A new, explicit legal duty to provide accessible information should be included in the government’s equality bill, according to peers.
The amendments to the bill were proposed by the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low during its committee stage in the Lords.
Lord Low, a vice-president of the charity RNIB, told fellow peers his amendments would impose a duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to avoid “substantial disadvantage” caused by providing inaccessible information.
He said the ability to handle information was “critical to being able to participate effectively in society”, but was largely denied to blind and partially-sighted people and others who are “print disabled”.
He said removing barriers created by inaccessible information was “as important to the inclusion of those with print disabilities as the removal of the barriers created by physical features is to those with physical disabilities”.
And he said a Department for Work and Pensions survey of public bodies found only a quarter of them offered information in large print, eight per cent on disk or CD, and just four per cent advertised the availability of Braille.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell said accessible information was “as important to blind and deaf people as a ramp is to me, a wheelchair-user” and that blind friends “still have to ask, and at times beg, for information in a suitable, accessible format”.
There was also wide backing for Lord Low’s amendments from other peers.
Baroness Thornton, for the government, said she felt “humbled” and “ashamed” that the government and other public bodies were still struggling to provide accessible information, but suggested the emphasis should be on compliance with existing implied legal duties.
But she said the government would examine Lord Low’s amendments to see if it could come up with a way of improving access to information through the bill.
The government also introduced a new amendment to the bill – backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – which makes it clear that disabled people should not be charged for the cost of introducing reasonable adjustments.
Baroness Thornton said concerns had been raised by disability organisations, and in a speech during the bill’s second reading by Baroness Campbell.
Baroness Campbell said she was “thrilled” by the new amendment, and Lord Low said he welcomed “the government’s change of heart and their habit of listening and reflecting”.
14 January 2010