How to improve workplace access for the disabled

Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into force on 1 October 2004, resulting in much debate on what impact this change in the law has on businesses and whether or not it makes a real difference to disabled people.

All businesses now have to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to their premises in order to make their services, facilities and workplaces accessible to disabled people. In addition, it is unlawful for any employer of any size to discriminate against disabled people in areas such as recruitment, training, promotion, dismissal or redundancy.

The key word in the DDA is ‘reasonable’ and what is deemed reasonable will be based on the resources of the business, the cost and practicality of adaptations and the potential benefits to customers and employees. What is a reasonable solution for one business may not be reasonable for another.

Although the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), a national charity based in London, can be of use in advising on equipment and adjustments to the physical features of a company’s premises, some access barriers may be due to company policy and practice. In such cases, consideration of reasonable alternatives in relation to the provision of a service must be made. For example, it may be reasonable to offer a home service in order to avoid a physical barrier.

It should also be recognised that many disabled people are not wheelchair users and overcoming access barriers can mean more than installing ramps, one of the most commonly thought of solutions. Other types of adjustments might include putting up clearer signs for someone with a visual impairment or providing literature and instructions in Braille versions for blind people.

For John Mandrak, a DLF employee working on the Help and Advice line, he is able to provide older and disabled people with advice on assistive technologies by using an equipment solution himself. John has a visual impairment and under the government’s Access to Work scheme he has been provided with equipment solutions that compensate for his limited visual ability.

His PC has additional memory and a package installed called “Zoomtext” which can magnify the images on his screen up to 16 times their normal size. He also works with a voice recognition system and technology that can magnify hard copy information.

Operated by job centres, the Access to Work scheme provides disabled people and their employers with practical advice and support to help overcome work related obstacles. It can pay a grant towards certain extra employment costs resulting from disability, which can range from adaptations to premises such as installing an accessible toilet to the introduction of equipment to aid people with visual and hearing impairments.

With such schemes supporting businesses, the spending power of disabled people and not least of all the threat of legal action, it makes business sense to make the reasonable adjustments required by the DDA and comply with this new law.

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