Private lags behind public sector in disability policy

Private-sector companies have fallen behind public service organisations in producing written policies on how to respond to disability discrimination laws.

Research on how companies have implemented the Disability Discrimination Act found virtually all those in the public sector have some kind of written policy compared with only 74 per cent in the private sector.

The findings are part of a wider survey of 160 employers, published by employment analysts IRS, examining the issues addressed by the Act.

Organisations surveyed include Shell, Sainsbury’s, Body Shop International, Nationwide Building Society, Addenbrooke’s NHS Trust and Birmingham City Council.

Dan Howard, HR manager at Addenbrooke’s, said a written policy can be incorporated into an organisation’s equal opportunities policy and sends out a clear message to staff.

“We felt it was important for people to understand exactly what disability is and be aware of their responsibilities, whether they are a member of staff or a manager,” he said.

The Act, introduced by the last Government, aimed to make it illegal to discriminate against disabled people out of the workplace.

Previously employers were obliged under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 to employ a 3 per cent quota of disabled people.

The 1995 Act replaced this with a new duty on employers to make “reasonable adjustments” to workplaces so they are accessible to all.

It also introduced a new individual right to non-discrimination on the grounds of disability.

Denise Walker, head of corporate personnel at Nationwide, stressed the building society was not among the 26 per cent of private sector organisations without a written policy on disability.

She said that in addition to a written policy a number of strategies were used to foster a culture of change including a disability intranet site, disability awareness training sessions, and articles in the staff magazine.

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