BDF tribute to DDA Anniversary

This month marks twenty years since pioneering legislation protecting the rights of disabled people was enacted in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Business Disability Forum (BDF), formerly known as the Employers Forum on Disability, remains proud to have supported the partnership between business and the disabled rights movement that helped shape the provisions of the Act.

Two decades on, BDF reflects upon the significant progress that has been made since the DDA’s inception, with businesses in the private and public sectors increasing their positive engagement with disability and levelling the playing field for disabled employees and customers.

With its robust set of guidelines for business, the DDA undoubtedly played a vital part in helping companies to improve their disability performance and, in turn, strengthened the legal rights of disabled people to hold to account those companies that fell short.

The DDA, which has since been succeeded by the Equality Act, focussed on whether someone suffered discrimination as a result of their impairment, rather than whether their impairment disabled them. The Act’s strong focus on the responsibility of employers and service providers to make adjustments and remove barriers for disabled people has helped pave the way for the development of more inclusive workplaces and markets.

Bela Gor, Legal Director at BDF and the UK’s first specialist disability discrimination lawyer said:

“The DDA was unique in discrimination legislation in recognising that true social change would only be achieved by being proactive. The DDA prohibited discriminatory or less favourable treatment of disabled people but it also, more importantly, required employers and service providers to act to remove disabling barriers. The reasonable adjustment provisions of the DDA forced employers and service providers to recognise that treating everyone equally or the same is not enough to level the playing field and enable disabled people to take their rightful place as employees, consumers and citizens.

Everyone is different, and twenty years on businesses have come to realise that you have to treat people differently in order to treat them fairly.”

The progress over the past 20 years has been considerable and while there is much to be celebrated, BDF urges businesses to avoid becoming complacent. BDF’s recent Walkaway Pound research has highlighted that 75% of disabled customers have left a business or service provider because of poor disability awareness and understanding.

The evidence illustrates that there is more to do to ensure that disabled people can access products and services in the same way as non-disabled people. With the value of the ‘Purple Pound’ currently estimated at over £212bn per year, there is much incentive for businesses to do more to secure the loyalties of disabled customers.

There are a number of initiatives taking place to mark this important anniversary, one of which includes a dedicated DDA supplement in the Guardian newspaper, published on Wednesday 30 September. BDF is delighted to have sponsored this supplement that will help to raise further awareness of the considerable progress made over the past 20 years.

Moreover, BDF is pleased to support disability charity Scope who have launched a new appeal to record and mark the movement that led to this landmark law as well as honouring the unsung heroes and their tireless campaigning.

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What to do if you Face Discrimination at Work

It’s a sad fact that thousands of disabled people are discriminated against in the workplace every year. In the working world, discrimination can come in a range of shapes and sizes – whether because of bullying or harassment at work or due to employer procedures that don’t offer the same opportunities to everyone.

If you think you’ve been discriminated against at work, it’s essential to know where you stand. Here’s what you should do.

1 – Don’t do nothing

If discrimination arises, the very worst thing you can do is nothing at all. Even in the unlikely event that your employer isn’t found to be discriminating against you, it’s important to raise the issues you have for your peace of mind.

Don’t suffer in silence – talk to workmates, friends and family and let them know what you’re going through. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved.

2 – Complain informally

The best way to let your employer know about your circumstances is to speak to someone at your company about what you’re going through. Let your line manager know about your issues and provide written confirmation of the complaints you’ve brought about and what happened during the meeting. Many people find that issues at work can be easily eradicated with a productive informal meeting.

Ensure that the person you speak to isn’t directly involved in the discrimination or the meeting may become personal and less productive.

However, because discrimination is such a serious issue, some employers prefer a more formal meeting from the outset to ensure that the problem is addressed properly.

3 – Complain formally

If your informal meeting doesn’t resolve your problems, you should bring your discrimination case to your company formally in an Employment Tribunal. Write a dated letter stating your grievance to your company’s HR or personnel department and use as much detail as possible.

You can enlist the help of your trade union to draft a letter and act alongside you during the process. You’ll then have a meeting with representatives where you can state your problems in person and detail how you’d like the matter to be resolved.

After this process, your work will let you know how they intend to deal with the problem and you can appeal against the decision, or go to an employment tribunal.

4 – Use an employment tribunal

If you’re still not happy with how your work have dealt with your discrimination case, you can take them to an employment tribunal. It does cost £1200 to make a discrimination claim to this independent tribunal, although you may be able to get financial help, depending on your circumstances. It’s also important to note that you’re not guaranteed to win.

You need to act quickly: complaints at employment tribunals must be made no later than 3 months after the initial complaint.

If you’re making a claim through an employment tribunal it’s important to seek the help of trusted legal professional who can represent you. It’s important to attend the tribunal hearing, otherwise it could be held without you. If you were found to have no good reason to miss the meeting you could be awarded less compensation.

Author – Howells Solicitors specialise in helping disabled people with discrimination cases. If you’ve faced harassment at work because of your disability, they can help you to fight bullying by representing you at an employment tribunal. Find out more by visiting Howells online today.

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Guest Blog: Braille Signs in the Workplace

We now live in a world that’s embraced equal opportunities. There are no reasons why people who are blind visually impaired can’t do a wide variety of the jobs that are on offer in today’s business environment. Such workers need a sense of independence whilst at their place of employment, as opposed to having to rely on others to help them find their way around. Braille signs can give those with sight problems a clear picture of not only how to navigate their way around a workspace, but can also alert them to any dangers too.

The Law on Braille Signs

There are two pieces of legislation that have been introduced since the mid 1990s that deal with how braille signs should be used in the workplace. The first of these is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), which made it illegal for businesses to treat anyone with any kind of disability, not just the visually impaired, less favourably than other people. This was the first act that made it law for all businesses to create braille or tactyle signs that mirrored their existing signs.

The second piece of legislation is the Equality Act 2010 (EA). This lays out a framework of anti-discrimination rules, expanding on the remit of the DDA. It made employers and businesses put in extra provisions for those with disabilities. For instance, a normally sighted person would not necessarily need a warning sign for a single step up to a doorway out-side a building. However, a blind person could trip on this so it may be appropriate to put a braille sign around such a step if the company employs visually impaired workers.

DDA and EA Audits

The DDA and EA state that special provisions should be made within the workplace so that blind and visually impaired people are not disadvantaged by their disability. When a company takes on a blind worker they must conduct a special audit where an agency works with this person reviewing various aspects of the way in which the company functions. On the basis of this a report is produced that gives guidelines on where and when braille signs should be used throughout the business. It’s often not just a case of converting normal signs into braille signs, but also creating signs for staircases, doors, coffee machines – anything that a normally sighted worker would have no difficulty finding.

Auditing Companies

Most companies do not have the ability to conduct DDA and EA audits off their own back. In these instances they should find a suitable company to work with their visually impaired or blind employee to assess how to best fit braille and tactyle signs. Often companies that manufacture such signs can also provide auditing services – especially those that make bespoke signs as giving the correct advice is a large part of their business. The RNIB hold an extensive list of such companies and can put businesses in contact with one in their local area.

Different Types of Braille Signs

There are two main types of different types of braille signs that can feature in the business environment. These are as follows:

  • Building Signs – These are signs that alert people to various features in a building, such as staircases and toilet facilities. They include the special braille buttons you’ll see in lifts and directional signs that can help blind and visually impaired people navigate a building. 
  • Warning Signs – These signs alert people to all kinds of dangers and the safety measures that have been put in place to protect people within the workplace. Examples include signs that tell people to put on their hard-hats or wear ear protectors as well as fire doors. 

Types of Braille

There are a number of standards for the manufacture of braille signs. These include specific guidelines as to how the braille is set out on a sign and how it is positioned. Signs that relay short messages must use type 1 braille, which is a letter for letter substitution method and signs that have longer messages to convey use type 2 braille. This is a symbol system in its own right that includes characters for common words as well as punctuation marks, allowing the sign maker to condense long phrases into small spaces.

Physical Requirements for Braille Signs

Braille signs must be set out in a certain manner. Normal signs are required to have a tactyle matt finish so that blind and visually impaired people can tell there is a sign on the wall. It is interesting to note that a significant percentage of people with sight problems cannot read braille and thus all signs must have embossed letters that can be scanned by hand in addition to braille. A special indicator, usually semi-circular in shape, is placed on the sign at the same level as the braille symbols, allowing readers to quickly find them. Although there are guidelines for the size and levels of embossing for each symbol there are no stipulations as to what materials are used in the manufacturer of such signs. Businesses are free to make signs out of polished hardwood, chrome or even bronze if they see fit in order to make braille signs fit in with their existing company image.

The Difference made by Braille Signs

The difference that braille signs in the workplace make to blind and visually impaired people cannot be underestimated. For people who have sight problems the world can be a dark and daunting place – braille signs provide them with a vital sense of awareness of their environment and any dangers contained within. In addition to this important information it also gives these people a sense of well-being and relaxation – knowing that their needs are being taken into consideration.

Lee Newell manages online marketing, blogging and social media for the experts in products for business – ESE. The company supplies a range of signs from directional and identification signs for use on doors, warning signs and fire exits. For more information see http://www.esedirect.co.uk/

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An Essential Service for People Interested in Disability

It’s really important for us at Evenbreak to keep up to date with all the current news and events regarding disabililty, and this can be very time-consuming, particularly as the media tends to have its own agenda where disability is concerned. Thankfully, there is a service which helps to keep us informed and saves time (I have no relationship with the service other than as a very happy customer!). Learn more here from its founder, John Pring:

Disability News Service was set up to fill a gap.

Four years ago, despite the thousands of newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs published in the UK, not one of them focused on disability-related news.

There was lots of comment – particularly on the web – there were magazines that were strongly feature- and comment- based, and there were newspapers like the Guardian that often ran disability-related news stories. But there was nothing that just did news, and just did disability.

Just as importantly, the news stories that were written rarely featured the voices of disabled people themselves; they were more likely to quote a chief executive from one of the large non-user-led disability charities, or some other non-disabled professional from the disability and social care world.

There was a big hole that needed filling, and it was why I launched DNS in April 2009.

Four years on, it is still the UK’s only provider of in-depth news on the issues that affect the lives of disabled people, such as discrimination and equality, independent living, poverty, benefits, and human rights.

Or, to put it another way: stories about disabled people who are deprived of the right to board a bus, are denied a living income, have been forced to live in an institution, or have become a victim of a disability hate crime.

As well as the serious stuff, I also cover some of the important developments in arts and culture – particularly disability arts – and Paralympic sport.

DNS is set up like a niche news agency, although on a much smaller scale, and with some subtle differences.

Every Friday, I email my subscribers with the news stories I have written that week. Usually, there are between 7 and 12 of them, all independently-researched. My subscribers can use those news stories in their email newsletters or magazines, and particularly on their websites and blogs. Links to the stories – once they have been posted on their web platforms – can be used as the basis for messages sent out via Twitter, and posted on Facebook and other social media.

The stories allow subscribers to keep their websites updated with high quality content, boost their Google search ratings, and increase their followers on Twitter. They also alert their staff to what leading disabled people are saying about some of the crucial issues, and keep them up-to-date with important policy and campaigns developments.

So where do I find my stories?

As DNS ages – let’s say matures – more and more of the news is coming from disabled people contacting me directly, but I also attend protests and conferences, launches and parliamentary meetings. And there are the inevitable press releases, as well as ideas that come from Twitter and Facebook and from checking the websites of the national media.

Unsurprisingly, the government’s programme of cuts and reforms to disability benefits and services has taken centre stage over the last three years. From the direct action protests of Disabled People Against Cuts, to the many judicial reviews of decisions to cut spending, the continuing controversy over the actions of the fitness-for-work contractor Atos Healthcare, and the – how should I put it? – questionable accuracy of the coalition’s statistical welfare announcements, every week produces something new that could impact on the lives of every disabled person in the country.  

Although many of these developments are mentioned on blogs and tweets, and in comment pieces, only rarely are they dealt with as news stories, ie with a focus on the facts, figures and evidence, while DNS also ensures that disabled people have their voices heard.

A big part of what DNS does is to breaks exclusive stories that would otherwise not find their way into the public arena. During the London 2012 Paralympics, DNS covered the glory and the excitement of the games, but it was also the only news organisation that consistently raised concerns about the access issues that sadly took away a little bit of the gloss.

DNS has also exposed the dubious influence of the US insurance giant Unum on the UK welfare agenda over the last 20 years; it broke the story that Baroness [Jane] Campbell would be the first peer allowed to bring a personal assistant onto the floor of the House of Lords; it has run campaigning stories about the criminal justice system’s failures on disability hate crime; and it persuaded several Paralympians to speak in advance of London 2012 about the importance of disability living allowance, as the government prepared to slash spending and replace the benefit with the new personal independence payment.

And now, as a way of recognising the many talented disabled people I come across in my working life, and some of those I don’t, DNS has launched The List, which aims – eventually – to rank the most influential disabled people in the UK.

But The List will only work – like the news service itself – if DNS continues to listen closely and carefully to the views and opinions of disabled people themselves.

John Pring is the founder and editor of Disability News Service, www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Welcome new discrimination legislation

On 28 February 2013, the Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013 became law.

The Act removes the last significant forms of discrimination in law from our society.This is a fantastic moment for people with mental health problems and a big step towards breaking down the prejudice surrounding mental health.

The new Act removes three legal barriers that contribute to a stigmatised view of mental health problems. It also sends a wider message that discrimination of people with mental health problems will not be tolerated.

The three provisions in the Act:

  • repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, under which a Member of the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland Assembly automatically loses their seat if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act for more than six months
  • amend the Juries Act 1974 to remove the blanket ban on “mentally disordered persons” undertaking jury service
  • amend the Companies (Model Articles) Regulations 2008 which states that a person might cease to be a director of a public or private company “by reason of their mental health”

These three pieces of legislation fed into the discriminatory and outdated idea that people with mental health problems can never recover, and cannot be trusted to participate in social, political or economic life.

It’s hard to believe it took this long to give mental health the same legal status as physical health issues, but we are finally there. For more information see here.

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Guides in Pre-Employment Health Questions.

A lot of, mainly positive, things changed in the most recent discrimination legislation, the Equality Act 2010. One of the changes was that it is now illegal to ask candidates about health or disability related questions until the job offer stage, other than for monitoring purposes or to identify relevant reasonable ajustments which might be required in the recruitment process. This has left both employers and disabled job seekers with some confusion. Thankfully, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has produced three documents – a guide for employers (incidentally in bright blue), a guide for job applicants (in a very dazzling bright orange), and a research report (using a pink so bright and dazzling it necessitates the need for sun glasses). Choice of covers aside, these are useful for a number of reasons. Section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 makes it generally unlawful to ask questions about disability and health before you make a job offer. However, the employer still has a duty to provide reasonable adjustments as required throughout the recruitment process. On first reading there may appear to be a conflict here.

The first guide – Pre-employment health questions: Guidance for employers on section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 – is aimed at employers. It discusses the purposes of section 60, what and who it applies to, which questions it prohibits and exceptional circumstances when some health-related questions can be asked. So long as the employer is confident about what is and isn’t allowed, and how to explain why a particular questions is allowed, they should avoid litigation. However, if they ask questions which can’t be justified and the candidates fails to be offered the job, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to accusation. The guide gives a number of helpful potential scenarios to explain how it works, and a checklist for employers. I suggest this guide is required reading for anyone involved in the recruitment process.

Another guide – Pre-employment health questions: Guidance for job applicants on section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 – is, obviously, aimed at job seekers. It explains that, in general, employers are not allowed to ask questions related to disability or health issues before a job offer is made (that can be a conditional job offer – conditional on health checks even – but failing to go ahead and appoint a candidate on unjustifiable griounds relating to a disability or long-term health condition is still illegal). It also explains the exceptional circumstances when certain questions can be asked, and what to do if unacceptable questions are asked. As with the employers’ guide, there are a number of scenarios which help to clarify some of the subtleties.

The third document is a research report called Use of pre-employment health questions by employers. This reports the findings of research carried out by IFF Research on behalf of the EHRC on the recruitment practices of employers relating to collecting information about a job applicant’s health prior to the job offer being made.

The guides are free and can be accessed by clicking on the relevant links above. Whether you are an employer or a disabled job seeker, it is important that you know where you stand legally on this issue.

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Disability discrimination “by association”

People can be discriminated against not because of their own disability, but through association with someone else who is disabled. An example of this is given below.

Atlas Ward Structures Ltd is an engineering firm that employs around 1,000 workers. Mr Bainbridge was employed by the company as a temporary welder along with 12 other co-workers. His wife suffered from medical problems, and the company later conceded at the tribunal hearing that she is disabled for the purposes of discrimination law.

In late September and October 2011 Mr Bainbridge was told that his contract would not be renewed. He was “shocked”, as he had not understood that there was any likelihood of redundancies, and had expected to be kept on when his contract came to be renewed. He asked why he had been selected, but did not receive an answer. He believed that the reason was his wife’s disability. He suggested that the amount of time that he had had to take off work, particularly at short notice, had “irritated” the manager, and this was why he had been selected. At no point was Mr Bainbridge provided with a reason as to why it had been him, rather than any of the 12 or so other welders in the same temporary position.

The employment tribunal stated that the crucial issue was causation: why had Mr Bainbridge’s contract been selected for non-renewal? On the evidence before the tribunal, Mr Bainbridge was well respected, experienced and qualified, and generally well regarded by the company. His attendance record, save for the periods of leave he had taken at short notice, was good – there was “no obvious or apparent reason” why he had been selected. Mr Bainbridge’s unchallenged evidence was that other employees who had been taken on after him had had their contracts renewed.

The tribunal accepted, “in the absence of any other plausible reason”, that Mr Bainbridge had been selected because he had, on occasion, taken leave at short notice, causing the company some inconvenience. The tribunal found that “faced with the need to select workers, [the company] had decided to remove this possible future source of inconvenience…by selecting Mr Bainbridge”.

The tribunal awarded Mr Bainbridge £10,500 in compensation and made further recommendations about his reinstatement.

 

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