Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term substantial adverse effect on their normal day-to-day activities. The DDA requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled employees.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held (Paterson v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis) that a policeman who was diagnosed with dyslexia was disabled for the purposes of the DDA.
Mr Paterson had been a police officer since 1983, rising to the rank of chief inspector by 1999. In 2004, he was diagnosed as being dyslexic. He had in the past been praised for writing complex and detailed reports and was described as ‘an able communicator’. However, a medical report on his condition recommended that he be allowed 25 per cent more time than was usual at each stage of the selection process for promotion to the rank of superintendent.
Mr Paterson brought a claim against his employer for discrimination for a reason relating to his disability and failure to make reasonable adjustments, particularly with regard to the promotion process.
The Employment Tribunal (ET) found that he was significantly disadvantaged compared with his peers when taking the promotion examinations but held that he was not disabled within the meaning of the DDA because the promotion process was not a normal day-to-day activity. It found that the effect of his dyslexia on his day-to-day activities was no more than minor or trivial. It also found that although Mr Paterson was disadvantaged when compared with his non-dyslexic colleagues, he was not at a disadvantage if compared with the population as a whole.
Mr Paterson appealed against this decision. The EAT found that when determining whether an impairment has a substantial adverse effect, the correct comparison is not with the population at large but between what the individual can do and what he could do if he did not have the impairment. Once the ET had accepted that Mr Paterson needed 25 per cent more time to do the promotion assessment, the only correct inference was that the effect of his dyslexia must have a more than trivial effect on his ability to undertake normal day-to-day activities and that these include activities relevant to progressing in professional life.
The EAT therefore upheld the appeal, finding that Mr Paterson was a disabled person within the meaning of the DDA. The ET had failed to take the correct approach to the meaning of disability and it would fundamentally undermine the protection afforded by the legislation if its approach were correct.