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Wheelchairs, Buses and Disability Discrimination

bus2In a test case which helps to define the outer limits of disability discrimination, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a bus company was not obliged to have in place a policy requiring mothers with pushchairs to make way for wheelchair users.

A man who was confined to a wheelchair sued the company under the Equality Act 2010 after a mother with a sleeping child in a buggy refused to vacate a wheelchair bay on an urban bus. Although the driver asked the mother to move, he did not insist and the man was forced to dismount because he could not be safely carried.

A judge found that what had happened amounted to disability discrimination and awarded the man £5,500 in damages. In allowing the bus company’s appeal, however, the Court of Appeal found that the judge had gone ‘a step too far’.

The Court noted that mothers with pushchairs normally had a choice as to where to sit on a bus and should, as a matter of common decency, make way for wheelchair users. However, the company was not required to adopt a policy which compelled other passengers to vacate wheelchair bays, irrespective of their reason for occupying them, on pain of being thrown off the bus, leaving no discretion to the driver.