The UK is getting ahead of the game when it comes to implementing disability
legislation, with two new codes of conduct and a draft disability Bill
imminent. But are employers keeping up? Stephanie Sparrow finds there is plenty
of room for improvement
Razzmatazz and celebration kicked off the UK’s efforts for European Year of
Disabled People in January. A throng of disabled performers joined minister for
disabled people Maria Eagle, and work and pensions secretary Andrew Smith, to
mark the launch of 171 community projects, funded by £2.3m from government and
European Community coffers.
But amid the good fun, Smith took the opportunity to send a serious message
to employers by announcing the Government’s intention to publish a draft
disability Bill later this year.
Of course, the UK has a raft of legislation in place, but Smith was signalling
that disability issues have retained their momentum since the introduction of
the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and the birth of the Disability
Rights Commission (DRC) in 2000.
The next 16 months were already looking busy for employers in any case. The
DRC is soon to publish two new codes of practice and, by October 2004, certain
exemptions of part 2 of the DDA are lifted, amendments introduced and the final
phase of part 3 of the Act comes into force.
In doing this, the Government is implementing regulations brought about by
the disability provisions of the Employment Framework Directive. This has been
brought forward under Article 13 of the EU Treaty, which obliges all European
states not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, age, religious
beliefs and disability.
"The British Government is getting ahead of its European counterparts,
appeasing the lobbyists and answering the concerns raised by the now-defunct
Disability Rights Task Force," explains discrimination law specialist
Selwyn Blyth, an associate at Pinsent Curtis Biddle’s Birmingham office.
In addition, the Government is expected in the draft Bill to extend the
definition of disability, says Blyth.
"We could move from the current definition of a ‘physical or mental
impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s
ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’, to include cancer and HIV
from the point of diagnosis. They will not have to prove they have a
progressive condition to be protected," he adds.
Employers will have to wait for the draft Bill to get further clarification
on this matter, but in the meantime, they should look out for the forthcoming
DRC codes of practice on employers’ responsibilities. These codes are currently
going through a consultation process and employers will be invited to comment
"The codes of practice will be affected by seven years of case
law," says DRC policy analyst Monica Kreel. Among other subjects, the
codes are expected to carry information on conducting medical questionnaires
and handling recruitment and retention issues.
The intention has long been that the DDA will be felt throughout society.
The October 2004 changes ensure that the employment provisions of the Act will
apply to all employers, apart from those who work wholly outside Great Britain
and members of the Armed Forces.
Among the employers affected are the police. Support staff were covered by
the DDA in the mid 1990s but now attention is being turned to police officers
and how to accommodate those affected by disability. Many desk jobs are not
viable options because they are civilian roles.
"It’s important [disabled people] retain their skills in a police
environment," says police disability network co-ordinator and chief
inspector in the Metropolitan Police, Mark Goldby.
Goldby, who is seconded to the Employers’ Forum on Disability to give advice
to the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers, says that
roles for disabled people in areas such as analysis and investigation have long
been explored, but on an ad hoc basis. "The legislation will force us to
be rigid in our thinking," he says.
The other key aspect of the 2004 changes is that it will become unlawful for
a service provider to discriminate (unless there is a justification) on the
service or standards of service, provided to a disabled person.
Many HR departments may feel they are not affected by these service provider
regulations, but they would be wrong.
"For example, there is a link between making front-end services
accessible and how you behave as an employer," says director of
communications at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), Brian
Lamb. He cites the example of installing a hearing induction loop to benefit
customers and employees.
Employers also need to be aware of their duty as service providers under
part 3 of the DDA to make their websites accessible to disabled people. Any
candidate disadvantaged by an inaccessible e-recruitment process may also have
a claim under part 2 of the Act, the employment provisions.
"The constantly changing nature of the web means that organisations
must not make assumptions," says Donna Smillie, best practice officer
(accessible websites), Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB). "Not
everyone uses a mouse, so a ‘point and click’ instruction could be
The RNIB works with organisations to help them retain accessibility and
currently it is just completing a project with banking giant, Barclays.
Chief executive of the Employers Forum on Disability, Susan Scott-Parker,
also warns of employer complacency. "The role of HR is still to get the
message out to the rest of the organisation about disability
discrimination," she says. "It must communicate who is there to make
adjustments and get things to happen."
Yet despite the moral arguments, certain employers are still overlooking the
skills and needs of disabled candidates and employees. This despite legislative
muscle, the fact claims are uncapped and can be expensive (an award of £278,800
is being contested by the defendant in the recent Newsome v The Council of the
City of Sunderland case), and the ready sources of funding available from
sources such as Access to Work.
According to the latest research from national disability organisation
Scope, disabled people account for almost 20 per cent of the working age
population and yet almost half of all disabled people of working age don’t have
At the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the adviser
on diversity, Diana Worman, points out that whole-organisation awareness is
important. She says members often tell her that the key barrier to getting
disabled people into employment and keeping them there is the attitude of other
employees. She urges organisations to propagate positive thinking by focusing
on the skills and opportunities on offer from all sections of the community.
The Co-operative Bank has picked up on this already and is seeing the
"We have developed a holistic way of looking at diversity through
customers and employees," says partnership manager of the Co-operative
Bank, Jayne Beer.
In keeping with its practices and philosophies, the bank includes
‘understanding disabled work colleagues’ as part of its DDA training projects
and has chosen a mentoring scheme with the RNID as an employee volunteering
Beer says one measure of changing attitudes is the bank’s voluntary
self-declaration scheme. She is heartened by the fact that in 1998, 14
employees declared themselves disabled. In 2002, 48 people had the confidence
to step forward.
For more information on the
forthcoming changes or to get practical advice for your organisation, log on to
Disability Rights Commission
Employers’ Forum on Disability
Scope’s Employment Support Services
Centre for Accessible Environments
For more information about web design guidelines, log on to the following:
Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB)
Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID)
Case studies: Employers who are ready for 2004
Lloyds TSB was the first private-sector employer to launch a
career progression programme tailored for disabled employees.
Most of Lloyds TSB’s 250 disabled staff are on junior grades,
and the programme aims to boost their confidence to go for more senior
positions. Delegates complete a pre-course workbook and attend a three-day
residential course, coming together again for a six-month review.
"Trainers are disabled themselves, so they understand
where delegates are coming from," says Andrew Wakelin, senior manager,
diversity. "It makes it tougher for the participant because they can’t
hide behind their disability. It’s a double benefit."
A mentoring scheme pairs delegates with senior managers – who
have all had external disability awareness training – to give insight and
guidance about progressing.
Access, a disabled employees network launched two years ago,
gives disabled staff an ongoing forum for discussion.
Members of the network play a critical role in ‘testing out’
the bank’s new facilities, says Wakelin, for example, working with web
designers to ensure the bank’s website is fully accessible.
When B&Q ran focus groups with disabled people in 1998,
most organisations weren’t even beginning to address disability in the
workplace, says Sue O’Neill, the DIY retailer’s diversity manager.
The field research informed B&Q’s strategy on disability,
which O’Neill says is ‘two-pronged: access is critical, but attitudes are far
More than 85 per cent of B&Q’s staff have undergone
disability training – now part of the induction process for new recruits. All
new stores since 1998 have been designed to be fully accessible and all
existing stores have been audited in preparation for the 1995 Disability
Discrimination Act’s (DDA) 2004 deadline.
The new facilities were backed up with customer service
training to ensure aids such as portable induction loops were properly used by
"One thing we learned is it is not enough to train people
once and think that is it," says O’Neill. "We have also developed an
e-learning programme and we have diversity champions in all our stores. They
own that training module and encourage people to do it."