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Thursday, 3 September 2009

Access to everyday services

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) gives disabled people important rights of access to everyday services. Service providers have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to premises or to the way they provide a service. Sometimes it just takes minor changes to make a service accessible.

Everyday services

Everyday services include services provided by local councils, doctors' surgeries, shops, hotels, banks, pubs, post offices, theatres, hairdressers, places of worship, courts and voluntary groups such as play groups. Non-educational services provided by schools are also included.

Access to services is not just about physical access, it is about making services easier to use for everybody.

DisabledGo and Direct Enquiries are online directories with detailed access information about venues across the UK. You can search the database, and filter results so that you can check whether a venue is suitable for your own individual needs.

Reasonable adjustments

Under the DDA, it is against the law for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably than other people for a reason related to their disability. Service providers have to make 'reasonable adjustments' to the way they deliver their services so that disabled people can use them.

Examples of reasonable adjustments include:

  • installing an induction loop for people who are hearing impaired
  • giving the option to book tickets by email as well as by phone
  • providing disability awareness training for staff who have contact with the public
  • providing larger, well-defined signage for people with impaired vision
  • putting in a ramp at the entrance to a building as well as steps

What is considered a 'reasonable adjustment' for a large organisation like a bank may be different to a reasonable adjustment for a small local shop. It is about what is practical in the service provider's individual situation and what resources the business may have. They will not be required to make changes which are impractical or beyond their means.

Failure or refusal to provide a service that is offered to other people to a disabled person is discrimination unless it can be justified.

Getting the most out of local services you use most often

It is a good idea to talk to the service providers you use most often, like your local doctor's surgery or a shop you use a lot, and explain exactly what your needs are. This will help them understand what adjustments they might need to make to the way they provide their services.

What to do if you feel you have been discriminated against

If you find it difficult to access a local service - for example, you cannot use a local takeaway or sandwich shop because the counter is too high - you should contact the organisation and let them know. It is in their interest to make sure everyone can use their service.

It is best to offer constructive suggestions as to how the service provider could improve the way their services are provided. Explain the difficulty you have in accessing their service and give examples of how other businesses have solved the problem, if you know of any.

If the service provider agrees to make an adjustment, ask if they can put it in writing. This will help you follow up your request if the service provider does not keep their promise.

Information for businesses on their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act

You may find it useful to refer service providers to the Equality and Human Rights Commission website for more information about making their services accessible to disabled customers. You could also tell them that the Equality and Human Rights Commission can advise service providers about their responsibilities under the DDA and how they can meet them.

The document 'Making access to goods and services easier for disabled customers' is a useful guide for service providers to their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act. It was published by the Disability Rights Commission, which was replaced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on 1 October 2007.

Where to get more formal help

If talking to a service provider about your needs doesn't result in any changes, the first place to turn for help and advice is the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The commission supports disabled people in securing their rights under the Disability Discrimination Act.

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