What is the Disability Equality Duty?
When the Disability Equality Duty – part of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – comes into force on 4 December this year, public sector organisations will be legally obliged to promote equal opportunities for disabled people. This means that everyone working in the public sector will be required by law to consider how their work affects disabled people, and to take action to tackle inequality.
Why is it being brought in?
Disabled people face discrimination in all walks of life and, as a result, often get poorer outcomes and services. The DDA has already ensured that disabled people have individual rights, but institutionalised discrimination remains a key barrier.
An employer’s attitude towards disability could mean that a disabled person is excluded from getting a job with career prospects. Alternatively, it could be the attitudes and actions of work colleagues that mean a disabled person is discriminated against in the workplace. This sort of inequality needs to be tackled by getting organisations to look critically at the way they work and the services they provide.
Who will it affect?
Everyone working in the public sector. Public sector organisations must lead by example and take responsibility for making change happen. In addition, the public sector is particularly important for disabled people – as a service provider, and also as an employer.
What will people need to do?
There are four key elements to the duty, which require public authorities to carry out their functions with ‘due regard’ to the need to:
- promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, taking steps to take account of disabled peoples’ disabilities
- eliminate unlawful disability discrimination and disability-related harassment
- promote positive attitudes
- encourage disabled people to take part in public life.
To show how they intend to do this, public sector employers, such as hospitals, schools, local authorities, government departments and the police, must produce a Disability Equality Scheme (DES), which sets out what they will do to implement the duty. This will commit them to real and meaningful actions that promote equality for disabled people.
How will this affect HR?
First, it is important to remember the phrase ‘due regard’ here, as it recognises that the duty is not the only thing to consider. For example, while an employer should only fill positions with appropriately qualified candidates, they will have a duty to encourage disabled people to participate in public life.
So HR should consider what steps might make the appointment process accessible to disabled candidates. You will need to think about whether to advertise the position where disabled people will see it, and how to go about encouraging them to apply. Is the application process accessible to disabled applicants, and are you actively seeking applications from disabled people?
The duty extends beyond the recruitment process. Promoting positive attitudes among staff towards their disabled colleagues will help to make organisations places where disabled people want to come and work.
This must go further than just eliminating discrimination – the duty requires you to actively promote positive attitudes towards disabled people. For example, by providing disability equality training.
What happens if you don’t comply?
This will be a legal duty on public authorities, and there will be penalties for non-compliance. Public sector organisations that fail to apply the duty properly may face legal action, and failure to publish an adequate DES may result in enforcement by the Disability Rights Commission.
What difference will it make?
By leading by example and taking responsibility for change, the public sector can challenge negative attitudes and prejudice. Promoting equality for disabled staff and encouraging disabled people to apply for jobs are just two examples of how HR in the public sector can help to promote equality. This will not only widen the pool of potential applicants, but will also ensure organisations do not lose the valuable skills of existing staff who become disabled.
The Disability Equality Duty is about removing the often unintentional barriers that disabled people face by getting the public sector to think about the way it works. It is about promoting equality for disabled people, which is the next step towards ensuring disabled people get better outcomes.