The Equality Act came into force in October 2010 and replaced the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), or DDA. It is a vital piece of legislation to bear in mind when specifying products for buildings.
Where does the Equality Act apply?
The Equality Act applies to all service providers and everyone who provides goods and facilities in Great Britain. It applies to all services, even if they are provided free of charge.
Who is protected by the Equality Act?
Almost 10 million people in the UK are identified as having a disability. The main difference between the Equality Act and the DDA is that the law now extends to those who are mistakenly thought to be disabled, or people who experience discrimination because of their association with a disabled person. These people were not covered under the DDA but now they are protected against direct discrimination and harassment.
What has changed between DDA and the Equality Act?
In the past, service providers only had to make adjustments to premises and to policies, practices and procedures only where it would otherwise be impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use the service. Under the new Equality Act, adjustments must be made where disabled people find themselves to be at a substantial disadvantage. This means that service providers could have to make more adjustments.
In addition, it was possible in the past for a service provider to legally justify failing to provide a reasonable adjustment in certain circumstances. The only concern now is whether the adjustment is a reasonable one to make.
What changes are required?
Service providers must make changes, where needed, to improve their service for disabled customers or potential customers. There is a legal requirement to make reasonable changes to the built environment. This could involve making changes to the structure of a building in order to improve access.
Reasonable changes are required to be made wherever disabled customers or potential customers would otherwise be at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled people. Disabled customers cannot be charged for reasonable adjustments being made.
All of the circumstances will be taken in consideration when deciding what is reasonable. For example:
• The cost of an adjustment
• The potential benefit it might bring to other customers
- ramps and automatic doors benefit customers with children or luggage, for example
• The resources an organisation has
• How practical the changes are.
The Equality Act 2010 means service providers need to plan and take steps to address barriers that impede disabled people. Start by considering the range of disabilities that your service users might have. Do not wait until a disabled person experiences difficulties using a service; it might be too late to make the necessary adjustment then.