How effective are the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act and Equality Act in promoting the social inclusion of disabled people?

The effectiveness of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001) and the Equality Act (2010) is limited by vague wording, legal uncertainty about how the legislation should apply to the use of technology and, in the latter case, by evasive action which may be taken by employers.

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The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001), also referred to as SENDA, is intended to ensure that educational institutions in the United Kingdom provide the same opportunities to disabled students as they do to those without disabilities. Where there are any barriers preventing equal opportunities, the Act requires that "reasonable provisions" must be made to remove them and ensure equal treatment. The Equality Act of 2010 (which consolidates earlier legislation) places a similar requirement on employers to treat disabled employees equally.

SENDA has been the more effective of the two pieces of legislation. One reason for this is that educational institutions do not have the same profit motive as private employers. Disabled people are still unemployed at almost double the rate of the able-bodied (see attached data from the Office of National Statistics), and there is no reliable way to know how many employers reject disabled candidates for employment because of the potential expense of complying with legislation. Another reason for the higher effectiveness of SENDA is a dedicated tribunal, which provides a direct route to appeal local authority decisions.

Even the tribunal linked to SENDA, however, has had some difficulty with the vague wording of the Act (which also occurs in the Equality Act). The test of "reasonableness" is well established at English Common Law, and there is a mass of caselaw on what is and is not "reasonable." However, as software, for instance, becomes increasingly sophisticated and provisions for the disabled lag behind in this area, much of the caselaw has become irrelevant. It is therefore difficult to determine just what steps to accommodate disabled employees are reasonable, and these steps differ according to circumstances.

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