Legal Updates

Employment: New Disability Considerations for Employers


Under new measures coming into force on 1 October 2004, businesses will be required to make 'reasonable' adjustments to their premises in order to make them suitably accessible to people with disabilities.

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) recently published a Code of Practice (the Code) on Rights of Access, providing guidance on the obligations placed on service providers, which can be found in Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (the Act).

By its very nature, the Act is legally enforceable, whilst the Code is merely a guide. However, where a business can show compliance with the Code, it would obviously be in a stronger position in defending a claim for discrimination on the grounds of disability. Part 3 of the Act requires every business, irrespective of size or nature, to become more user-friendly to Britain's 10 million disabled people.


It also appears from the Code that a service provider would be held liable for the conduct of its employees. However, there is a crucial defence when action is brought against an employer in such circumstances, if an employer can show that he took 'such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent such actions'. It is therefore crucial that an employer puts in place a policy against disability discrimination which should be communicated to all employees to avoid such actions.

The Code expects service providers to make changes to their premises in four main contexts:

  • Changing practices, policies and procedures that "make it impossible or unreasonably difficult" for disabled people to utilise their services;
  • Providing supplementary aids and services to facilitate the use of their core services by disabled people;
  • Rendering their services by alternative methods where it is a physical feature that makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to utilise their service; and
  • Overcoming a physical feature which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of the service by getting rid of, altering or providing a reasonable way of avoiding that feature.



Some of the practical structural/physical changes identified by the DRC include:

  • Widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs; and
  • Providing wheelchair ramps to facilitate entry to premises.



Such changes should be made in anticipation of disabled users of services, not in response to them.

It is advisable for businesses to establish a positive, well-drafted policy addressing the provision of services, and this should be coupled with a disability audit of their premises to pinpoint areas where they might fall foul of the Act and Code. Failure to comply with the provisions of the Act may give rise to civil proceedings by a disabled person who is discriminated against as a result. Disabled persons who can show discrimination on the grounds of their disability may be entitled to damages, including damages for injury to feelings. The DRC can also provide assistance to disabled persons in bringing a claim for discrimination, and has the power to launch investigations where it is felt an organisation is in breach of the Act.

Email: Dr Rosanna Cooper

© RT COOPERS, 2004. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

 

 

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