UK200 & Pharmacy Business
Disability Discrimination Act
From October 1st 2004, The Disability Discrimination Act has caused businesses to review their policies regarding both Access and Employment; here we shall take a closer look at how the Act will, or already has, influenced Pharmacies with regard to access. In simple terms, where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to access your goods or services, your business is required to take such reasonable steps to :
Remove the feature; or
· Alter the feature so that it no longer has that effect; or
· Provide a reasonable means of avoiding the feature; or
· Provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service available.
Access is not simply about entering and exiting a building; it is also about counter heights, stairways etc, and also the manner in which staff make services available (such as serving a disabled customer who is deaf). Failure to comply with the Act that leads to an ‘action’ could see the disabled individual receiving financial compensation. Inevitably it will be how the Act is interpreted by pharmacies, the disabled community and the courts alike that will determine the success of the Act in achieving its objectives of greater access for disabled. This therefore creates three areas for discussion: defining who is disabled, understanding what are ‘reasonable’ steps and identifying where a legal challenge may come from?
We tend to have a picture of disabled people as being wheelchair bound, but this is not true. In Britain there are 10 million disabled and the numbers include those with disabilities such as sight related, hearing, mental, learning difficulties, and disfigurement. Under the Act disability also relates to those with arthritis and those with dyslexia. What is clear is that you cannot just focus on wheelchair users; improving access for every disabled person has to be considered.
If visually identifying everyone who is disabled is unclear, determining what is reasonable is a distinctly murky area. The ‘ethos’ behind the Act is that businesses will anticipate the types of access problems that their own shop poses and make an assessment of what can be done. In some circumstances it may not be easy to anticipate a problem, however, as soon as a disabled customer has drawn attention to it, then reasonable steps must be taken to rectify the situation or at least have investigated the options. The Act identifies the physical features that impede access as anything on the premises arising from the building design or construction; this extends to approaches to entrances and exits, fixtures, fittings, furnishing, equipment and any other physical element ,whether temporary or permanent.
Shops would be acting wisely if they carried out an assessment of their own premises, particularly as four out of five High Streets in Britain are already classified as not user-friendly. Once a problem is identified and a solution considered, the arguments shift to assessing how practicable it is to action the solution. In particular, is it cost justifiable given the resources of the business,? What of the disruption caused (particularly if structural remedies are anticipated)? How much has already been spent on other work deemed necessary to be compliant with the Act? The Act does not intend that you should change the way that you run your business, but it does require that you apply some foresight and plan ahead.
For those businesses that work at improving access there may be worthwhile rewards - It has been recently estimated that the spending power of disabled customers is now approaching £80 million. A recent National Opinion Poll also suggested that if we encounter poor access, seven out of ten able-bodied people would go elsewhere, so the impact of ignoring any problems is potentially huge. In the USA where similar legislation has been around for ten years shops have become accustomed to the needs of disabled customers and taken a pro-active role. Indeed, it is common to find externally sited buttons on shops that can be struck as wheelchair users approach to automatically open doors.
Shops that are in denial and fail to anticipate problems or respond to specific requests made by disabled customers may well be facing problems. Catherine Casserley, Senior Legislative Adviser to the Disablity Rights Commission (DRC) has predicted increased assertiveness as a result of a programme to educate the disabled community about how to demand their rights.
“Increasing the capacity of disabled people and organisations to monitor progress and complain is also a key aim.”
The DRC itself can assist individuals in making legal challenges and has already said that it is looking to test the law on this matter.
As with most things, it is really a case of common sense and approaching the subject of access in a reasonable manner. The Act is not intended to introduce adjustments that would fundamentally alter the nature of a business, moreover it wants businesses to be prepared, to plan ahead and consider any costs incurred versus the benefits to be gained, because if something improves access for the disabled, arguably it improves access for everyone.
For all enquiries, please contact:
Stephen Roche, Managing Partner
Tel: 01279 758080