Lead contact for the new BIFM network forum on access and inclusion Jean Hewitt looks at new Disability Equality Duty - a key part of the extension to the scope of the DDA
14 July 2006
Known as the general duty, the Disability Equality Duty is aimed at tackling systemic discrimination, and ensuring that public authorities build disability equality into everything that they do. It is recognised that the poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion experienced by many disabled people is not an inevitable consequence of their condition; it arises from attitudinal and environmental barriers which exist in society. This new duty will be a catalyst for attitudinal and cultural change across the public sector and facilitate a rapid improvement in disability equality.
This is, therefore, a very positive duty which builds in disability equality at the beginning of the process, rather than making adjustments at the end or retrospectively. It will bring about a shift from a legal framework which relies on individual disabled people complaining about discrimination to one in which the public sector becomes a catalyst for change, in line with the government's vision, as stated in Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People" (Strategy Unit, 2005): "By 2025, disabled people in Britain should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and will be respected and included as equal members of society"
This general duty applies to all public authorities, including:
government departments, executive agencies, and ministers
governing bodies of colleges, universities and schools
NHS trusts and boards
police and fire authorities
Crown Prosecution Service and the Crown Office
inspection and audit bodies
It also applies to certain publicly-funded museums and private organisations carrying out public functions but only where those functions are concerned . The overarching goal of the general duty is to promote equality of opportunity - by giving due regard to the elimination of discrimination and harassment and proactively promoting equal opportunities across all functions, including encouraging disabled people to engage in public life. This duty comes into force on 4 December 2006.
The DDA 2005 also gave the Secretary of State (in Scotland the Scottish Ministers) the power to introduce regulations setting out more specific duties which may assist public authorities in meeting their general duty. The key aspect of the specific duties is the requirement to produce a scheme.
This applies only to those authorities listed in the regulations, but includes government departments, many local authorities, universities, colleges, regional development agencies, and many health and regulatory bodies. In the process of producing their schemes, these key bodies must:
involve disabled people in producing the scheme and developing the action plan
identify how they will gather and analyse evidence to inform their actions and track progress
set out how they will assess the impact of their existing and proposed activities on
produce an action plan for the next three years
report on their progress every year and review and make appropriate revisions to this scheme at least every three years
These key bodies must demonstrate that they have taken the actions they have committed themselves to, and achieved appropriate outcomes.A public authority must include in its Disability Equality Scheme a statement of the authority's methods for assessing the impact of its policies and practices, or the likely impact of its proposed policies and practices, on equality for disabled persons. Impact assessment is not an end in itself but is merely the process which an authority will go through in order to identify and act on the need to modify policies and practices to have better regard to the need to promote disability equality.
The Disability Rights Commission has produced a code of practice on the Disability Equality Duty for England and Wales and a code of practice on the Disability Equality Duty for Scotland.
In relation to the specific duties and those bodies who will have to produce a Disability Equality Scheme, the Disability Rights Commission will have the power to issue compliance notices where it is satisfied that a public authority has failed to comply with its specific duties under the regulations, and can enforce the notices in the county or sheriff court. Jean Hewitt is a registered access consultant at Cromer Portland and chair of the BIFM's Access and Inclusion special interest groupAll public authorities have a duty
to give due regard to the need to:
1. Promote equality of opportunity between disabled people and other people
2. Eliminate discrimination that is unlawful
under the act
3. Eliminate harassment of disabled people that is related to their disability
4. Promote positive attitudes towards
5. Encourage participation by disabled
people in public life
6. Take steps to meet disabled peoples' needs, even if this requires more favourable treatment