This month marks twenty years since pioneering legislation protecting the rights of disabled people was enacted in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). Business Disability Forum (BDF), formerly known as the Employers Forum on Disability, remains proud to have supported the partnership between business and the disabled rights movement that helped shape the provisions of the Act.
Two decades on, BDF reflects upon the significant progress that has been made since the DDA’s inception, with businesses in the private and public sectors increasing their positive engagement with disability and levelling the playing field for disabled employees and customers.
With its robust set of guidelines for business, the DDA undoubtedly played a vital part in helping companies to improve their disability performance and, in turn, strengthened the legal rights of disabled people to hold to account those companies that fell short.
The DDA, which has since been succeeded by the Equality Act, focussed on whether someone suffered discrimination as a result of their impairment, rather than whether their impairment disabled them. The Act’s strong focus on the responsibility of employers and service providers to make adjustments and remove barriers for disabled people has helped pave the way for the development of more inclusive workplaces and markets.
Bela Gor, Legal Director at BDF and the UK’s first specialist disability discrimination lawyer said: “The DDA was unique in discrimination legislation in recognising that true social change would only be achieved by being proactive. The DDA prohibited discriminatory or less favourable treatment of disabled people but it also, more importantly, required employers and service providers to act to remove disabling barriers. The reasonable adjustment provisions of the DDA forced employers and service providers to recognise that treating everyone equally or the same is not enough to level the playing field and enable disabled people to take their rightful place as employees, consumers and citizens.
Everyone is different, and twenty years on businesses have come to realise that you have to treat people differently in order to treat them fairly.”
The progress over the past 20 years has been considerable and while there is much to be celebrated, BDF urges businesses to avoid becoming complacent. BDF’s recent Walkaway Pound research has highlighted that 75% of disabled customers have left a business or service provider because of poor disability awareness and understanding.
The evidence illustrates that there is more to do to ensure that disabled people can access products and services in the same way as non-disabled people. With the value of the ‘Purple Pound’ currently estimated at over £212bn per year, there is much incentive for businesses to do more to secure the loyalties of disabled customers.
There are a number of initiatives taking place to mark this important anniversary, one of which includes a dedicated DDA supplement in the Guardian newspaper, published on Wednesday 30 September. BDF is delighted to have sponsored this supplement that will help to raise further awareness of the considerable progress made over the past 20 years.
Moreover, BDF is pleased to support disability charity Scope who have launched a new appeal to record and mark the movement that led to this landmark law as well as honouring the unsung heroes and their tireless campaigning.