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What is a reasonable adjustment?

Knowing what to do to make your business accessible can be difficult so we asked the Centre for Accessible Environments www.cae.org.uk  to help explain the kind of things you should be thinking about.

If your business comes under the following headings, this is the information for you!

Providers of goods and services (also known as service providers) includes:

  • Shops and businesses, i.e. pubs, shops, banks, resturants,cinemas, sports clubs, broadcasting services, insurance companies. 
  • Travel and transport for example, buses, taxis, trains
  • Services that are provided free of charge such as churches and community groups.
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Buying or renting flats and houses
  • Public authorities and now private clubs

What is a ‘reasonable adjustment'?

The Equality Act 2010 protects equal rights in service provision by protecting people from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics, including disability. The Act protects people from discrimination, which can be direct, indirect or specifically arising from somebody's disability, harassment and victimisation when accessing goods and services.

It aims to ensure that disabled people experience the same standard of service as non-disabled people. To achieve this, service providers have a duty to take positive action to make sure that everyone can access their services and that the quality of experience is as similar as possible. This includes anticipating the needs of potential disabled customers, and, wherever they would encounter a substantial disadvantage, making reasonable adjustments to avoid the disadvantage. 

The disadvantage can be avoided by making reasonable adjustments in three areas:

  • amending provisions, criteria and / or practices
  • amending physical features
  • providing auxiliary aids

Whether or not an adjustment is ‘reasonable' will vary from case to case, but the following factors may be taken into account:

•·     practicality

•·     financial and other costs

•·     the extent of any disruption

•·     service provider's financial and other resources;

•·     the amount of any resources already spent on making adjustments

•·     the availability of financial or other assistance

Only the courts can determine what reasonable adjustments are in relation to a specific case. What is deemed reasonable for a large business with greater resources is different to expectations from a small business with limited resources.

Provision, criterion, practice

What is a provision, criterion or practice? This can include any informal or formal policies, rules, arrangements and conditions. It can also include future decisions for example a policy not yet adopted and discretionary decisions.

Examples of possible reasonable adjustments to provisions, criteria and practices include:

  • amending a  "no-dogs" policy to allow entry for guests with assistance dogs
  • allowing disabled customers to park closer to the premises
  • accepting alternative forms of identification, for example not just a driving licence, so as not to exclude people due to the nature of their disabilities
  • providing seating for people unable to stand in a generally non-seated waiting or queuing area
  • providing priority seating at events for disabled people
  • making sure that cleaning staff remember to leave visually impaired guests' belongings in the places they were left when tidying a room
  • training staff to serve disabled customers

Auxiliary aids and services

An auxiliary aid or service is any equipment or assistance that can be provided to support access for disabled people. Service providers have a duty not only to provide auxiliary aids but also to maintain them and keep them in good working order.

Examples of auxiliary aids and services:

  • special equipment, for example a portable ramp, text magnifier
  • provision of a sign language interpreter, lip-speaker, deaf-blind communicator or speech-to-text typist
  • additional staff assistance
  • note-taking services
  • induction loop or infra-red hearing enhancement
  • audio-visual fire alarms
  • readers for people with visual impairments
  • assistant guides
  • telephone support service
  • alternative information formats, such as Easy Read in promotional material so that they are accessible to people with a learning disability, audio, large print, Braille

It is important to remember that this is a non-exhaustive list of examples. Think carefully about the nature of your services and goods to provide the most useful auxiliary aids and services relevant to your organisation. An access audit can also help you to identify these.

Physical features

Service providers have a duty to avoid putting disabled people at a substantial disadvantage caused by a physical feature.

This duty includes:

•·    Removing the physical feature

This can be the most effective and reasonable step to take. One example could be to remove display units, which are restricting access through the door and relocating them, another example could be removing a step to create a level entrance.

•·    Altering the feature

For example a high reception desk or bar counter puts wheelchair users and people of a shorter stature at a substantial disadvantage in terms of service, providing a lowered counter area is likely to be a reasonable adjustment

•·    Or providing a reasonable way to avoid it

An example could be the installation of a permanent ramp beside steps, so that wheelchair users can avoid the steps. Providing alternative routes with assistance may be acceptable but must consider the dignity, convenience and comfort of disabled people.

For example, if an assistance bell for disabled people is provided at an entrance, this must be maintained and answered promptly. Otherwise visitors could be waiting for long periods and in the rain or cold. If this is the case, it is unlikely to be deemed a reasonable means of avoiding the feature.

How to identify adjustments to be made

When considering making reasonable adjustments, the Equality and Human Rights Commission recommends undertaking some of the following actions:

  • planning in advance for the requirements of disabled people and reviewing the  reasonable adjustments in place
  • conducting access audits on premises
  • asking disabled customers for their views on reasonable adjustments
  • consulting local and national disability groups
  • drawing disabled people's attention to relevant reasonable adjustments so they know they can use the service
  • properly maintaining auxiliary aids and having contingency plans in place in case of failure
  • training employees to appreciate how to respond to requests for reasonable adjustments
  • encouraging employees to develop additional customer service skills for disabled people

Further information on the Equality Act and making reasonable adjustments is available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/new-equality-act-guidance/   

Information provided by Wai-Mei Chan, Access and Sustainability Adviser for The Centre for Accessible Environments

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