Here’s a selection of the questions most frequently asked by people when we talk to them for the first time about the Disability Discrimination Act. If you have any questions about the Act itself, or about Configure UK that’s not answered here, don’t hesitate to contact us.

What is the purpose of the DDA?

The purpose of the Disability Discrimination Act, or the DDA as its commonly known as, is to prevent service providers treating disabled people less favourably than other customers or employees, and to oblige service providers to make reasonable adjustments to all aspects of their service to ensure that it is accessible to disabled people.

The DDA makes it unlawful for service providers to discriminate against disabled people in the service they provide by:

  • Refusing to provide a disabled person with a service which is provided to others
  • Offering service on different terms
  • Offering a different standard or manner of service
  • Failing to comply with a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ such that it makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use that service

Who is classed as a service provider?

The DDA defines a service provider as: "[someone]…concerned with the provision, in the UK, of services to the public or to a section of the public, with or without payment".

The only exceptions are certain transport vehicles or modes of transport such as a bus or plane, but not the bus station or the airport. Here are a few examples of service providers to whom the DDA applies:

Banks | Advice agencies | Local councils | Hotels | National parks Pubs | Building societies | Sports stadia | Post offices | Charities Theatres | Voluntary organisations | Art galleries | Cinemas Museums | Places of worship | Leisure centres | Shops Government departments & agencies

Who is classed as disabled?

The DDA defines a disabled person as someone with a ‘physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day to day activities’.

In addition to customers who use wheelchairs or who have mobility problems, there are millions of potential customers affected by some degree of hearing loss, learning disabilities, facial disfigurement, visual impairment, mental illness, dyslexia, or a condition such as arthritis or incontinence.

The following statistics are taken from a wide-ranging survey undertaken by the Office of Population Census and Statistics between 1985 and 1988. This is the most comprehensive information we have about people with disabilities in Great Britain:

  • 8 million people affected by diseases relating to arthritis (source: Arthritis Care)
  • 8.7 million people with some degree of hearing loss (source: RNID)
  • Over 1 million people with a learning disability (source: MENCAP)
  • Over 250,000 people with severe facial disfigurement (source: Changing Faces)
  • Nearly 1 million blind or partially sighted people (source: RNIB)
  • Almost 70% of disabled adults are 60 or over (source: (OPCS)
  • Currently 40% of the UK population are aged over 45, the age at which the likelihood of disability begins to increase significantly (source: OPCS)
  • Over 90% of visually impaired adults are aged 60 or over (source: OPCS)
  • Over 360,000 children under 16 have one or more disabilities representing 3% of all children under 16 (source: OPCS)

What are my responsibilities as a service provider?

The DDA has been introduced in three phases:

It became unlawful for service providers to treat a disabled person less favourably than a non-disabled person for a reason relating to their disability.

Service providers were obliged to alter practices, policies, and procedures that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use their services.

Obliged to make adjustments through the use of auxiliary aids and services to assist a disabled person in accessing their services.

Service providers obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to physical features of their premises that present barriers to access for disabled people by removing or altering the feature, or by providing reasonable ways of avoiding the feature, or by providing access by alternative methods of making the services available.

Actions to overcome physical barriers should be considered in the order listed above. Only if the first options have been considered and determined unreasonable should later options be taken. So, if it’s possible to either remove a feature altogether, you should remove the feature rather than alter it.

Significant changes introduced that affect private members’ clubs and the public sector and the way in which they respond to the Act.

What are Reasonable Adjustments?

The extent to which adjustments are deemed as 'reasonable' for a service provider to have made to their building and premises are judged by the Courts on a number of factors. These factors include the resources the service provider had available to make the adjustment, the disruption that making the adjustment would have caused, and the improvement in access that would have been achieved in making the adjustment.

Accordingly, the test of what is 'reasonable' varies between different services providers. Compare a large high street chain of record stores and Jones the Butcher, a small, independent retailer. Both are service providers, and both are required to make 'reasonable' adjustments to their premises. Simple low cost adjustments that can improve access to any building are likely to be considered reasonable for both service providers to implement.

However, adjustments that require major structural work or significant expenditure such as a lift shaft installation are very unlikely to be deemed reasonable for Jones the Butcher to have implemented, but may well be deemed reasonable for a large high street chain with significant resources.

It’s not always an easy call to make. The key is to recognise best practice and to correctly identify your access issues with an appropriate access audit.

The most important barriers to access for disabled people arise from the physical features of premises, from staff communication and training, and from the business policies and practices that service providers adopt. In achieving inclusive access it is as equally important to implement effective staff equality training as to altering obvious physical barriers to access such as steps and poor signage. A common sense approach towards people's access needs, combined with often relatively minor physical adjustments, can dramatically improve access.

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