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November 10, 2004

Small firms 'risk court' over deaf

From: BBC News, UK - Nov 10, 2004

Nearly three quarters of small firms in Wales are at risk of court action under new disability discrimination laws, claims a deaf charity.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf people (RNID) found 70% of firms had not made any changes to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing customers.

There are an estimated 475,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in Wales.

But Jonathan Deacon of Newport Business School, said: "Small firms have difficulty making sense of the laws."

The RNID survey found just over half of Welsh business, 53%, were aware of the implications of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) which came into force last month.

But is also discovered that few had taken any practical steps to help deaf and hard-of-hearing customers.

The charity has offered to supply free awareness training and fact sheets to small and medium-sized firms.

Jim Edwards, Director RNID Cymru, said: "RNID expected to see small businesses make significant changes in order to meet the requirements of the new disability legislation.

"This research shows there is much that remains to be done to encourage small businesses to make the simple, cost-effective changes necessary to embrace the needs of disabled customers."

Les Clarke, of Nantyglo, in Blaenau Gwent, has campaigned for disability rights for 20 years and is chairman of the 200-strong Disability Alliance Blaenau Gwent.

He said: "People should be encouraged to learn sign language, it is a recognised language such as any other minority language.

"I think it is very difficult for deaf people to be recognised and get their rights as disabled people, mainly because the public perceive them as being able bodied, because there is no disability noticeable.

"Deaf people are often not perceived as disabled people."

The RNID has printed 340,000 business cards which deaf and hard of hearing people can give to firms which they think could do more to comply with the new disability discrimination laws.

'So many forms'

But Jonathan Deacon, head of marketing and entrepreneurship at Newport Business School, said small and medium-sized firm wanted to comply with the legislation but were inundated with other legal requirements as well.

He said: "The issue is a genuine one of there being so many forms of legislation that impact on small firms, really the disability act is just another piece of paperwork to deal with.

"Small firms have difficulty making sense of it.

"If there's one think that pressure groups could do, they could look at ways of assisting small firms in how to implement the best practice."

Last month, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain warned that changes in the law to help disabled people are not enough.

He told a meeting of Disability Wales in Cardiff that attitudes have to alter across society.

The Neath MP, who is also leader of the Commons, said changes to the Disability Discrimination Act were vital.

He said they would bring improved access for disabled people to shops, pubs, gyms, libraries and doctors' surgeries.

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Published: 2004/11/10 06:55:11 GMT