Anyone with a disability should, in theory, have the right to access the same everyday services as able-bodied people. Access doesn’t just mean the ability to gain physical entry to a building, but it also includes making services easy to use for everyone. But how effective are disability access laws, and how can things be improved to ensure the needs of all disabled people are being met?
Most countries have laws in place that protect disabled people from discrimination and promote their civil rights. This means, that if an organisation doesn’t meet the needs of disabled people, or make reasonable adjustments to improve their needs, they can potentially be prosecuted. It sounds pretty clear cut, but the reality isn’t quite as simple.
Disabled people have the rights to access everyday services, such as shops, banks, restaurants, pubs, theatres, places of religious worship, etc – in exactly the same way as any other person. They also have the rights to access technology, communications and information provided on the internet.
Service providers have to, by law, make reasonable adjustments to allow access for disabled people. Whether this involves installing a ramp, increasing the width of doors, installing automatic doors, setting up an induction loop, providing larger signage or fitting a wider toilet. There are a whole myriad of measures that can be taken to increase accessibility.
Whilst larger organisations have the means, knowledge and financial support to make reasonable adjustments to improve disabled access rights, smaller organisations might not be able to. If changes are beyond their means, or are impractical, then service providers are not expected to have to make any adjustments. For example, a larger supermarket’s adjustments will be different to the adjustments appropriate for a small corner shop. Therefore, there are likely to be many services that disabled people can’t access, despite well-meaning laws set in place.
What can be done?
As a disabled person, you need to inform the service provider about your circumstances, and offer any constructive suggestions if they aren’t meeting your needs. In many cases, it could be that the provider wasn’t aware that they weren’t accessible enough. Most businesses want to achieve a good reputation and gain respect from their customers, so really, it’s in the service provider’s interests to try and meet your needs wherever possible. There are organisations that can help provide examples and suggestions of what can be done to improve access rights, so make the service provider aware of these. It’s a good idea to get in writing any adjustment they agree to make, as this will assist further intervention, if required.
Other areas of concern
Whilst obvious ways to improve accessibility for the disabled include installing automatic doors, ramps or wheelchair-friendly toilets, many people and organisations might not consider how today’s technology and communication can impact on a disabled person. For example, any business operating online should ensure its website is accessible. Unfortunately, a lot of work still needs to be done to address discrimination within this area, although, slowly, recognition of this is improving.
Although the laws in place are there to protect the disabled, and improvements have been made over the years, there is still a long way to go. Only a small minority of disabled people actually take legal action against a non-complying service provider, and even then, it’s not a guarantee that improvements will be made.