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October 27, 2003

Firms sidelining deaf people in DDA change

From: HR Gateway, UK - Oct 27, 2003

Author : HR Gateway

Brief Details

Next October the Disability Discrimination Act applies to all firms irrespective of size, and it appears as if many may be finding themselves in court cases taken by deaf or hard of hearing customers.

Well over two thirds of firms in the UK are not planning to make any changes to their premises in order to make products and services more accessible to the heard of hearing, claims a new survey today.

Changes to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) next October state that all firms now have to ensure equal access for goods and services, but the NOP survey for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) suggests that hard of hearing customers may be taking many court cases next year.

Of the 396 businesses contacted, 69% said that they were not planning to make any changes, with only one in 50 making the desired changes. Only two per cent were planning to train staff in deaf issues or install a loop system to aid hearing:

‘Deaf and hard of hearing customers are not expecting significant and costly changes to be made by small businesses, but under the DDA they do have the right to call for “reasonable adjustments” to be made.

‘Given that the spending power of disabled people in the UK is estimated at £50bn a year, it also makes good business sense for small enterprises to take proactive steps to make their services more accessible,’ said the head of the RNID, Dr John Low today.

Further findings from the survey suggest that 14% of firms had not even heard of the changes that come with Part III of the Act. In order to counter this the RNID is starting a campaign that aims to highlight the importance of the legislation across sectors.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) called on members to ensure that they are compliant with the Act, and said that because of their size, small businesses could offer the flexibility to meet the needs of deaf or hard of hearing customers:

'Small businesses are able to adopt a flexible approach to meet the needs of their deaf and hard of hearing customers. By doing this they can show how consumer focused they really are, while avoiding potential court action from dissatisfied customers.

'RNID's research highlights the need for small business to make minor adjustments to their business operations by October 2004,’ said the FSB’s Stephen Alambritis today.

A number of organizations have been pushing the message home to small businesses that it does not have to be expensive to make the changes. One such organization, Remploy, point out that once the changes are undertaken 90% of firms say the benefits outweigh the costs.

Adding a ramp not only benefits employee wheelchair users but also the three million people in the UK pushing around children, it claims. Think practical instead of costly. Instead of installing a lift, which may not be practical in limited space areas, consider providing a list of products on upstairs floors and arranging for staff to collect items.

Copyright HR Gateway Ltd 2002