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Reasonable adjustments?

This Tuesday saw the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, a great opportunity to take a look at where we are today with disability rights. One such hot topic is ‘reasonable adjustments’, and how much these are being made today. Writer Lorraine Gradwell explores the issue.

Reasonable adjustments are a relatively recent concept, having been first introduced under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995. The object of the duty to provide reasonable adjustments is to avoid, as far as possible by reasonable means, the disadvantage which a disabled person experiences because of their impairment. The reasonable adjustments duty under the Equality Act operates slightly differently, but for the purposes of this piece the above definition tells us what we need to know.

My name is Lorraine Gradwell and I have been around on the ‘disability scene’ for quite a long time: most recently I was the founding Chief Executive of Breakthrough UK Ltd: having semi- retired I now write, blog and provide strategic policy advice on disability. I’m really pleased to be asked to write this piece for Disability Horizons.

The notion of disability as a human rights issue and requiring legislation that was not about welfare or care is very new: the DDA 1995, and subsequent Acts, provided both a set of tools and a fulcrum around which disabled people have, often successfully, lobbied for changes in society and the workplace. Of course, the very notion of ‘reasonable adjustments’ begs the question ‘what’s reasonable?’ And since this is largely a legislative question, the answers are often found in the courts and tribunals, as disabled people use the law to fight for and enforce their rights.

David Hallett, CEO of Xperedon (on the right hand side)

And eighteen years on from the DDA, how do disabled people feel they are being catered for? A research report, Missing Out”, from Really Useful Stuff launched on International Day of Disabled People (3rd December) at the House of Commons looked into just this matter, and unfortunately it’s not hopeful reading. Having generally looked at high street retailers the researchers found that business’ focus on access seems to have diminished and that almost half, 48%, of disabled people surveyed were dissatisfied with access to goods and services: indeed around a quarter, 26%, believed that provision had got worse in recent years. Lowest in the ‘high street league table’ were estate agents with just a 20% satisfaction rate.

Why should this be? Disabled people comprise a sizeable market, with an annual spend of up to £80 billion, and comprise up to 20% of a business’s customer base, according to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI).  Why would businesses not cater to this market? The ODI (ibid) says that SMEs especially may not know about the nature and size of the potential market, in which case there is clearly a need for some PR and publicity so as to make this market visible.

Or could it be that other forces are at work? The current ‘striver/scrounger’ rhetoric can hardly be helpful in promoting disabled people as a market to tap into: and not helpful is the fact that a lot of disabled people are ‘clients’ rather than ‘customers’, ie, someone else assesses and buys goods and services on their behalf – NHS, OTs, Access to Work assessors, and so on. Despite the high profile afforded Paralympic athletes in the media last year, disabled people are not really seen as a ‘sexy’ customer base, now are we?

Photo taken on the International Day of People with Disabilities, at the House of Commons
Steve Day, the inspirational comedian (on the right hand side)

But maybe it’s not just about the market, but as much to do with disabled people’s place in society, in the mainstream, about our own views on that and about other people’s views. The Really Useful Stuff website (developed by Xperedon) is a great idea, lots of things you might need all in one place, and if you’re newly disabled I imagine its a godsend to you and your family. But isn’t it a shame you can’t easily find this stuff on the standard shopping sites?

Today we need reasonable adjustments to facilitate our access to the mainstream, because the mainstream is not accessible to us: I look forward to the day when the mainstream IS accessible and reasonable adjustments are truly a minority issue.

By Lorraine Gradwell

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