The Facts and the Myths about
new legislation for disabled
Disability Rights Commission
This briefing contains information about:
The Disability Rights Commission’s Open4All campaign
Major new legislation to be introduced in 2004 - which will affect every high street in
Numbers of disabled people in Britain
Myths and Facts about the changes.
The Open4All Campaign
The Disability Rights Commission’s Open4All campaign, launched on 3rd October 2003,
will provide important new information and advice about a major change to the law which
comes into effect in one year’s time. It will affect anyone who provides a service to the
public – from the corner shop and the post office, to the local swimming pool and
The changes mean that from 1st October 2004, those who provide a service to the public
need to remove any physical barriers to ensure disabled people receive a fair service.
The change is an amendment to existing legislation – Part iii of the Disability Discrimination
In this briefing, The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) responds to recent stories on the
implications of the changes that are just plain wrong. We also provide a short briefing on
the new duties.
About the new legislation
From 1st October 2004, those people and organisations that provide a service to the public
will have to make reasonable changes to the physical features of premises to overcome
difficulties disabled people may face when using the service. These are major changes
requiring advanced planning which is why companies providing a service will have had nine
years to prepare for the new duties - since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination
Act in 1995.
Many small and large companies have already started planning for these changes, and if a
firm has not done so, then it’s crucial this process begins immediately. Changes to
physical features take time and need to be planned in a strategic way. Companies need to
look in advance to see what prevents disabled people using its service. Someone who
provides a service cannot just wait until a disabled person wants to use his or her service.
A wide range of services are covered by the DDA.. It could be the local shop, the Internet
café, the post office, a swimming pool or the doctors’ surgery. Whenever a person or
company is providing a service to the public then this is likely to be covered by Part iii of the
DDA. Some services such as education are covered by another part of the DDA, under
Part iv of the Act.
The DDA came into force in 1995 and various new duties under this piece of legislation
have come into effect since then. In 1999, new duties were introduced which involve, for
example, making “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people, such as providing extra
help or making changes to the way services are delivered. For example, offering
information in large print or ensuring that guide or assistance dogs are welcome.
In addition, if a physical feature – such as a staircase or some large steps - is making it
really difficult for disabled people to use a service then the business should be thinking of a
reasonable alternative method of providing the service. For example, if a solicitors’ office is
on the second floor of a building and there is no lift, then the company could consider
providing a home visit for a disabled client who couldn’t get into the office.
Those who provide a service should already be making these adjustments. They are fairly
straightforward and businesses who see the importance of good customer care will already,
by and large, be providing many of them.
The Myths and the Facts about the new law
There have been a number of ‘scare stories’ over recent years about the negative impact of
these changes to the law. Here are the facts behind the headlines.
Myth 1. ‘The Disability Discrimination Act will be a burden on business’
“In 2002 we concluded that the cost of extra regulation was nearly £6bn a year,
most of which was non-administrative. An IoD survey showed that members with
small businesses spent an average of six hours a week on red tape. In addition,
some members reported that they have taken on extra staff to cope with the extra
paperwork.” (Ruth Lea, Head of IoD Policy – IoD News).
According to Sharon Reuben, Artist & Guest Liaison at Mean Fiddler Music Group Plc,
there are very good business reasons why accommodating disabled people is important:
“Numbers of people attending our events increased dramatically as we improved access
…and equally, we continued to give the issues more and more consideration as the
numbers went up.” Pub giants Wetherspoons also consider it “commercially
advantageous” to accommodate the needs of disabled pub goers at its 650 premises. At
the other end of the brewery chain, the Sun Inn’s disability-friendly policy also makes good
Disabled people have an annual spending power of £50 billion – in today’s climate,
businesses ignore this at their peril.
Business has had nine years to plan for Part iii of the DDA with regard to physical access.
There has been plenty of opportunity for them to get advice about these duties on how to
build them into refurbishment plans at very low cost. Besides, providing access to services
will typically be very low cost.
2Myth 2. ‘The Law is Unreasonable’ Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
“What it comes down to is private litigation. Disabled people will sue and it will be
left to a judge to decide if the business in question was cavalier in its treatment of
them…And nor will the government help them: a plea for a tax break, a 100 per cent
capital allowance for small firms forced to install all manner of stuff to comply with
the new laws, has not made it past the lugubrious jowls of the Chancellor.” (Rod
Liddle – The Spectator – June 21 2003).
The law is all about reasonableness and balancing the rights of disabled people using
services with the resources of the business which is providing a service. The DRC doesn’t
want to see those providing the service in court, but ultimately if organisations do nothing
that is where they could end up.
Importantly, the DRC can provide practical advice, information and support to ensure those
providing a service are able to welcome disabled customers. Businesses should get in
touch with us by logging onto the DRC’s website at www.Open4All.org or by ringing the
DRC’s helpline on 08457 622633.
If businesses fail to take their responsibilities seriously we can either support an individual
customer in taking a complaint to court or can investigate on our own behalf.
The DRC is working with both the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the FSB
(Federation of Small Business) to persuade the Government of the case for tax breaks.
4Myth 3. ‘It will stimulate a litigation culture that will place additional costs on Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
“Business leaders fear ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers will encourage disabled people to
sue organisations which may have failed to comply with the DDA. Local authorities,
businesses, sports clubs, churches and other organisations are facing a huge bill for
installing ramps, lifts, new signs, wheelchair-friendly toilets and other features to
make their buildings comply.” (The Western Mail – Gwent – July 14 2003)
The truth of the matter is that that most cases get settled in conciliation – in 2001 only 53
cases were taken under Part 3 (covering policies, practices and procedures) of the DDA,
(Monitoring the DDA - Draft Report 2003). Thinking about and making the changes in time
for 2004 is in any event the sensible approach to avoiding potential legal claims. Going to
court isn’t easy for anyone and disabled people will not take this step lightly
6Myth 4. ‘The Law goes too far’ Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
“It is deeply, terribly, politically incorrect to suggest that those disabled people who
wish to worship there might be dependent on ad hoc acts of kindness from the able-
bodied members of the congregation.” (Rod Liddle – The Spectator – June 21
“The ‘ rights culture’ and the increasing tendency for duty-less rights that impose
obligations on others…(and) the pathologisation of stress and anxiety/depression
that, in earlier, more robust times, would have been seen as part of the normal
vicissitudes of life.” (Ruth Lea, Head of Policy at the IOD, IOD Journal)
In the last three years the DRC has responded to nearly a quarter of a million queries from
disabled people and businesses wanting advice and information on disability rights
legislation. In addition, the DRC’s casework team provided one-to-one legal support to
nearly six thousand disabled people (5,691) who have suffered discrimination either at work
We need legislation because of the outrageous discrimination against disabled people still
rife in society. The DRC has supported many cases and continues to do so. The 250,000
helpline calls and the 103 legal cases the DRC has run over three years is an example of
the fact that “ad hoc” acts of kindness are few and far between and cannot be relied on.
10Myth 5. ‘The DDA will close churches and threatens our heritage’ Formatted: Bullets and Numbering
“The Royal Victoria Hall, a famous landmark that is so much a part of our heritage,
is faced with a bill of £70,000 to re-build its tower so that the disabled have access.”
(Letter to The Kent and Sussex Courier – June 2002)
An article in the Welsh language weekly magazine ‘Golwg’ claimed that the
Presbyterian Church was considering the closure of a third of its chapels in Wales.
The article cited the DDA as one of the reasons behind the recommendation from an
auditor’s report. However, The DRC found out that these recommendations were
based on the deterioration of buildings and compliance with health and safety
regulations and not disability discrimination laws. (Golwg - 9/8/03).
There are many myths flying around that a building’s listed status will make it exempt from
the legal requirement to provide access for disabled people. This is untrue. Services from
historic buildings need to provide access and this can be done whilst still preserving their
historic features. There are many examples of churches making reasonable adjustments to
include disabled people ranging from ramps to induction loops. E.g. Broomknoll Parish
church in Monklands has recently installed a lift. Other examples of historic buildings
making reasonable adjustments include:
York Minster is a good example of a major ecclesiastical building that has been
adapted for access.
Cholmey House, Whitby Abbey - conversion of a 17th Century building as a visitor
centre providing access to the whole site. This won a Civic Trust Access Award in
Royal Opera House and Royal Academy forecourt schemes – integrated access for
Hampton Court – ramp installation.
Blickling Hall, Norfolk – lift inserted in tower
There are 8.6 million disabled people in Britain. This is an understatement bearing in mind
the difficulty in proving disability and the stigma attached to it. This number is growing as
many people become disabled in later life and the population is rapidly ageing. By the year
2004 an estimated 40 per cent of the UK’s population will be over 45 – the age at which the
incidence of disability begins to increase significantly. Additionally, it is a fact that many
disabilities are hidden. These include: arthritis, depression, diabetes, dyslexia and epilepsy
that all have a substantial impact on people’s lives.
If you have come across a myth about disability access and want
the facts, then call the DRC’s press office on the number below:
(Not for Publication)
020 7211 4363