Campaigners and disabled peers say two key sets of government amendments to the equality bill will transform disability rights in employment and education.
One series of amendments will tighten the ban – added to the bill at an earlier stage – on employers using health questionnaires to discriminate against job applicants with hidden impairments.
The amendments, added during the bill’s committee stage in the Lords, mean there will be fewer exceptions to the ban and will allow the Equality and Human Rights Commission to enforce the new laws.
The mental health charity Rethink said the amendments “could mark a turning point in equal opportunities”.
They were also welcomed by the disabled peers Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who said she felt “very strongly” about the amendments, “having gone through many interrogations from interview panels in the past”.
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, which has campaigned for more than ten years to outlaw the questionnaires, said banning them was “probably the single biggest difference and improvement that could be made through the equality bill” on employment of disabled people.
She said: “It will build confidence amongst people with HIV, mental health conditions and other hidden disabilities that they will be judged fairly, on merit.”
The second set of amendments lays out new measures to give disabled pupils the right to support at school through access to auxiliary aids and services – such as computer technology to help visually-impaired pupils, or adaptive keyboards – another key, longstanding demand of disability rights campaigners.
Education secretary Ed Balls had pledged to bring in such laws after they were recommended by the Lamb inquiry on special educational needs.
Baroness Royall, for the government, said it was “right and proper that all members of our society…have access to education and the educational aids they need in order to thrive as individuals and to participate as full members of our society.”
The disabled peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins said: “Too many disabled children face barriers to participation in learning and school life, because if they do not have a statement of special educational needs, they have no enforceable entitlement to extra support.”
She said the amendments would “provide many thousands of disabled pupils, and their parents, with the confidence to get the practical support they need to take part in school life”.
The amendments were also backed by Lord Low and both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.
Caroline Ellis, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, described the new measures as “a big gain” and “a very practical way of boosting inclusion”.
20 January 2010