Change to equality bill is access warning to service-providers


Disabled peers have again ensured that parts of the equality bill that protect disabled people from discrimination are as strong as similar measures in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Changes agreed by the government will mean that the bill – which will replace the DDA and other equality legislation – does not weaken the existing legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments in the DDA.

The amendment clarifies the steps a service-provider or employer should take to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments if a physical feature is causing a disabled person a “substantial disadvantage”.

Concerns had been raised at an earlier stage of the bill by the disabled peers Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Jane] Campbell.

Baroness Thornton, for the government, said the amendment sets out “key considerations that should be taken into account when the duty to avoid the disadvantage caused by a physical feature is being addressed – whether by an employer, someone providing services or someone delivering public functions.”

Baroness Campbell said: “The duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people lies at the heart of the DDA, and it is particularly important in relation to physical barriers that prevent disabled people accessing services, receiving public benefits or enjoying club facilities.

“It is a matter of exclusion or inclusion. While there have been huge improvements in accessibility in the past few years, all too many providers still do not understand their duties, or blatantly choose to disregard them.”

She said that using some of the “language” from the DDA in the equality bill – as the government had done – was “very important” and would confirm that the intention was to mirror the protection offered by the DDA “and not, as some providers think, to dilute the law” or make it easier for them to “disregard their duties”.

Baroness Thornton later paid tribute to the contributions of Baroness Campbell, Lord Low and their fellow disabled peer Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins in promoting the rights of disabled people through pushing for amendments to the bill as it passed through the Lords.

The bill has now been passed back to the Commons to approve the amendments agreed in the Lords – the final obstacle before it becomes law.

The personal care at home bill has also returned to the Commons, for MPs to consider amendments passed in the Lords.

A number of amendments approved during the bill’s report stage in the Lords would delay the implementation of free personal care at home for disabled and older people with the highest needs.

25 March 2010

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