The National Council of Psychotherapists
Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
The disability Discrimination Act received Royal Assent in November 1995 and began to be active in the following year. However the process of implementing all parts of the Act will take us well into the early part of this century with transport being last. The law was introduced to enable disabled people to have the same opportunities and choices that non-disabled people take for granted. It is also hoping to swing the definition of disability away from a medical model to focusing on a person’s potential and ability.
The DDA looks at discrimination against disabled people in the U.K. and is enforced through courts and tribunals and is backed by the Disability Rights Commission. It affects employers and those who provide goods and services and offer facilities whether paid or free. The disability could be physical, mental or sensory. It must also be substantial and have a long term effect i.e. it must last or be expected to last for 12 months. Conditions which have a slight effect on day-to-day activities are covered. Severe disfigurement is also classed as a disability
Those who employ staff and those who provide goods and services to the public have to take measures to make sure they are not discriminating against disabled people.
It is unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably than another employee because of their disability, without justifiable reason. This applies to all employment matters including recruitment, training, promotion and dismissal.. Employers have a duty to look at what changes or reasonable adjustments they can make to their workplace or to the way work is done, in order to overcome the effects of impairment, and to undertake those changes. The employment part of the Act does not apply at present to employers who employ fewer than 15 people, but in October 2004 this changes to those who employ more than 2 people
Goods, Facilities and Services.
This section of the Act comes into force in October 2004 and is causing concern among many therapists and counsellors. It affects anyone who provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public whether paid or free. Private clubs are not included unless they hire out their facilities for a public function. It is against the law to refuse to serve someone who is disabled or to offer a service which is not as good as the service being offered to other people. It is against the law to provide a service to a disabled person on terms, which are different from the terms given to other people.
For example it is illegal asking a wheelchair user for a bigger deposit when booking a holiday on the grounds that they are more likely to cancel. However it would not be against the law to refuse a service if it can be demonstrated that the health or safety of either person would be at risk.
Making changes to the way services are provided.
It is against the law to run a service in a way that makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use a service or goods. e.g. a restaurant, which does not allow animals, will not be able to refuse admission to a disabled person with a guide dog. However it is not against the law if the way the service is run is fundamental to the business e.g. a nightclub with dim lighting even though it causes difficulty for someone with poor eyesight. Service providers have to provide equipment, which makes it easier for disabled people to use their service, if it is reasonable to do so, e.g. an induction loop, or the services of a signer, might make it easier for people who have a hearing impairment or use hearing aids.
From Oct 2004 Service Providers may have to make adjustments in relation to the physical features of their premises, to remove physical barriers to access If the feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of the service offered to the public then the provider will have to take measures to provide a practical alternative. e.g. by widening entrance doors and to provide other ways of letting disabled people to use their services, if it is reasonable to do so.
Alternative methods of delivering the service can be used, e.g. by providing the service by home visits. However the provider cannot charge a disabled person more to meet the cost of making it easier to use their service. Since October 1999 service providers have had to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the way they provide their services e.g. training organisations have to hire venues, which are accessible to a disabled person. We need to remember that access also means adequate car parking and a disabled toilet.
If anyone is in any doubt about what they need to provide, or about suitable access, it is best to contact their nearest Disability Organisation and ask for an Access Audit. If in doubt, you can contact myself and I will find out the organisation in your area. The introduction of this part of the act does not seem to be as traumatic as was originally thought and we seem to be able to overcome most obstacles by providing home visits. However I would close with this reminder. If a disabled person feels that they have been wrongly excluded from the provision of goods and services, they will be able to go to court to seek damages for any financial loss they have suffered or for injury to their feelings. There is no cap on the amount of damage that can be paid for injuries to feelings.
Kathleen Lloyd Williams. (Chair.) MNCP