Disability Discrimination Act – Access To Goods And Services

Making Access to Goods and Services Easier for Disabled Customers: A Practical Guide for Small Businesses and Other Service Providers

How the Disability Discrimination Act affects you

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) introduces new laws aimed at ending the discrimination that many disabled people face. It affects virtually everyone who provides goods, facilities and services to the general public whether paid for or not (referred to in this guide as “service providers”).

The DDA defines disability, and identifies who is protected under it. The definition is broad: “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

Part III of the Act introduces duties on service providers in three stages:

  • since December 1996, it has been unlawful for service providers to refuse to serve a disabled person, offer a lower standard of service or provide a service on worse terms to a disabled person for a reason related to his/her disability
  • since October 1999, service providers have had to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the way they provide their services
  • from October 2004, service providers may have to make reasonable adjustments in relation to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access.

Many service providers are already choosing to make improvements to their premises in advance of 2004. This is a sensible approach, as with foresight many changes can be incorporated into routine maintenance or refurbishments between now and 2004.

From October 2004, where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled customers to make use of a service offered to the public, service providers will have to take measures, where reasonable, to:

  • remove the feature, or
  • alter it so that it no longer has that effect, or
  • provide a reasonable means of avoiding the feature, or
  • provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service available to disabled people (this fourth duty has been in force since October 1999).

Physical features are defined under the DDA as “anything on the premises arising from a building’s design or construction or the approach to, exit from or access to such a building; fixtures, fittings, furnishings, equipment or materials and any other physical element or quality of land in the premises – whether temporary or permanent”?.

Several factors will have a bearing on whether a change is a reasonable one for service providers to have to make, particularly for physical adjustments to premises. These include:

  • whether taking any particular measures would be effective in overcoming the difficulty that disabled people face in accessing the services in question
  • the extent to which it is practicable for the service provider to take the measures
  • the financial and other costs of making the adjustment
  • the extent of any disruption which taking the measures would cause
  • the extent of the service provider’s financial and other resources
  • the amount of any resources already spent on making adjustments
  • the availability of financial or other assistance.

Responding to your duties as a service provider under the DDA means coming up with solutions that are reasonable in all the circumstances and which result in as many disabled customers as possible being able to access your goods and services. For small service providers (as compared to larger ones with more resources at their disposal) the emphasis is likely to be on practical, low-cost adjustments, although you should also consider more major physical alterations to improve access to your premises if feasible and affordable.

The Code of Practice for Rights of Access: Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises provides fuller guidance on the three stages, including the new duties coming into force in 2004*.

Other guidance available includes:

  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995: An Introduction for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.
  • Bringing the DDA to Life for Small Shops series of booklets.
  • Open for Business: a best practice guide on access.

(See Publications for details of all of these.)

*Disability Discrimination Act 1995: Code of Practice: Rights of Access, Goods, Facilities, Service and Premises
DfEE, The Stationery Office, 1999.

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