There are approximately 10 million people with disabilities in the United Kingdom; it is estimated that the spending power of these people amounts to £50 billion per year (Source: Disability Rights Commission, DRC). Premises that are accessible to everyone will make the practice more convenient and therefore could put you ahead of your competitors. The risks of doing nothing could result in a claim for compensation, which, according to the Department of Trade and Industry, is reaching an all-time high in successful claims. Employers and dental practice service providers must ensure that they do not directly discriminate by treating an employee, prospective employee or a service user less favourably because of his/her disability. In 2010, the disability discrimination law will be amended to include indirect discrimination.
- Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974:
Employers are required to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees and anyone else who may be affected, so far as is reasonably practicable. Any matters affecting an individual are owed the same duty of care as other employees and where necessary employers must take additional measures to protect that employee.
- Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) (as amended, see below):
Employers and service providers are required to treat disabled persons fairly in the same way as non-disabled persons and take reasonable steps to remove or alter physical barriers that restrict or prevent access.
December 1996 – it is unlawful to treat disabled people less favourably for a reason related to their disability
October 1999 – make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable disabled people to use your services
October 2004 – make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the physical features of your premises to overcome barriers to access
- Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992:
Employers, owners/occupiers of premises are required to take account of disabled persons and to ensure the workplace is organised in such a way that provides reasonable access.
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999:
Employers must undertake suitable and sufficient assessments of risks to the health and safety of employees and others who may be affected and determine what measures should be taken to comply with duties under other health and safety legislation.
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO):
Employers, occupiers or owners of buildings will need to carry out a fire risk assessment to ensure that people with a disability are able to evacuate the building safely in the event of fire.
A person is disabled if he/she has a physical or mental impairment which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on his/her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This is further defined as follows:
- Blind and partially sighted
- Deaf and hard of hearing
- Mobility difficulties, including wheelchair users
- Mental health problems
- Severe disfigurements
- Progressive illnesses, for example, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), multiple sclerosis, cancer and muscular dystrophy1
- Long-term health conditions, for example, diabetes
- Learning difficulties
- Loss of memory
Long-Term and Substantial Adverse Effects
- Lasted or likely to last at least 12 months or be recurring
- The rest of a person’s life – this may be less than 12 months
- The effect is not trivial or minor
Normal Day-to-Day Activities
- Carried out by most people frequently; examples are as follows:
- Going up and down stairs
- Holding and turning a door handle
- Using sanitary facilities/WC
Disability is not always obvious; therefore, we cannot assume that a disability does not exist because it is not visible. Take, for example, a 35-year-old female who appears to look fit and healthy but suffers from a chronic lung condition, having contracted an illness as a child. Or an elderly person who, we might assume, is not disabled because the signs are that of the usual ageing process. A person does not have to be registered disabled to be covered by the regulations. Dental practices should therefore take a proactive approach to disability awareness and not wait until someone is unable to access the service.
It is highly unlikely that a dental professional would directly discriminate against a disabled person. However, you may not know if you are discriminating as the law is quite complex; therefore, it is important to have some clarification on what constitutes discrimination. Employers and service providers may be deemed to have discriminated in either of two ways (Source: Disability action):
- Less favourable treatment – if, for a reason relating to a person’s disability, he/she is treated less favourably than others to whom that reason does not apply, and they cannot show that the treatment is justified; and/or
- Reasonable adjustment – if they fail to make a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to the working environment or physical features of premises which place a person with disability at a substantial disadvantage compared to persons without disability, and this failure cannot be justified.
The DDA places responsibilities on all employers and those providing a service, whether this service is paid for or free. The main purpose of the act is to ensure that individuals with a disability are treated fairly. This is achieved by taking ‘reasonable’ steps to provide access to your premises. Thi/>