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By Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M.

Under the Equalities Act, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual at work because of his or her special needs - such as dyscalculia.

However there are some exceptions to this.  The two most important exceptions are a) practicalities and b) the essence of the work.

PRACTICALITIES AS A REASON FOR DISCRIMINATION

In this regard we may imagine an office block built some years ago, which has doorways that are narrower than those in contemporary buildings, and through which a wheelchair may not fit.  It would be seen to be unreasonable to demand that the employer has to find a way to enlarge the doorway or move buildings, to be able to employ a disabled person in a wheelchair.

Similiarly if the offices were established on the first floor of the building, which is only accessible by stairs, there being no lift, it would be considered unreasonable to make the employer install a lift.

THE ESSENCE OF THE WORK

If we consider an accountant, it is reasonable for the accountant to expect employees to have a reasonably high level of maths to be able to undertake the day to day work of the office, and to be able to converse with clients about their accounts.

The argument that one cannot do the maths because one is dyscalculic, would not be accepted because the maths is of the essence in relation to the work.

A SIGN OF A GOOD ALL ROUND EDUCATION

Some universities, colleges and employers ask for their employees to have a certain grade of maths GCSE or other exams to show that the individual has an all round education, and is not just proficient in one or two subjects.

If there will be no use of this level of maths in the course, this would be an illegal requirement, although many colleges and universities still do try to insist on this.

Our experience is that where challenged with reference to the Equalities Act the insitution will then back down, although some do have to be threatened with legal action first.  Most colleges and universities however are thoroughly reasonable over this, and will admit that their entry requirements were written before the Act came into force and have simply not been looked at since.