What do I need to know about the Equality Act and Access Audits?

What is the Equality Act?
The Equality Bill received Royal Assent in April 2010. The Equality Act 2010 brings together 116 different pieces of equality law, providing a single legal framework through which inequality and discrimination can be challenged.  It covers ‘protected characteristics’ of race, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender reassignment and religion or belief.  The aim of the single framework was to make this area of law more consistent and simplified, to help protect the rights of individuals and promotes a fair and more equal society.  As well as strengthen the duties, rights and expectations of service users, service providers and employers across the public, commercial and voluntary sectors.

The Act also contains other duties such as dual discrimination and an extended public sector Equality Duty, which came into force in April 2011.

How does this affect the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)?
The Equality Act has replaced the DDA 1995 and 2005. The changes include new provisions on direct discrimination, discrimination arising from a disability, indirect discrimination and harassment. A disability is defined as "a physical or mental impairment that has substantial and long term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day to day activities." The definition of a disability has not broaden as recommended by the Disability Rights Commission, but the list of capacities used to determine day-to-day activities has been removed.  This means that to qualify for protection from discrimination a disabled person doesn't have to show that their impairment affects a particular activity.  For example speech, mobility sight etc.

Who does the Equality Act protect with regard to disability?
The Act protects anyone who has or has had a disability. It also protects people who do not personally have a disability from being harassed or discriminated against because of their association with a disabled person, or who are mistakenly thought to be disabled.

Equality Act Chapter 2 sub section 25 references the main areas that cover disability discrimination. Direct discrimination, harassment and victimization have been covered by legislation in the past, although the last two have had some amendments made under the Equality Act. Associative discrimination, discrimination by perception, indirect discrimination and harassment by a third party are all new to the Equality Act.

What sectors have to consider disability?
The Act is applicable to all service providers in Great Britain; it does not apply to Northern Ireland where the DDA 1995 (Northern Ireland) applies. It also applies to employers, qualifying bodies, education, public transport and private clubs/associations with 25 or more members. Under the Act employers, service providers, qualifying bodies and educational sectors are required to make reasonable adjustments and to provide auxiliary aids. Careful planning needs to take place to ensure that these sectors address potential barriers that may prevent disabled people accessing and using their services/ facilities and egress in an emergency.    

Reasonable adjustments depend on different circumstances, including cost of the adjustment, the benefit resource and how practicable the changes are.  Service providers need to think ahead and address barriers that prevent disabled people from using their services. One way to determine barriers is to carry out an access audit.

Access Audits

There are no definitive rules in access audits. Every building and situation require a tailored approach and solution.  The nature of what's reasonable for your building can itself vary.  An access audit will incorporate a physical inspection of your premises and a discussion on what individual challenges a disabled person may face accessing it. 

When selecting an access auditor, ensure they include a review of related policies and procedures, as well as incorporating a physical inspection of your premises. Following your audit, you should be presented with a detailed report on the current access and egress provisions of your building. This should include potential barriers for people with disabilities and provide actions tailored to your specific requirements to overcome these barriers. The actions may have varied time scales allowing you to manage the most important first, and to plan for future changes during refurbishments.

This guide is of a general nature; specific advice can be obtained from Assurity Consulting. Assurity Consulting is the UK's leading independent compliance consultancy specialising in workplace health, safety and environmental solutions. We have over 30 years' experience of helping customers of all sizes, from across all sectors, manage their compliance responsibilities, making sure that their organisation is compliant, their employees are safe, their processes are cost effective and their management team is in control.

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