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Autism & The Law

There are no laws in Ireland which explicitly include ‘autism’ in their titles or content as of yet. However, there are still several important pieces of legislation concerning autistic people and their families. 

In this section, we  outline the different laws pertinent to providing for autistic people’s rights and entitlements. This is particularly relevant in educational, clinical, social protection and equality settings.

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.

Education

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. 

Other forms of reasonable accommodations for autistic pupils may also include: 

  • 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.

There is no obligation on schools, however, to provide accommodations if they are or give rise to anything more than a ‘nominal cost.’ The meaning of a ‘nominal cost’ will often vary from school to school and will depend on several factors. These include the school’s pupil to teacher ratio per class, the scale of resources needed to meet a pupil’s needs and how much funding is available from the school’s budget.

Larger and well-resourced schools, especially in urban areas, are often more able to afford higher levels of cost to make adjustments for all of their pupils with special educational needs. Smaller ones and those based in rural areas may not be as well-resourced. 

Several grants are available from the Department of Education and Skills, such as capitation grants and for setting up new autism classes. It is the school’s responsibility to identify the need for these supports and make the necessary applications to the Department. 

If you wish to make arrangements for your autistic child in school, particularly if they are attending a mainstream one, setting up an appointment with their teacher and or resource teacher and Special Needs Assistant (SNA) is an important first step. From there, you can make a detailed application to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

You can read more about reasonable accommodations in schools for pupils with special educational needs on the NCSE’s website here

Employment Laws

The 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

For more information about these supports, you can visit the Employer Disability Information website here: 

The EAA’s rules and responsibilities apply to the majority of people at work, such as: 

  • 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.

For a detailed list of your employee rights, visit the Workplace Relations Commission’s website here

Accommodation & Laws

The Acts also outlaw discrimination in the provision of accommodation services against people who claim rent supplement, housing assistance, or social protection payments. 

The Acts set a clear obligation on bodies selling goods or services to provide reasonable accommodation in situations where it would be unduly difficult for a person with a disability to avail of the goods and services. Public services (such as the Health Service Executive, local authorities, and so on) fall under this but some exemptions apply. 

Your Rights & Laws

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is responsible for providing the general public with information on these acts. The Commission operates a service called Your Rights, which you can contact to receive information on your rights and what remedies you may be entitled to in situations where you may be experiencing discrimination. 

The Your Rights Service is situated at IHREC’s offices at 16 -22 Green Street, Dublin 7, V07 CR20 and can be contacted by post, or telephoning 1 890 24 55 45 or (01) 858 3000 or by emailing [email protected].

For more information about the Equality Acts 2000-2018, you can visit IHREC’s website at: https://www.ihrec.ie/guides-and-tools/human-rights-and-equality-in-the-provision-of-good-and-services/what-does-the-law-say/equal-status-acts/

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