Disability discrimination & the right to reasonable accommodation under the Equal Status Acts

Your Rights

Fact sheets

What is disability discrimination?

Discrimination on the ground of disability means being treated less favourably than someone who does not have a disability, or who does not have the same disability as you. The term ‘disability’ includes physical, intellectual, mental and emotional conditions.

By law, you have the right to equal treatment if you have a disability.

The Equal Status Acts ban discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment in:

  • The sale of goods and services;
  • The provision of housing; and
  • Access to education.

The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 protects you against discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment when you are in or entering a licensed premises e.g. a pub or hotel bar.

For the law in relation to reasonable accommodation in the workplace, please see our factsheet on Disability discrimination and the right to reasonable accommodation under the Employment Equality Acts.

What types of discrimination are covered by law?

Discrimination can take many forms.

These include:

  • Direct discrimination – when you receive different, less favourable treatment due to your disability.
    • For example, if a shop refuses to sell you something or a landlord refuses to rent you a flat because of your disability.
  • Indirect discrimination – where an apparently neutral rule puts you at a particular disadvantage compared with other people.
    • For example, if a restaurant bans all dogs, it may indirectly discriminate against a person who needs an assistance dog.
  • Discrimination by imputation – where someone treats you less favourably because they mistakenly assume you have a disability even though you do not.
    • For example, if an instructor incorrectly assumes you have a learning disability and therefore stops you taking part in a group activity.
  • Discrimination by association – where you are treated less favourably than others because you are associated with a person who has a disability, even though you yourself have no disability.
    • For example, if a landlord refuses to put you on the waiting list for accommodation because a member of your family has a disability.

Harassment and sexual harassment

In addition to banning discrimination, the Equal Status Acts prohibit harassment and sexual harassment in the provision of services.

  • Harassment – when you are treated in a hostile, intimidating or degrading manner due to your disability.
  • Sexual harassment – any form of unwanted sexual behaviour that treats you in a hostile, intimidating or degrading way. This may include verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

What is the right to reasonable accommodation?

Reasonable accommodation means the measures that need to be taken to enable a person with a disability to use a service.

This means that if you have a disability, the provider of a service must do all that is reasonable to accommodate your needs, if it would be impossible or very difficult for you to access the service without the reasonable accommodation. This could involve providing special treatment or facilities.

Examples of reasonable accommodation

  • If you are deaf, providing an Irish sign language interpreter at school or college
  • If you use a wheelchair, providing a ramp for access to a premises
  • If you are physically impaired or blind, providing a member of staff to help guide you through an office building you are visiting

If you are using a business or service for the first time, while there is no obligation to do so, it may be a good idea to make sure they know that you have a disability and understand what type of reasonable accommodation you will need them to arrange.

What about the costs of reasonable accommodation?

A service provider does not have to offer reasonable accommodation if it would cost more than a nominal amount. Deciding what counts as nominal depends on several factors, including the size of the business, its financial resources and the actual costs of the reasonable accommodation.

A service provider should consult with you and ask your opinion on ways to accommodate your needs.

What are nominal costs?

  • If you are physically impaired or blind and you need a member of staff to guide you through the premises, the cost is likely to be nominal as the staff member will be getting paid regardless.
  • If you have a visual impairment, providing written information in a larger font may not cost more than a nominal amount.
  • If you are physically impaired and wish to enter a historic building, which would need major alterations to make it accessible, the costs may probably be more than nominal.

Examples of nominal costs

  • A first-year student is unable to attend classes because she cannot get her wheelchair up the steps to the main lecture hall. The college agrees to move her classes to ground-floor rooms on the central campus.
  • A bus company spending €5 extra a week to facilitate the transport of a visually impaired person and their guide dog.

Examples of what is more than a nominal cost

  • A sports fan with a disability cannot afford to go to GAA matches and requests free tickets. The club refuses, stating it would be more than a nominal cost to provide free tickets for every person with a disability.

Where can I find out about policies on reasonable accommodation?

It is good practice for businesses and service providers to have a written policy on how they provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. This should set out how you can let them know about your disability and any special arrangements you may need. This policy could be available on their website in accessible formats.

How can I complain about disability discrimination?

If you believe you have been discriminated against, harassed or if a business has failed to provide you with reasonable accommodation, you can file a complaint under the Equal Status Acts.

Bringing a complaint of discrimination under Equal Status Acts to the Workplace Relation Commission

You can complain to the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) if you believe that a provider of goods, services, accommodation or education has discriminated against you on the ground of disability, harassed you or failed to provide you with reasonable accommodation.

Step 1: Before taking a case to the WRC, you must write to the person or organisation you are complaining about, within two months of the last date of discrimination / failure to provide reasonable accommodation. You should use the Form ES.1 provided on the WRC website.

The WRC can extend the two months’ time limit by a further two months for “reasonable cause”, for example, where you can produce evidence that you were very ill during the initial two month period. In exceptional cases, the WRC can decide to waive the notification requirement altogether if it believes it is “fair and reasonable” to do so. However, the WRC very rarely exercises these powers and you should ensure that notification is made within 2 months where possible.

Step 2: If there is no reply to your complaint within one month, or if you are unhappy with the response you receive, you can refer a complaint to the WRC within six months of the last date of discrimination. You should use the WRC Complaint Form provided on the WRC website. In very rare situations, the WRC can extend this time limit for another six months with ‘reasonable cause’.

Learn more about how to make a complaint to the WRC.

Bringing a complaint about licensed premises to the District Court

If you believe you have been discriminated against in a licensed premises or at the point of entry to a licensed premises and wish to bring a complaint, you must bring your complaint to the District Court instead of the WRC. A licensed premises is a place, such as a pub, restaurant or hotel, where the sale of alcohol is legally permitted by licence.

Any discrimination on the ground of disability is contrary to the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. Therefore, if the discrimination occurred in the licensed premises, the case must be taken in the relevant District Court i.e. the District Court area in which the licensed premises is located.

Exception: If the discrimination occurred in the non-licensed area of a licensed premises, the complaint should be taken under the Equal Status Acts to the WRC, as outlined above.

For more information on what to expect at the District Court, see our factsheet on the Intoxicating Liquor Act.

How to contact Your Rights service

  • Call us on 01 858 3000 or Lo call 1890 245545
  • Email us on YourRights@ihrec.ie
  • Write to:

Your Rights

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

16-22 Green Street

Dublin 7

D07 CR20


Last updated December 2023