The introduction of Part 3 of the DDA means businesses are under legal obligation to open up jobs and services to people with disabilities. Elspeth Grant suggests a number of ways of achieveing this without succumbing to stress or bankrupting your company
29 October 2004
So DDA is upon us. Have businesses gone under because of this new act? Hopefully not. Anyone remember the Millennium bug? Scaremongering back in 1999 had businesses wondering if they'd be able to operate come the New Year; paranoia was rife on whether the correct provisions had been made.
Let's get things into perspective. The UK economy survives because, on the whole, we're an entrepreneurial nation who wants to get on with work, spend, save and enjoy. That's good because we're still doing well, especially when compared to our EU neighbours. What many people are forgetting in the whole DDA debate is that we are all in the one economy. Our businesses feed off each other to survive. Executive teams, sole traders and partnerships should be focusing on areas of core competence, whatever their product or service. Revenue generation -- that's where their attention should be.
So where does that leave the DDA? Well, it's now legislation. It's compulsory for businesses of all sizes to ensure that their premises and services are accessible to people with disabilities. Firms with fewer than 15 employees have the same responsibilities as larger businesses.
Does that mean that everyone is compliant? Well, no. One recent survey indicated that 75 per cent of organisations were unprepared when the deadline passed. Let's not panic though. Unlike the Millennium bug, one minute past midnight on the day of reckoning does not spell disaster. What's important is a willingness to do something about it. It's worth considering the following points:
Know the law
Businesses now have to make 'reasonable adjustments' to their premises in order to make their services accessible to disabled people. These are a way of levelling the playing field and may include putting Braille information in lifts or providing an adapted telephone for someone with a hearing impairment
Use your common sense
Assess your business carefully and consider potential obstacles from the physical environment, such as stairs or uneven flooring, to your ability to communicate with customers and staff with disabilities. Review your procedures and company policy to ensure they are not discriminatory to disabled customers or staff
Consult an expert
Undertake an access appraisal with a professional access auditor who can advise what you need to do to get things up to the required standard
Make an action plan. Some aspects of your business may need to be altered immediately to comply with the legislation, while others can be added to an ongoing maintenance programme
Don't worry needlessly
Problems and solutions will vary from business to business. The law states that you can make alterations in the following ways: removing obstacles, altering your premises (adding a ramp, putting up clearer signage), finding ways to avoid a problem (changing the layout of an office) and providing a service or alternative means of access (installing a hearing loop for people with hearing difficulties)
Making changes can be costly
If the result of an access audit is that the cost of a modification could threaten to put you out of business, this should be noted in your building's assessment report and attempts made to find a more reasonable solution that will still enable you to comply with the law. Access audits can make recommendations which include management solutions and transference of risk to third parties
Just because your business does not have any disabled customers does not mean you are exempt from the law. Business responsibilities under the DDA are anticipatory therefore you still need to comply. What happens if you don't? Well, you can expect damage to your brand name and expose yourself to the risk of litigation with no limit to damages
The law's here, that's fact. Businesses shouldn't bury their heads in the sand. Compliance through coercion can all too often be the default approach when new legislation is introduced. Focusing on the opportunistic benefits is perhaps more appropriate and certainly easier to deal with.
We still need businesses and service providers to focus on what their core output objectives are. Let's hope they realise that by embracing the DDA they could be helping themselves by employing new talent or even opening up opportunities of tapping in to the estimated £50 billion of spending power that the 8.7 million disabled people in the UK have - now there's an incentive.
Elspeth Grant is managing director of AAAconsult, a DDA and access audit firm
Facts surrounding disability in the UK
Since 1990, 682 disabled people in this country have been killed through hate crimes, mercy killings, fear, prejudice and costs of care
In a recent survey, 22 per cent of disabled respondents said they have experienced harassment in public
There are 10 million disabled adults in Great Britain covered by the DDA - more than one in five of the adult population
Three-quarters of businesses have one or more entry problems for disabled people
Disabled people's spending power is estimated at more than £50 billion
Disabled people are more than twice as likely as non-disabled people to have no formal academic or vocational qualifications
More than one million disabled people want to work but don't have a job
One in eight young disabled people said they had been turned down for a paid job for a reason related to their disability
Sources: www.timetogetequal.org.uk Disability Rights Commission