Disabled watchdog urges reform as cases flood in

The Disability Rights Commission has urged the Government to rip up the
Disability Discrimination Act and start again in its first annual review.

Only a brand new piece of legislation would be enough to plug the gaps in
protection for disabled people, it warned.

Its first year of operation had revealed the "shocking extent" of
disability discrimination in this country and "blasted original
expectations out of the water," said DRC chairman Bert Massie.

It dealt with 50 per cent more helpline enquiries and 10 times as many legal
cases as expected. Eleven of the 41 employment cases it fought involved people
with mental health problems.

The new Disability Act should remove the small-employer exemption, give
protection to people with HIV and cancer from the point of diagnosis, and bring
public sector jobs such as the armed forces, police, firefighters and prison
officers under the legislation.

Most of these proposals have already been agreed to in principle by the
Government, in response to the 2000 report of the Disability Rights Task Force.

In March this year, the then minister for disabled people Margaret Hodge
announced that the small business employment exemption would be abolished in

But it has not committed itself to a timetable on any of the other

The DRC pushed the Government to make legislative time for the changes.

It is vital that we see a new Disability Act in the current parliamentary
session," a spokesperson said.

Government plans for the DDA

– Give protection to people with HIV
from diagnosis and cancer from the point it is diagnosed as being likely to
require substantial treatment as well as those who have recovered or are in

– Include police, firefighters and prison officers in the Act.

– Require all businesses regardless of size to make reasonable
adjustments for disabled employees and job applicants by 2004.

– Remove the provision of the DDA which allows employers to
justify failure to make a reasonable adjustment.

– Add two examples to the list of adjustments employers might
need to make – training others on disability or use of equipment, and providing
support or access to external support.

– Place a legal duty on public bodies when fulfilling their
duties to promote equality of opportunity.

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