Supporting disabled learners: what does the law require?


A young black man with vision impairment reading book in braille at table in a university library

The Equality Act 2010 is very clear about individual and organisational responsibility in England, Wales and Scotland. Equality legislation in Northern Ireland is contained in the amended Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 for students.  

  • The Equality Act 2010 states that: ‘A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.’ 

  • It is also made clear that there is a ‘duty to make reasonable adjustments if the person is placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability’. This duty extends beyond the workplace and covers learners in education as well.  

What all of this means for physiotherapists in the workplace setting has been brought to life within our bite-size guides to discrimination and equality at work. Some of the advice found within the guides could be helpful to learners and educators, especially during practice-based placements and whilst the guides cover all protected characteristics, some focus on disability and could be useful to delve into.  

Whether you are a learner or educator, your university should have an equality, diversity and inclusion strategy for staff and students which would be available via the university website. The CSP can only currently support registered members experiencing workplace discrimination so if you are studying to become a physiotherapist and experiencing discrimination, you should seek support from your university and student support services.  

Going beyond the legal requirements 

The expectation to be anti-discriminatory pre-dates the 2010 Equality Act and equality law has been enshrined since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995, protecting the rights of workers and those on placements from direct and indirect discrimination.

The key message here is that discrimination has no place in the workplace nor in education. That is the CSP’s and the profession’s position and has been so even prior to the DDA Act of 1995. 

However, it is not enough to just be compliant with legislation as that on alone does not create inclusion or a sense of being welcome and truly belonging. 

Simply providing the same opportunities to everyone does not make things fair. We aim to achieve equity by recognising that what we need to do to make things fair depends on people’s different needs. Different (individualised) treatment is the key to achieving equity.

CSP Equity Diversity and Belonging Strategy 

A person-centred approach is us as individuals, teams, services, and organisations supporting all learners based on individual needs and also leaning in and providing reasonable adjustments to enable a diverse learner population to join us within the profession. Physiotherapy is not a single career, it is broad and continuously reimagining its scope and boundaries, therefore the scope to make things equitable is within our gift. 

Deciding what constitutes a reasonable adjustment is dependent on context and considered on an individual basis in a person-centred way. These pages draw together examples of personal experiences of reasonable adjustments and offers signposting to resources created by other organisations better suited to help you creatively become inclusive. Links to these can be found throughout this resource.   

If you are already actively supporting learners anywhere along their journey – from admissions through to graduation, whether that’s assessments, teaching and learning, placements or being an ally through pastoral support or mentoring please get in touch and help us to help colleagues throughout the UK go beyond compliance. 

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