Businesses must adapt to accommodate disabilities

Businesses
have been given a fresh warning about ignoring the requirements of new
disability equality laws that come into effect in less than 10 days.

The
third phase of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) becomes law on 1
October. It requires all business and service providers to make reasonable
changes – such as adapting prem-ises,
removing physical barriers or providing the service another way – to ensure
they are accessible to the 10 million people in the UK
with some form of disability.

The
Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is warning
businesses they could face an upsurge in activism among disabled people, while
a recent NOP poll showed that 70 per cent of disabled people had difficulties
buying goods or receiving a service. Penalties for failing to comply with the
DDA include potential fines of up to £50,000, and unlimited fines if found
guilty of discrimination at an employment tribunal.

The
Department for Work and Pensions said it was vital that employers considered
their staff’s knowledge and attitude, as front-line staff will often be a
disabled customer’s only point of contact with the business.

It
said supplying something as simple as pens and paper could help staff
communicate with deaf or hearing-impaired customers.

Catherine
Casserley, senior
legislative adviser for the DRC, said there would be nowhere to hide for
businesses that have not made or planned improvements.

Another
survey reveals that firms are still not ready to offer equality of service to
disabled people, despite the Government’s campaign to promote awareness.

Research
among 800 managers by consultancy firm Workplace Law suggests the majority
believe that they are doing a better job than they are.

It
said that while many managers are aware of the deadline, a large number seem to
have paid little attention to non-physical disabilities such as visual and
hearing impairments, dyslexia and learning difficulties.

The
study also reveals that while the deadline has helped to focus employers’
attention on the requirements to provide an inclusive service, some of the
previous duties of the Act – relating to employing disabled people – seem to
have been forgotten.

David
Sharp, managing director of  Workplace Law, said:
"While the majority of businesses have taken positive steps to make their
workplaces accessible, we wonder whether the message about service has really
been understood.

"There’s
no point in changing your building if you don’t change the attitudes of the
people who work in it," he said. "That’s where the challenge of the
next three years will lie – especially with a new Disability Bill on the
horizon."

Lewis
Sidnick, policy adviser at
the British Chambers of Com-merce,
said that being accessible did not have to be expensive.

"From
disability awareness training for staff, to changing door handles, there are a
number of simple changes that you can make," he said.

It
is estimated that more than two million businesses, including hotels, restaurants,
cinemas, dental surgeries and health clubs will be affected by the changes.

www.drc-gb.org

DDA – top 10 tips for employers

  Understand disability – not all impairments
are visible


Diversity policy – develop a
diversity policy and implement it


Ensure good practice in recruitment – think about using the disability press to
widen your pool of applicants. Consider making application forms available in
alternative formats, such as large print or Braille


Pre-interview questioning – ask whether anyone has any specific requirements so
that you can make adequate preparations before the recruitment interview


Staff training – consider disability awareness training for all your staff


Audit your premises – changes made could be as simple as lowering light
switches, or redecorating to provide better contrast for someone with a visual
impairment


Modify equipment – you might have to provide special equipment, such as an
adapted keyboard for someone with arthritis


Plan ahead – if you are planning to make a change, making reasonable
adjustments at an early stage could prove cost-effective in the long run


Be flexible – allow flexible working where possible, time off work for medical
treatment, and phase people back into work following illness


Be fair – you should not require more of a disabled person in relation to
performance or conduct than you would require of anyone else

Source:
Department for Work and Pensions

By Mike Berry 

 

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