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ScotRail managed to enrage passengers even more than usual, not by the standard ‘delays-due-to-leaves-on-the-line’ shenanigans but due to their refusal to allow blind ski racer John Dickinson-Lilley to book a last minute berth on the Caledonian Sleeper train. The reason for this being, that he was required to give two days notice to allow time for the company to book a cleaner for the berth as he would be travelling with a guide dog. It remains unclear why ScotRail would need 48 hours notice to book a cleaner as one would have hoped that the berths are cleaned after every journey anyway, but that’s beside the point. This is yet another example of organisations failing to take basic steps to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities.

ScotRail has stated that it is aware of its duties under the Equality Act 2010 and that it complied with all relevant legislation. But what are their duties? As a private company, ScotRail is not subject to the public sector equality duty, unless it were to carry out a public function. However, they are subject to the provisions in the Act relating to discrimination. Under the Act, blindness is a protected characteristic. Section 13 of the Act defines direct discrimination as one person (including a legal person such as a company) treating another person less favourably than they would treat others because that person has a protected characteristic. In this case, requiring a blind person with a guide dog to give 48 hours notice before booking a ticket on a sleeper train is clearly treating that person less favourably than others who do not have such a disability.

ScotRail faced a barrage of criticism after Mr Dickinson-Lilley tweeted about their actions and quickly backed down, offering him a free berth the following night and apologising as well as stating that they were “urgently reviewing their procedures”. Whilst heartening, the ski racer also noted that he is regularly refused by taxi drivers, restaurants and shops where management apparently remain unaware of their duties under the Equality Act. It is not difficult for reasonable adjustments to be made in order to accommodate the needs of disabled people. I mean, if we can make a wheelchair for a tiny pig (I highly recommend googling this; the squeal factor is off the charts. Also, the piglet’s name is Chris P. Bacon, which is irrelevant but amazing) then we should have no problems in making sure that disabled people don’t feel that they have to fight to have their basic rights recognised.

If you think you have been discriminated against because of your disability, at work or otherwise, contact Thompsons for legal advice. We don’t have any tiny pigs though.

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