Under the DDA, “if it is impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use their service, businesses will have to consider making physical changes to their building.”
Ray Silverstein, employment law specialist at solicitor Browne Jacobson points out that the term “reasonable” includes factors such as cost and says the DDA seeks to create ‘a level playing field without an unreasonable burden on the employer’.
Disability consultancy Mouzer Associates made alterations to its premises in line with the DDA.
Changes included making the office as open plan as possible for easy access for blind and wheelchair-bound staff and customers; having separate textphones and videophones for incoming and outgoing calls; large 21-inch computer screens with blue text on a yellow background for greater legibility; and training staff in British Sign Language.
Founder and managing director Paul Mouzer emphasises the simplicity of many of the adjustments. ‘We painted the walls brighter colours to help partially sighted people, costing us the price of a tin of paint. We have lowered counters in the kitchen and have lower coathangers for wheelchair users. It’s hardly rocket science.’
Mouzer explains that there is ‘nothing to be fearful of’ when making adjustments. ‘The most expensive change we made was installing a wheelchair ramp, which was around £500, and the benefits to us easily outweigh the costs.’
He suggests that businesses adopt ‘a common sense approach and talk to an expert’ before embarking on major changes.
Silverstein agrees, citing the story of a restaurant that forced a blind customer to carry his guide dog across the dining area, as an example of not employing common sense.
‘Most employers know what is reasonable and what isn’t, but you can get advice from the suppliers of equipment and occupational health specialists,’ he adds.
As Silverstein points out, the consequences of ignoring the DDA can be pretty severe.
‘If a disabled customer or employee takes legal action against you and is successful, the awards can often be around £5,000 to £10,000. And with many lawyers operating on a no-win, no-fee basis it is easier than ever before to embark on litigation.’
More information on the DDA can be found at www.disability.gov.uk.