If you provide a service to the public, whether you charge for it or not, you already have duties under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
At the moment you cannot refuse to serve, or provide a lower standard of service because of a person's disability. You also need to make reasonable changes to the way in which you provide your services to make sure that you don't discriminate against disabled customers.
From 1 October 2004 you may have to make reasonable adjustments to any physical barriers that may prevent disabled people using your service. Or you may have to provide your service by a reasonable alternative means, like fetching goods to them or helping them find items. There are some examples of the type of adjustments you could make below.
What is a reasonable adjustment?
Under the Disability Discrimination Act you only need to make changes that are 'reasonable'. Take a common sense approach. There's no rulebook, different people have different needs, and some organisations can afford to do more than others. For example, it would not be reasonable for a small firm with a tight budget to undertake the same level of structural alteration that a big national company could easily finance. It's about what is practical in your individual situation and what resources you have. You will not be required to make changes which are impractical or beyond your means.
Examples of reasonable physical changes for service providers. These may include:
- ensuring your premises are well lit and providing clearer signs
- providing an induction loop for a person with a hearing impairment
- providing seating
- installing a permanent ramp and a handrail at the entrance to a building where there are steps
- replacing a door handle with one that is easier to reach and to grip
- lowering a reception desk so that it is more accessible for people who use wheelchairs
- using colour contrast to ensure entrances and exits are easier to use
- meeting a mobility-impaired person in a more accessible venue, or at their home if your premises can only be reached by a flight of stairs
These are all just examples and what you may need to do will depend on your individual situation and the needs of your disabled clients. Either way, it makes sense to think ahead and to incorporate changes into any other refurbishments you may be planning.
Why these changes are good for business
These changes will not only benefit disabled people, they will help to make your services more accessible to other potential customers. For example:
- the friends and families of disabled people accompanying them
- customers with pushchairs or carrying heavy shopping or luggage
- customers with children
- older customers who may not consider themselves disabled but who do appreciate easier access
What could happen if someone thinks I have discriminated against them?
They may complain to you, or they may take advice from the Disability Right Commission, which has a conciliation service and might be able to broker an agreement. However, they could also take civil proceedings against you. If the court decides that you have discriminated, you might have to pay damages for any financial loss, including injury to feelings. The person could also seek an injunction preventing you from repeating the discriminatory act in the future.
Where can I get help and advice?
The Department for Work and Pensions has produced an information pack including a video on the Disability Discrimination Act.
To get a copy:
Textphone: 1 800 1 0845 124 9841
To get advice on whether your premises are accessible to disabled customers, you can contact an access auditor to arrange an access audit. This audit will identify barriers to access along with possible solutions. You can get a list of recognised access auditors and consultants from the National Register of Access Consultants .
You can find more information on the rights of the disabled from Disability rights.
For information on human rights visit see Equality and Human Rights Commission.