It has been 20 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 this anniversary of the DDA and the significant progress that has been made since its 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.
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.”
Since its beginnings in 1991, BDF has been deeply encouraged to see some of the UK’s largest corporations engaging with disability – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because they recognise the major business benefits gained through securing an inclusive and diverse workforce. Now, in 2015, BDF represents over 300 organisations that are committed to being disability confident across all aspects of their business and are actively working towards establishing a fully inclusive working environment for their employees.
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.
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. In its recent State of the Nation report into the retention of disabled talent in the workplace, research indicated that a lack of skilled and confident line managers is a major barrier to the retention of employees with disabilities in the UK. Other key findings include a lack of targeted development opportunities and not enough awareness of disability in the workplace.
Furthermore, BDF’s recent Walkaway Pound research has highlighted that 75 per cent of disabled customers have left a business or service provider because of poor disability awareness, a lack of understanding and inaccessible products and services.
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.
“Legislation only generates change if it can be used. Disabled people must be able to enforce their rights not to be discriminated against and employers and service providers must know that they can be taken to court. It has always been difficult to bring a claim against a service provider in the courts but the recent introduction of employment tribunal fees and the lack of free or affordable legal advice has made it yet more difficult for disabled people to bring a discrimination claim. Rights that cannot be enforced aren’t really rights at all. It seems now that future change will come from employers and businesses who realise the value of disabled and older workers and customers to their organisations,” added Gor.