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Access and the law

The Equality Act 2010

Since the 1st of October the Equality Act 2010 has come into force and replaced the previous Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). The Act aims to strengthen and combine anti-discrimination legislation so that disabled people and other groups have greater protection from discrimination.  

What does the new Equality Act 2010 do?  

The Equality Act brings together nine different laws which protect people from different types of discrimination. The Act uses the term ‘protected characteristics' to outline who the Act is for. The protected characteristics include

•·        Disability

•·        Gender reassignment

•·        Pregnancy and maternity

•·        Race

•·        Religion or belief

•·        Sex  

•·      Sexual orientation

Much of the previous DDA is included in the Equality Act. It also includes some new areas of protection such as protection from indirect discrimination, discriminations arising from disability and discrimination on the basis of association or perception.

The Equality Act and Access

The Equality Act covers all the same areas as the DDA did. It includes provision of goods and services (including services that are provided free of charge), travel and transport, employment, education, occupation, buying or renting flats and houses, public authorities and now private clubs.

Shops, pubs, restaurants, banks, hotels, theatres, cinemas, sports clubs, doctors surgeries, insurance companies, telecommunications companies, broadcasting services and many others are all covered by the Act. 

If service providers fail to meet the legal duties required by the Act they will be breaking the law and could be prosecuted. The name service provides includes provision of good and services and public functions provided in the UK to the public. It does not matter whether a service is provided is free or not.

What does the Act require?

Guidance in relation to goods and services is contained in part 3 of the Equality Act sections 28 to 32.

The Act requires that providers of goods and services like retailers must:

  • not treat disabled people less favourably for a reason related to their disability
  • make 'reasonable adjustments' for disabled people, such as providing extra help or making changes to the way services are delivered
  • make 'reasonable adjustments' to the physical features of  premises to overcome barriers to access

As well as direct discrimination, for example stopping a Guide Dog user from accessing a venue which is a direct action to the individual, the act also brings in the concept of indirect discrimination.

Indirect discrimination can happen when a general rule or policy is made to apply to everyone but that disadvantages one or more protected characteristics.

Discrimination by association or perception is also new to the Equality Act and protects people from discrimination because others think they posses a particular protected characteristic or from discriminating against someone because they associate with another person who posseses a protected characteristic.  An example of this could be if a non-disabled person is sacked for taking time off to care for their disabled child.

What is a reasonable adjustment?

"Reasonable adjustments" are changes made by businesses to help disabled people access their goods and services. An example of a reasonable adjustment could be providing information in large print for visually impaired customers. Another example is if a business provides Disability Equality Training for their staff so that they understand the needs of their disabled customers.

What is meant by reasonable can depend on many different factors including:

  • Whether the action taken would actually be effective in overcoming the access difficulties for disabled people
  • The financial and other costs of making the adjustment
  • Whether financial or other assistance is available

This means that no business would be forced into financial ruin in order to pay for expensive adjustments, as this would not be considered "reasonable" - but all shops should have considered how to become more accessible and should have made appropriate changes both to the way they work, and to their physical accessibility. A big chain with huge resources would be expected to have more money to spend on making changes than a small family business, but all retail outlets need to have considered their responsibilities. Any shop that has not taken steps to offer an accessible service is in danger of falling foul of the law, and should start considering what changes they could make immediately.

Providing an accessible service is not just about physical access and providing things like ramps and lifts, it is also about ensuring that all disabled people are treated with respect and can use services that non-disabled people already take for granted.

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