Duty to make reasonable adjustments
Some people or organisations like employers, shops, local authorities and schools must take positive steps to remove the barriers faced by you because of your disability. This is to ensure you receive the same services or opportunities, as far as this is possible, as someone who's not disabled. The Equality Act 2017 calls this the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
The Equality Act 2017 says changes or adjustments should be made if they are reasonable to ensure that you can access things like:
- shops, banks, cinemas, hospitals, commissioners offices & a sports centre and
- associations and private clubs with more than 25 members, like sailing clubs or cadets
Accessing services is not just about installing ramps and widening doorways for wheelchair users - it is about making services easier to use for all people with disabilities, which includes people with visual or hearing impairments or those who have a learning disability. The Act says that you must never pay for the reasonable adjustment.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments falls into three areas:
- adjusting the way things are done- changing practices, policies and procedures, for example rules and informal policies
- providing additional aids and services – for example, providing special equipment such as voice-activated software for someone with a visual impairment or providing a reader or interpreter for someone who has a hearing impairment or installing a doorbell or video doorbell for people with mobility issues who cannot access your premises
- adjusting physical features which are barriers to access by altering or removing the feature, or providing the service by an alternative method – for example , improved lighting, clearer signage, non-slip or contrasting coloured surfaces and providing ramps (permanent or temporary/portable)
For employers, the duty is reactive. It is about ensuring reasonable adjustments are delivered once there is knowledge or deemed knowledge of the disability.
Whilst adjustments could be considered on a case by case basis, failing to consider matters in advance could be problematic. An organisation providing services must anticipate what disabilities people may have who want to access their services and make those adjustments if reasonable. It is good practice for an organisation to carry out an access audit and to publish how accessible their business is. It is not about meeting everyone’s needs but about telling customers what can be offered. The more customers who can be reached by the business is better for the business.
An access audit may help an organisation understand its obligations under the Act. It can help identify barriers to disabled access, set out options for removing these barriers and assess which option is the most reasonable. An audit can form the basis of a plan of action to enable an organisation to improve the accessibility of its building, environment or service over time.
Alternatively, a simple self-assessment checklist could support an organisation’s review of how accessible their premises/services are and also potentially identify practical ways of improving access for existing or new customers as well recognise what has already been achieved.
Developing an access statement will also help an organisation demonstrate its commitment to ensuring accessibility in the work they undertake. An access statement is a clear accurate and honest description of an organisation’s current facilities and the services offered, to enable a potential visitor/customer to make an informed decision as to whether the organisation meets their particular access needs. It also helps an organisation ensure its legal obligations are being met and identify any gaps as well as allowing them to demonstrate how they will continue to manage accessibility throughout the delivery of the services they provide or the employment opportunities they create.
It’s not mandatory to have an access audit, conduct a self-assessment or develop an access statement. However the duty is a continuing duty that evolves and these are examples of how an organisation can ensure they are meeting their customers’ needs and delivering appropriate services and demonstrate compliance with the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
By carrying out a self-assessment or access audit and addressing any potential issues, an organisation will be able to demonstrate that it has adopted a reasonable approach, which may help defend a complaint or action brought against the organisation by a disabled person, but more importantly, the organisation will be demonstrating commitment to improving access for disabled people and many other users.
An access statement is good practice because it can:
- help meet planning and building control requirements.
- be shared with visitors and stakeholders to show why you have made certain decisions. This might include times when you need to explain why you have not been able to follow best practice.
- provide details of what to expect when they visit.
- provide a working record for staff and a useful reference for future project development - you can see what mistakes not to repeat, and what best practice to apply again.
- help you to anticipate the different needs of your customers/visitors.
New Accessibility Grant for businesses
The Department of Enterprise has recently added a new Accessibility Grant to the Financial Assistance Scheme to support businesses wishing to make adjustments in line with the Act.
The total grant available is capped at a maximum of £7,500 per applicant and will cover businesses in all sectors with physical premises. View Accessibility Grant for further details.