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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness
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Making a Reasonable Adjustment

What is a reasonable adjustment?

A responsible body must take reasonable steps to ensure that it does not place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person. A substantial disadvantage is one that entails time, inconvenience, effort or discomfort compared to other people or students and which is more than minor or trivial.


In the previous example with the deaf student, the reasonable adjustment may be ensuring that when you are giving the lecture, you are facing the class.

A reasonable adjustment might be any action that helps alleviate a substantial disadvantage. Making a reasonable adjustment might involve changing procedures, adapting your curriculum, providing additional services (e.g. materials in large print), or altering the physical environment.

How do I know if I'm being reasonable?

The Act does not define exactly what reasonable adjustments are, as they will relate to the type and nature of the service being provided. However, institutions are only expected to do what is 'reasonable'.

In determining reasonableness, you have to take into account the effect on the individual disabled person, not on disabled people as a whole. You can also give consideration to factors such as academic standards, cost, practicality, health & safety, relevant interests of others and grants or loans available to the student.

However, as with justifications, using such factors to define reasonableness should not be done spuriously.


An institution rejects a visually impaired student applying to do a practical chemistry course on the grounds of health and safety. In order to justify this decision, they should undertake a risk assessment to show whether or not there would be a genuine health and safety risk. They may not be able to justify a broad generalisation such as rejecting all visually impaired students for that course.

Edinburgh University has produced some useful guidelines on reasonable adjustments ( http://www.disability-office.ed.ac.uk/dda.html [External link: Open in new browser window] ).

Why is there an anticipatory duty?

The duty to make reasonable adjustments is an anticipatory duty which means that institutions cannot just wait until a person with a specific disability applies for a specific course before making an adjustment. The institution should anticipate what may need to be done and make adjustments accordingly. This is an evolving duty in order that the base line for 'reasonable adjustments' is continually raised over time to ensure that institutions continue to improve their provision over time.

Remember that this year's anticipatory duty is next year's reasonable adjustment.

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