Local authorities are being warned of the need to begin preparing for the introduction of new access duties in 2004 or risk ending up in court. The stark message comes from the Disability Rights Commission and the Local Government Association.From next year, any person or organisation providing a service will have to consider making improvements to their buildings to make them more user friendly for disabled people. This new legislation is likely to have a significant impact on local authority services. To help councils understand their new obligations the DRC has already launched its Open4All Campaign, which includes a website – www.open4all.org http://www.open4all.org -which provides practical advice and information.
The commission says there are 8.5 million people with disabilities in Britain who are regular users of council services and the idea of launching a joint strategy with the LGA is to help local authorities make their services genuinely open for all. Bob Niven, Chief Executive of the DRC, said they were concerned that many larger local authorities were simply not grasping the opportunity to make their services accessible to disabled people.
An NOP survey, commissioned by the DRC, found that disabled people experienced difficulties using everyday services because poor access and building design effectively barred them. When asked to name the two biggest obstacles disabled people faced the survey found that 45% said steps at the entrance to buildings and 39% said being unable to use the disabled parking spaces.
Councillor Laura Willoughby, who chairs the LGA’s Equalities Executive, said many local authorities had already done good work to improve access to services for disabled people and a lot could be learnt from their examples.