The body that runs the House of Commons has pledged to improve access for disabled visitors to parliament.
The new House of Commons Diversity and Inclusion Scheme, developed in line with Labour’s Equality Act, sets out a strategy for the next three years.
Key areas of the scheme will see equality issues “embedded” in the mainstream work of the Commons, improved access to Commons facilities, and better support for disabled staff and employees from other groups “protected” by the act, such as those from black and minority ethnic communities.
The scheme promises that inclusion of disabled people will be “integral to the way we operate”, with a “major focus” on training staff who deal most frequently with Commons visitors, and new “tailored” tours for specific groups, such as those with mobility impairments.
Among key access issues authorities will examine is the lack of space in some Commons committee rooms.
In November, a disabled activist threatened to take legal action against the House of Commons after he and other wheelchair-users were refused entry to a debate on accessible transport.
Under the new equality scheme, the Commons authorities will also consider providing pagers for MPs with hearing impairments, so they can be alerted to the division bell that warns them they need to vote.
And they will examine whether they can relocate the Commons shop, which is inaccessible for wheelchair-users, and try to improve the response to requests for reasonable adjustments.
The scheme also says the Commons will consider targeting young disabled people – particularly wheelchair-users – for potential internships, allowing more flexible working options, and improving information for disabled people about parliamentary facilities, particularly on the parliament website.
The new scheme also pledges to increase the number of disabled people and other protected groups employed in the Commons. At present, about five per cent of the workforce are disabled people.
John Bercow MP, the Commons speaker, said: “It’s vital that we do all we can to become a more equitable society and the new diversity and inclusion scheme will help us to do our part in the House of Commons.”
5 March 2012