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Significant landmark in the battle for equal opportunity for employees with a disability

Published: 

Mon 16 November, 2020

Inclusion

The fight for equality in walks of life including employment is ongoing and it is worth reflecting that it has been 25 years since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

When the Act came into force a quarter of a century ago, employers were dealing with the first legal document to acknowledge the existence of discrimination towards disabled people (1).

Passed on 8 November 1995, the DDA made discrimination against disabled people unlawful.

It made it illegal for employers and service providers such as shops and restaurants to discriminate against someone because they were disabled.

The Act was introduced at a time when social attitudes were said to leave many disabled people feeling excluded and powerless

The DDA was a milestone, and for employers it meant that they now had to deal with disability issues in the workplace in a positive manner.

The legislation shone a much-needed spotlight on poor access to a range of services, which included employment. It helped to bring about positive change.

Progress has certainly been made, but there remains much more work still to be done.

Evidence of the work needed is unfortunately all too clear in news headlines of employers having to make substantial payments to employees subjected to disability discrimination in the workplace.

It was not too long ago that we reported in this space news of a bank worker being awarded £4.7m for disability discrimination (2). The total pay-out is thought to be the largest award ever made by a British Employment Tribunal for such a claim.

The claimant, known only as AB, who was run over while walking to her first day at work, suffered with severe depression and psychosis and was made to feel ‘worthless’ by staff at several London branches, a tribunal heard. 

The employer’s failure to make reasonable adjustments relating to the employee’s workstation, requiring her to work on the till, bullying comments towards her and not permitting her to transfer to another bank amounted to discrimination.

The DDA was never going to be like a magic wand that would change attitudes overnight and instantly make all of the problems disappear, but it did lay the foundations for fundamental change.

Positive change does not come easy. Prior to the introduction of the DDA, protest groups including the Direct Action Network continued to campaign for the civil rights of disabled people and to end discrimination.

Tens of thousands of people took part in many protests to draw attention to the cause. It included protestors handcuffing themselves to buses, blocking streets with wheelchairs and taking part in demonstrations outside Parliament (3)

There were numerous unsuccessful attempts to push civil rights legislation for disabled people through Parliament between the early 1980s and mid-1990s before the DDA was finally passed.

The DDA was replaced with the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales. The DDA now only applies to Northern Ireland.

A new Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010 (4). It brings together over 116 separate pieces of legislation, including the DDA 1995, into one single Act.

The Equality Act provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. It legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace, and promotes a fair and more equal society.

By law, employers must now make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.

A ‘reasonable adjustment’ is a change to remove or reduce the effect of (5):

  • an employee’s disability so they can do their job
  • a job applicant’s disability when applying for a job

The DDA and subsequently the Equality Act have been a force for good, but the work to bring about equality is ongoing.

 

References

(1) Discrimination towards disabled people [Internet] www.legislation.gov.uk [Cited 16.11.2020] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1995/50/contents

(2) A bank worker being awarded £4.7m for disability discrimination [Internet] www.castleassociates.org.uk [Cited 16.11.2020] https://castleassociates.org.uk/blog/what-classed-disability-work.

(3) Tens of thousands of people took part in many protests [Internet] www.bbc.co.uk [Cited 16.11.2020] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/disability-34732084

(4) A new Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010 [Internet] www.equalityhumanrights.com [Cited 16.11.2020] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/equality-act-2010/what-equality-act

(5) Reasonable adjustments [Internet] www.acas.org.uk [Cited 16.11.2020]  https://www.acas.org.uk/reasonable-adjustments

 

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