Disabled guests

Disclaimer:  Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book of Legislation, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. This guide is not intended to be a definitive statement of the law in England. If you require precise or detailed information on the legislation mentioned in this guide, or on the legal implications for you in particular, you should consult a professional legal adviser.

Key facts

  • If you provide any sort of accommodation, serviced or self-catering, the Equality Act 2010 applies to you (this act replaces the Disability Discrimination Act).
  • The Act protects anyone who is disabled, is thought to be disabled or is associated with someone who is disabled.
  • The Act gives these people rights of access to goods, facilities and services (including tourist accommodation) and ensures that they are treated no less favourably than other customers.
  • You are also required to make reasonable adjustments to the way you deliver your services and to the physical features of your premises to make it easier for disabled guests to use them.


Video: Equality Act - meeting your obligations



The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 was introduced to consolidate and strengthen all anti-discrimination legislation (including disability discrimination legislation). The Act builds on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) which gives disabled people rights of access to goods, facilities and services, which includes tourist accommodation, by specifically banning discrimination against people associated with disabled people (e.g. carers, friends and family) and people presumed to be disabled. These rights are enforceable by any individual through the Courts, if necessary.


Does the Act apply to me?

Yes: if you provide any sort of accommodation, serviced or self-catering, the Act applies to you.


How is 'disabled' defined?

For the purpose of the law, people with disabilities are all those whose physical and mental impairments have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal, day-to-day activities.

This includes those who have progressive conditions such as cancer, HIV and AIDS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and who are likely to become increasingly disabled by their illness over time. These people become covered by the Act from the time they are diagnosed.

  • Note: A disability may not always be apparent, so it is important not to make assumptions.


Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? Disability quick-start guide

This 10-page guide from Government describes how businesses have to act in order to prevent disability discrimination and disability-related harassment. It also includes an overview of reasonable adjustments and examples of how the Act applies to real-life situations.


Take the lead: a guide to your legal obligations and FAQs in relation to assistance dogs (PDF, 0.4MB)

Published in partnership with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, our guide explains what your legal duties are to assistance dog owners under the Equality Act 2010. It also answers your specific questions, from allowing assistance dogs into food preparation areas to charging extra to cover additional cleaning costs.


Types of discrimination

There are four types of disabled discrimination covered by the Equality Act. They are:

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • discrimination arising from a disability
  • discrimination by association.


Direct discrimination

This is discrimination directly associated with a person’s disability. As a 'service provider', you need to make sure you treat disabled guests the same as you treat other guests. You would be treating guests with disabilities less favourably if you:

  • refuse to serve them
  • offer less favourable terms
  • offer a lower standard of service compared with what you normally offer.


It is important to note that the Equality Act does not allow any justification for direct discrimination. If you treat someone less favourably, the Act allows them to seek damages from you through the County Court.

Example of unequal treatment: discrimination would occur when a guesthouse refuses to give a room to someone who is mentally impaired on the basis that they feel the guest would upset other guests.


Indirect discrimination

This is where a business policy, while applying to all customers, would have a greater impact on disabled customers. Examples would include:

  • serving breakfast only in a room that is down a set of stairs
  • only accepting written orders for breakfast. 


The Equality Act does allow indirect discrimination if there is “objective justification”. For example, it may be justified to only allocate loft rooms to people who are not able to move unescorted on the grounds of fire safety. If there is no objective justification (cost is generally not acceptable), then reasonable adjustments (see below) need to be undertaken to adapt to the circumstances of the disabled customer. For example, allowing mobility-impaired customers to have their breakfast in their room or elsewhere in the hotel.


Discrimination arising from a disability

This is where the discrimination is based on a consequence of the disability rather than the disability itself. Examples would include:

  • banning a person with Tourette's syndrome from a bar area because their outbursts may offend other customers
  • providing plastic cups and plates to a person with muscular dystrophy because you think that they might break items.


Discrimination by association

This is discrimination against someone associated with a disabled person such as a carer, friend or member of the family. Examples may include:

  • refusing the booking of a non-disabled couple because it was known they have a disabled child which they might bring with them
  • making the carer of a disabled person sleep in the same room to ensure that they don’t disturb other guests. 

How does the Act impact on me?

To ensure that you do not discriminate against disabled people or their associates, the law requires you to make reasonable adjustments to both your property and to your business practices.


Reasonable adjustments

Make reasonable adjustments to the way you deliver your services to make it easier for disabled guests to use them. This may include:

  • changing the relevant underlying practice, policy, or procedure to make it easier
  • providing an alternative method of making your services available
  • getting training to use the Text Relay phone call relay service or install a textphone (or 'Minicom') on the reception desk for customers with hearing impairments to make bookings more easily. Text Relay is an initiative providing text-to-voice translation to enable people who cannot hear or speak to connect with other people by phone.


You have a duty to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or avoid any physical barriers that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make full use of facilities, if the service cannot be provided by an alternative method.


What is reasonable?

You are only required to do what is 'reasonable'. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)'s Code of Practice give more information on assessing whether a particular adjustment is reasonable. In general, the factors to consider would include:

  • whether the proposed adjustment would meet the needs of the disabled person
  • whether the adjustment is affordable
  • whether the adjustment would have a serious effect on other people.


The Act permits service providers to justify less favourable treatment (and in some instances failure to make a reasonable adjustment) when there is no possibility to do so, despite the fact that this would mean that a disabled person is treated less favourably. Service providers do therefore have flexibility when considering how to make their services accessible to disabled people. Remember that what might be considered reasonable for a national hotel chain may not be so for a small guesthouse.


Examples of reasonable adjustments

  • You could provide a bell at the main entrance to request assistance.
  • You could provide large-print menus for visually-impaired guests.


Often simple measures can make your facilities more accessible, e.g. taking more time to help disabled guests, letting them know how to ask for help, and arranging appropriate training for you and your staff.

Before you make any changes, it is advisable to check with disability organisations that your adjustments are appropriate.

  • Note: even if you do not allow guests to bring their pets to your premises, you must allow people who need to use assistance dogs (such as visually impaired people) to be accompanied by their dogs.


Making adjustments to your website

The need for reasonable adjustments also applies to your website, which may be the first point of contact for a person with a disability.

You can download guidelines about accessibility from the Web Accessibility Initiative  – these may seem daunting, but remember that they are guidelines rather than a definitive list of changes you must make. Small changes can make a big difference, such as the option to increase or reduce the size of text on the site.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) provides advice on providing information in accessible formats, published in the See it Right pack. In addition, the British Standards Institute has produced a standard for web accessibility (BS 8878) and PAS 78, a document that provides guidance on designing websites for inclusive design, particularly for disabled people, available on through the BSI group shop.


Auxiliary aids and services

In addition, you are required to provide what are described in the Act as 'auxiliary aids and services' where these would help a disabled person. Text Relay or Minicom (mentioned above), or British Sign Language interpretation would qualify as such services.

Again the rule of reasonable adjustments applies.


Good practice

In terms of what you should do in relation to disabled guests, good practice includes:

  • thinking and planning ahead
  • not making assumptions based on stereotypes
  • asking a disabled person or organisation what is required if you are in doubt
  • respecting the dignity of your disabled guest
  • establishing a positive policy and practices
  • training staff acccordingly.


  • Note: Sometimes a willingness to help and an attentive ear are enough to make a difference. Disabled people will tell you what you need to do to help them best. Also bear in mind that accessibility is often about making compromises, as a feature that will make things easier for one person might make them more difficult for another.

National Accessible Scheme

There is a scheme for serviced, self-catering and caravan park accommodation which recognises and identifies those places to stay that meet the needs of disabled people and provides guidance to operators on how to improve accessibility.

For further information visit National Accessible Scheme.


Accessibility Guides

Honest and accurate information is needed by guests with access requirements or disabled guests. This can be achieved by writing and making available an Accessibility Guide, previously known as an access statement, which describes the services, facilities and structure of your business.

An Accessibility Guide is a written, clear and accurate and above all honest description of the current facilities and services you offer, to enable a potential visitor to make an informed decision as to whether your business meets their particular access needs. It highlights any key areas that might be a barrier to access for some visitors, for example steps or stairs.

From April 2007 participants in the VisitEngland quality scheme have been required to prepare an Accessibility Guide as part of their quality grading assessment. Participants need to present an Accessibility Guide to the quality assessor at the time of their quality assessment visit.

Another related requirement is that Accessibility Guides / information are made available to guests, helping the industry provide essential information to customers whilst fulfilling part of their legal obligation under the Equality Act 2010. VisitEngland recommends that the Accessibility Guide is uploaded to or linked to from the property's website.

VisitEngland and VisitScotland will shortly be launching a free website to help you produce an Accessibilty Guide. The website also features best practice examples, top tips and frequently asked questions.


Further guidance

  • VisitEngland provides guidance, tools and resources to help businesses with the access needs of customers in our Business Advice Hub.
  • For more information on the Equality Act and help with good business practice contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Helpline (EHRC) helpline on 0845 604 6610 (text phone 0845 604 6620) or visit EHRC’s website
  • Tourism for All UK is a national registered charity which provides expertise and support to the tourism and hospitality sector to provide accessible services for all. Tel: 0845 124 9971 (information line).
  • RNIB See it Right guidelines (Practical advice on designing, producing and planning for accessible information – product code PR12098), is available on CD at £15 by calling their helpline  0303 123 9999.
  • Information and guidelines on best practice for customers with hearing loss is available from Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID). Information hotline 0808 8080123.