Coping with a disability: Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v Virdi

Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v Virdi, EAT, 18 October 2006

Background

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), a person has a disability if they have “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on [their] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

The EAT has previously said that when deciding whether an effect is substantial, it is important to focus on what the employee cannot do, but government guidance makes it clear that if someone is able to modify their behaviour so the impairment no longer has a substantial adverse effect, they will not qualify as a disabled person.

Sergeant Virdi, an officer in the Metropolitan Police (the Met), had problems with his left eye, which included a 40% loss of central vision. He adopted certain strategies to help him cope, including turning his head away from the normal line of vision when crossing the road, and resting his eyes after reading or using a computer.

Virdi complained of disability discrimination. A tribunal agreed, and said EAT case law meant that coping strategies should be ignored.

Appeal

The EAT upheld the Met’s appeal on the basis that the tribunal chairman misunderstood the effect of earlier cases. It is not necessary or appropriate to ignore someone’s coping strategies when deciding whether they are disabled. The case was sent back to tribunal.

Comment

Under the DDA, ‘coping strategies’ are not treated in the same way as medical treatment or other measures taken to correct an impairment. The effect of an impairment must be assessed as if such measures were not being taken. In contrast, reasonable coping strategies should not be ignored. However, drawing the dividing line between ‘measures’ and ‘coping strategies’ is no easy matter.

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