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Time for businesses to improve awareness of accessibility

Article written by: Ian Streets, Managing Director of About Access

We need to talk about the DDA.

Not the Dangerous Dogs Act but the Disability Discrimination Act.

It doesn’t apply any more except in Northern Ireland. In the rest of the UK it was replaced by the Equality Act 2010, yet it is still routinely quoted by so many people in designing, developing and disposing of a property.

The description “DDA compliant” is top of my list of DDA complaints!

As the name of the current legislation indicates, the Disability Discrimination Act in England, Scotland and Wales disappeared 12 years ago.

The issue arises again now because I’ve been advised by my web designers that I need to change various sections on my site to include the DDA simply because it’s easier for the search engines to identify that than to find such terms as access and accessibility.

That’s not the fault of the web team. It’s down to the so-called professionals in the construction and design sector who still refer to the DDA instead of the Equality Act. But it’s crackers that I should have to respond to ignorance elsewhere in the industry by introducing inaccuracies to my website, creating the impression that I don’t know what I’m on about and perpetuating the problem.

For a living, breathing example, there’s a design review I’m doing for a multinational retail brand. They have a new HQ in the centre of a major city and part of our work is to review the nearby fit out of an accessible loo. The architects were no doubt picked for their experience, yet in their documents they refer to it as a DDA toilet.

You would expect better from a large practice, which doesn’t mean that smaller firms should be allowed to get away with it.

We need greater awareness across the board, not least because if the people responsible for building or renovating a property don’t even know that the Equality Act 2010 exists, how can they make sure their work meets its requirements?

Is the gap in their knowledge also evidence that they are unfamiliar with Approved Document M of The Building Regulations 2010? You won’t find anything about the defunct DDA in there but you can learn from the many references to the Equality Act.

Of particular relevance is the note which says “regardless of compliance with Building Regulations there will be obligations under the Equality Act 2010 for service providers and employers to consider barriers created by physical barriers in buildings.”

Which brings us to the question of why – from the design stage – businesses should bother with making their premises, products and services accessible.

One answer to that is it’s the right thing to do. If that’s not persuasive enough then maybe people will be motivated by the possibility of facing legal action – potentially with significant expense and reputational damage – if they are found to have discriminated against disabled people.

But there’s also a big incentive. A business which is accessible is in a position to attract more customers. Think of a shopping centre which offers step-free access, accessible loos, uncluttered concourses, wide aisles and maybe even a spares first aid kit with such items as weighted blankets for people with autism, ear defenders, easy-grip beakers, straws. One of our clients can provide use of an electric tyre inflator.

The growing recognition that the purple pound – the spending power of disabled people and their companions – is worth £249bn a year in the UK underlines the fact that improving accessibility is an investment rather than a cost.

And in the current climate there’s even more to it. By ensuring your premises are accessible you can also improve employee recruitment and retention, and strengthen your position in the war for talent.

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