Why equity is just as crucial as equality: A Discussion

This is an excerpt the original article was published on bua-consultancy.com

When we discuss issues surrounding disability, the word ‘equality’ is used a lot. Equality ensures that every person has an equal opportunity to make the most of their life, regardless of circumstance.

To look at equality vs equity in the UK, we first need to know some background: those with disabilities are protected against discrimination thanks to the Equality Act (2010). We have equal rights to work, education and the right to use goods and services without the fear of being judged or refused access. This act also allows us to pursue legal action if we feel we have been mistreated because of our disability.

The Equality Act does much more than allow us rights to exist in a space safely, it also includes measures to allow ‘equity’ to be practised. I feel that equity is just as crucial as equality; however, it’s talked about far less frequently.

What is equity?

If equality for all is a society’s true goal, then equity is how we achieve that goal. Being treated equally may grant those of us with disabilities access to spaces and facilities. But equity ensures that we can utilise those spaces.

Equity is all about levelling the playing field by adapting it to every individual’s needs. One of its definitions is simply the ‘quality of being fair and impartial.’

There are those in the disabled community, myself included, that hate the idea of being treated differently. In society, being different is other and to be other is bad. However, in the case of equity, being treated differently, as long as it is for positive and fair gain, means we reach equality. Practising equity does not mean one person gains an advantage. It simply means that a person is able to have similar experiences to those around them.

The lack of discussion around equity leads to a misunderstanding of its purpose. So, when I talk about equity to a person, I have a couple of allegories I like to use to foster the discussion.

Imagine you’re in a butterfly field with rolling hills of different heights. You and your friends each get a net. However, you’re all standing on different hills, so your distance to the butterflies varies, impacting your ability to catch them.

The hills and nets represent everybody’s natural starting point. It factors in a person’s ability, the resources they have, and the opportunities available to them. Many factors can influence these elements. Some of them can include access to education, financial status, race and ethnicity, and disability.

The height of the hill determines the length of the net. Imagine that every person in the group gets a longer net, like in the second image. Everyone can catch butterflies now, regardless of the individual starting point.

This is equality in action. It allows everyone the opportunity to be treated the same.

However, you’ll notice that the longer the net is, the harder it is to use, which will impact a person’s ability to catch butterflies. Equality allows everybody to do things, such as work and receive an education, but it doesn’t make it automatically easy to do so. This is because background and circumstance can still affect a person’s progress.  

The solution to this problem is to practise equity. In the final image, a bridge has been built. The supports for the bridge are all different heights, factoring in the sizes of each hill, which truly levels out the bridge. So, no matter which hill each friend started on, they can all catch butterflies without struggling.

Everyone’s way of using equity will be different, but the outcome will always be the same. Using equity means a person can overcome any other barriers that equality may be unable to reduce, which means that everyone will have as equal experience as possible."