not limited to):

  • allowing a person with a visual impairment to make a referral over the telephone rather than in writing
  • making sure venues for meetings and hearings are accessible to individuals with a variety of impairments
  • providing written materials on coloured paper for a person who has dyslexia
  • providing a copy of the guidance and evidence in an electronic format (or braille) for a person who is blind
  • changing the time of a hearing to help a person manage the effects of anxiety
  • providing an ergonomic chair for a person with a hip or back problem
  • providing a British Sign Language interpreter and electronic note taker for a witness who is deaf for the duration of a hearing
  • preparing information in large print for a person with a visual impairment
  • providing information in an easy-read format for a person who has a learning difficulty

Regulatory framework

Under the Act, we must make sure that reasonable adjustments are provided to prevent people with disabilities from being placed at a substantial disadvantage. This is an anticipatory duty, which means we must anticipate the needs of people with disabilities accessing our services.

As a service provider, our obligations surrounding disabilities extend to situations where we outsource aspects of our work to another organisation. This means that if our suppliers discriminate against someone who is disabled while acting on our behalf, we will be legally responsible. Therefore, it’s essential that our suppliers, partners and associates demonstrate they not only understand and share our values on equality and disability related issues but that they’re actually able to meet the specific needs of people with disabilities.

If, after anticipatory adjustments, a disabled person is still at a substantial disadvantage when using our service because of their disability, we must make a further adjustments specifically for that person.

Specifically, we must consider:

  • providing equipment or other aids that make it easier for people with disabilities to access our services, if it is reasonable to do so. For example, an induction loop for a person who use a hearing aid, information in an alternative format, such as large print, for a person with a visual impairment, or easy read for a person with a learning disability.
  • changing any provisions or practices that place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage.
  • adapting or changing venues if the physical features of our premises put people with disabilities at a substantial disadvantage when accessing our services. For example, if a hearing or a meeting is planned to be held on the first floor, and it is not reasonably possible to install a lift, we should change the meeting room to the ground floor or find a more accessible venue.

The most important adjustment, however, is how our staff engages with people with disabilities. All staff who provide services to our customers should know how to arrange reasonable adjustments to help someone with a disability access our services.

Our duty to promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities

The Act also requires us to positively promote disability equality when carrying out our functions. Our duty to equality covers age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation.

It recognises the role public authorities play in removing barriers (both physical and attitudinal) in the full economic and social inclusion of disabled and other disadvantaged groups of people.

Our general equality duties

Under our general equality duty we must carry out our functions consider how we will:

  • eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation or any other conduct prohibited by the Act in relation to the protected characteristics listed above
  • advance equality of opportunity between all people
  • foster good relationships between groups of people sharing a protected characteristic and those that do not

Deciding what is reasonable

As there is no set definition of what constitutes a reasonable adjustment, we must consider requests on a case by case basis. If there is any doubt about the reasonableness of a request, it should be escalated to the adjudications manager for them to discuss with the legal team.

When deciding whether a particular adjustment is reasonable, we must consider the following factors:

  • Would this effectively overcome the substantial disadvantage the disabled person faces in accessing an aspect of our processes?
  • How practical is it for us to take the steps?
  • What are the costs associated with making the adjustment?
  • Would taking the steps cause any disruption and to what extent?
  • Can we afford to make this adjustment in terms of cost and resources available?
  • What resources have already been spent on making adjustments?
  • Do we have access to any assistance, financial or otherwise?

Asking about disabilities

It’s also important that we include questions about adjustments as standard in our conversations with anyone involved in the case. For example:

  • case investigation officers should ask all interviewees whether they need any adjustments in order to be able to participate
  • case officers should ask social workers if they require adjustments to any aspects of the fitness to practise process
  • hearings case managers and hearings officers should ask witnesses if they require any adjustments in order to participate in a hearing

Sharing information about a disability

The aim of this policy is to make sure our process is as accessible as possible for people with disabilities. This means that Social Work England employees should share any relevant information with colleagues without divulging sensitive information about a person’s health or disability.

To do this, we should focus on the adjustment required rather than the person’s medical diagnosis. For example, recording that a witness will require regular rest breaks during a hearing is more relevant and less insensitive than recording that they have Crohn’s disease.

It’s still important, however, to ask for a person’s consent before sharing any details of their requested adjustments with colleagues. As a service provider interacting with people with disabilities, we should be clear about what information will be shared, who it will be share with, and how that information will be used.

Who should you share information about adjustments with?

We should share relevant information about the adjustments required, not the diagnosis of the disability, with colleagues who will need to be involved in making the adjustment. For example, adjudicators and legal advisors may need to know about specific adjustments to the process before a hearing takes place.

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