Disability Discrimination: Reasonable Adjustments and Buses

The Court of Appeal has said that a bus operator merely requesting but not requiring passengers to move if occupying a space required by a wheelchair user, will NOT constitute a breach of the Equality Act 2010 (“EqA”).

The case of FirstGroup PLC v Doug Paulley [2014] EWCA Civ 1573, concerned Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, who was unable to take a bus due to a passenger keeping a child’s buggy in the wheelchair space.

Whilst the Court considered the extent to which wheelchair users would be disadvantaged by a “first come, first served” policy, it found that the obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the EqA, did not extend to obliging passengers to vacate wheelchair space whenever it was wanted by a wheelchair user. Moreover, the Court noted that an absolute policy requiring passengers to move when necessary would be “unworkable in practical terms” and cause disproportionate disruption to non-wheelchair user passengers.

Chris Holmes, EHRC Disability Commissioner has commented:
“This judgement means a wheel chair user has no effective legal rights……………. The Commission is disappointed that the Court of Appeal has not given substantive support to wheelchair users on the same basis as non-disabled persons in relation to obtaining access to bus transport….”

A next step for wheelchair users could be to ask Parliament to strengthen the powers of bus drivers so that they could, for instance, require people to vacate the wheelchair space, or create new duties on other passengers or to campaign for a different design of buses.

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