In Britain we have pretty good disability discrimination legislation. It’s quite extensive and covers physical access, employment and more. The Disability Discrimination Act came into force in 1995 – eighteen years ago. It’s been updated and strengthened multiple times since then – in 1996, 1999, 2004 before it finally ceased to exist and was instead included in much broader legislation called the Equality Act 2010. This included seven different protected characteristics which included disability, and states that if two people with protected characteristics have conflicting needs, then the disabled persons needs comes first.
However, I believe there are two particular flaws with this legislation – the first is getting companies, building owners and service providers to pay attention, fully comprehend and implement the law.
The second flaw is around enforcement. I will cover this issue in the post ‘Why we’re losing the war on Disability Access.’
Access Made Easy:
1) Access is generally about common sense. This includes putting a little thought behind decisions such as the layout of shop, and quite simply treating people with disabilities like you’d wish to be treated. For example – many shops have hearing loop systems, but don’t turn them on, fix them when they break, or train staff how to use the system. If you put a blue badge space outside your shop door – don’t use it for storage instead! If you’re installing a ramp to help wheelchair users and those with mobility problems, don’t put it at the back of the building. The closer it is, the better. The law states that it’s not enough just to have an adaptation – but to make sure that it’s usable.
2) Access doesn’t have to be expensive. The law asks for reasonable adjustments, and does make allowances for cost. It wouldn’t be expected that a small shop knock their entire shop down to replace it with a fully accessible one, or to install a permanent ramp. There are always ways to improve access though – such as a lightweight ramp that can be moved, a doorbell placed outside to allow people to call for help if needed, a portable hearing loop system, etc.
3) Never underestimate staff training. I have never had decent Equality and Diversity training, despite working for a range of councils, charities, universities and private businesses. It’s usually a patronising online module that tells you nothing about what it’s like to be disabled. There are lots of different kinds of disabilities out there and stereotypes attached to them. Some are harmful, some are just assumptions. Some I’ve heard just in the last week include:
• Wheelchair users cannot walk at all because their legs don’t work.
• AHDH is a fad, and is just naughty-child-syndrome.
• If someone is deaf just shout at them.
• If your child has Autism, then you should just be a parent and watch them at all times rather than expect their environment to be made safe.
• Only older people can have mobility problems.
Staff that have good training are going to lessen the chance of causing offensive, having complaints made about them – and more importantly increase the chances of meeting the needs of the customer and getting them to return again.
4) Accessible shops, or places with good customer service will get more custom. Disabled people have money to spend too. And to me – a shop that could easily make adjustments and hasn’t says to me “you are not welcome.” It’s mostly because the shops in the town centre I live in is so hard to get around I moved to mostly online shopping.
A few months ago I wanted to buy a gift for someone, and only had one day to buy it. My problem, however, was that my wheelchair was out of action. I checked online to make sure it was in stock, and headed to Homebase. The item I wanted was a plant – so I hoped if I could park outside the door, and go straight to the plant display nearest the door, I might just make it. However, I couldn’t see the plant – so I staggered over to customer service, already way past my walking limit. I explained to the lady I couldn’t stand long and couldn’t find what I wanted. She immediately brought a chair round to me without asking, then went to find the item, rang it up and called for someone to carry it out to my car for me. It seems simple, but it was so rare to be treated this way it actually brought tears to my eyes, which I know is pathetic! I wrote to thank Homebase and the lady in question and hope all their staff are like that. Next time I need to buy something gardening related – I’ll head to Homebase.
It’s important to note – most people will not complain about the step in the doorway, the packed displays, the till they can’t reach – they just won’t return.
5) New builds – get it right! While there is a certain level of understanding that it’s harder for older buildings, if you’re creating a new public building then please make an effort. The town I live in recently opened a massive shiny new art facility that cost £28 million. I was therefore incredibly disappointed they got some really basic things wrong. There was a whole list of issues – but a couple of the problems included a disabled toilet with an automatic light that turned off after a minute. So the person had to get off the toilet, and go outside into the corridor to turn it back on, or have fun in the total darkness. The second was the disabled parking was blocked off by locked bollards. In order to park, a wheelchair user had to pull up in the road, get their wheelchair out, head the 30m or so into the building, find a member of staff, wait for them to unlock it, go back to the car, put the wheelchair back, drive into the space, and get the wheelchair back out again. (For for many non-wheelchair users the distance was too far to reach the building from the road.) It’s very frustrating when such basic things are done so badly.
Finally: 6) It’s the law so just do it!
In terms of access, which simple changes would make your life easier?