The Disability Discrimination Act – a guide

Since October 2004, firms with fewer than 15 employees are no longer allowed by law to refuse to take on disabled employees.

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The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 has far reaching implications for all businesses. For instance, firms with fewer than 15 employees are no longer able to legally refuse to take on a disabled employee.

What is it? The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) aims to protect disabled people against discrimination – both in employment and when using a service or facility. The government has implemented the legislation in three phases.

  • Phase I in 1996 made it illegal to treat disabled people less favourably because of their disability.

  • Phase II in 1999 obliged businesses to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled staff, like providing additional support or equipment. They also had to start making changes to the way they provide their services to customers, for example providing bank statements in large print.

  • Phase III from October 2004 businesses may have to make physical alterations to their premises to overcome access barriers. The example people most readily think of is installing ramps for wheelchair users.

  •  A previous exemption that applied to companies that employed fewer than 15 people has been removed.

  • The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 built on existing civil rights legislation, mainly the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and most of its provisions are now in force. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Equality Act, which came into force in 2006, made further changes to the Act. You can read official copies of legislation on the Office of Public Sector Information website.

How does this affect businesses?  You will have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your premises in order to make your services accessible to disabled people. This might include putting up clearer signs for visually impaired customers, installing an induction loop for deaf people or installing ramps/handrails to improve disabled access correct table/counter heights, highlighting danger areas or removing obstacles all complying to British standard BS8300 and Part M of the buildings regulations. Problems and solutions vary from business to business. The law says you can make the alterations in four ways:

  • Remove the barrier or obstacle

  • Altering such as adding a ramp, clearer signage, counter/reception heights altered etc.

  • Find a means of avoiding the problem – for example, reconfiguring the internal layout of a building

  • Providing a service or access by reasonable alternative means, offering a home service, installing call bells at approved heights, adjusting dooropening strengths etc.

What if an alteration costs too much?   The DDA refers to ‘reasonable adjustments’. If the cost of an alteration would put you out of business an access audit would note this in a report of your building and attempt to find a more reasonable solution still giving you compliance to the DDA.

What if businesses have no disabled customers? That’s no argument under the law. The duties under the DDA are ‘anticipatory’ so saying you have no disabled customers will not provide any legal protection.

Are listed buildings exempt?

There are restrictions on how listed buildings can be altered, but they are not exempt under the DDA. Businesses that operate from listed buildings need to take specialist advice about how to remove access barriers. What are the risks of doing nothing?

There is a possibility of having to defend a costly legal action. But there is also a pressing economic argument. The DRC estimates that disabled people’s spending power amounts to £50bn per year. It argues that ignoring the DDA laws means losing custom – especially if competitors have already made improvements.

It is a fact that between 14% and 24% of the population has a disability or is closely involved with a disabled person. That is a quarter of all potential customers or employees. The improvements suggested by the DDA will benefit them and encourage them to do business with you. In addition, many of the improvements will also benefit other customers, such as parents with pushchairs, people carrying heavy shopping etc. As a service provider under the DDA. You are likely to get significantly more customers and bring considerable benefit to your existing customers by meeting the recommendations

What do I do next?

Because most barriers can be easily and inexpensively removed it is vital to clearly establish low cost and reasonable initiatives that avoid unnecessary expenditure on extravagant provisions. In recent research by the Disability Rights Commission, it was found that despite one in ten businesses stating that they would prefer not to have to make their premises accessible for disabled people, eight out of ten predicted a positive rise in profits after improving access for disabled people. Businesses need to know that reasonable adjustments are all that is required by the DDA. An access audit will take into account your business turn- over and make suggestions that are reasonable to you and your business.

By arranging an access audit of your business and receiving a full access report, you will have shown to the DDA that you have made the first steps to complying with the act. An access audit will identify the main problem areas, always looking at what is “reasonable adjustment” for your business. What is an Access Audit? An Access Audit is an examination of a building; it’s facilities and services, against pre-determined criteria to assess its ease of use by disabled people. The reasons for carrying out an Access Audit are to meet the legislative requirements of the DDA 1995 and improve access and in turn increase your custom and turnover. Having an Access Audit carried out will establish what action is needed. This will take the form of an initial consultation with you to determine your business needs followed by an inspection of the premises. A written report will then be produced. This report will detail ways in which non-compliance exists and will recommend a course of action. Priorities will be given to work recommended. Some items may need to be done immediately whereas other items could be added to a maintenance program or included in a feasibility study.   A full audit will be broken down into sections firstly looking at the approach to your building/establishment. Any hazardous street furniture. The auditor would then investigate the areas used by members of the public including any those used by disabled members of staff. Photographs will be included in the report (if required) along with full recommendations from various government bodies, including Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people-Code of practice BS8300:2001 and Access and facilities for disabled people Approved document M.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) has often become a major headache for many businesses. It is the job of an access auditor to help remove that headache and keep you and you business on the right side of the law. Access All Areas is a family run DDA approved access auditing business and fully understand the full implementations of this new law and pride themselves in looking at what is reasonable for your business.

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