Equal Status Acts (2000-2015)The Equal Status Acts are a series of laws which ban discrimination when providing goods and services, including those from public services. The Acts apply to everyone, but they are especially relevant to people with disabilities, including autistic people. The Acts cover nine grounds of discrimination, including age, disability, gender, family status, sexual orientation and race. The Acts promote positive action as a way to promote equality for disadvantaged people. Positive action promotes equality of opportunity for disadvantaged groups of people by having businesses and public bodies take steps to include them and meet their access needs. In this section, we have outlined the main areas of discrimination where an autistic person may be particularly impacted. Irish primary and post-primary schools are legally obliged by the Equal Status Acts to prevent and address discrimination. The Acts specify that schools must make reasonable accommodations for pupils with special educational needs (including autistic pupils) if it is impossible or unduly difficult for them to actively take part in school without these accommodations. Reasonable accommodations are important if your autistic child has support needs which affect their educational outcomes and participation in class. Examples of reasonable accommodations may include:
- allocating a Special Needs Assistant;
- providing assistive technology to use for schoolwork, such as a laptop, a dictaphone, or speech-to-text software, and;
- making alternative arrangements during examination times, such as allowing for extra time, sitting exams in a separate room, or allowing for more flexible deadlines.
- starting and finishing classes at slightly different times so that they can avoid busy and crowded corridors;
- allowing them to wear ear defenders or make some adjustment to the school uniform to meet sensitive sensory needs;
- provide access to a separate workspace in the classroom and or a ‘sensory space’ to use to calm down from overloads or meltdowns, or;
- arranging support to enable them to take part in school trips, plays, or sports days.
Employment LawsThe law which deals with discrimination in the workplace is the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (EEAs). The EEAs works similarly to the Equal Status Acts, as it ensures that people have the right to work, to receive equal pay for equal work and have equal access to training, career development and promotion opportunities. For many autistic people, finding and retaining a job can be a stressful prospect. Identifying and challenging discrimination, even if it is explicit, can be equally challenging. Holding an employer accountable for workplace discrimination can be an expensive and intimidating process. Autistic employees are especially vulnerable to being discriminated against because they may have difficulties interpreting social cues or having the social skills to spot discrimination when it happens. Discrimination can occur when an autistic person’s employer treats them less favourably because of the individual difficulties imposed due to the autistic person’s condition. E.g. a non-autistic coworker earns more for doing the same job than the autistic employee. Harassment also falls under the EEAs. Harassment is a series of behaviours that are hostile, intimidatory, or offensive towards a particular individual. A colleague or an employer may be found guilty of harassment. This includes Sexual Harassment. If you feel that you or someone you know who is autistic has been a victim of discrimination or harassment, you can lodge a formal complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). You can do so online here. The EEA also obliges employers to consider whether reasonable accommodations to the workplace will support an employee with a disability carrying out the duties associated with their jobs. Many of these adjustments are directly supported by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Intreo. They include:
- Employee Retention Grant;
- Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grant;
- Wage Subsidy Scheme;
- Disability Awareness Support Scheme, and;
- Workplace Retention Grant
- workers in full-time, part-time, or on temporary contracts;
- private and public sector employers;
- employment and recruitment agencies;
- individuals on paid work experience, and;
- members of a trade organisation, trade union and or professional body.