Public sector organisations have been told they need to give serious thought to meeting their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act, and not be content with ticking boxes. Anne McGuire, the Minister for Disabled People, said the ‘bottom line’ for the public sector was to think about disabled people’s needs ahead of time and not as an after thought.New regulations come into force in December that will require all public bodies to lead by example and to integrate disabled people in their policy-making as well as well as promoting ‘quality of opportunity’ for disabled people.
The new law imposes on public organisations similar duties to those which exist under race legislation. The Government believes they will be an important driver in achieving equality for millions of disabled people. More than 40,000 public bodies in Britain will be affected in some way by the new legislation. Other new duties coming into effect from December will extend the scope of the Disability Discrimination Act to people with HIV, Multiple Sclerosis and cancer from the point of their diagnosis. It will also be unlawful for local authorities to treat disabled members less favourably than other councillors.
Anne McGuire said there had been some progress towards equality for people with disabilities but the pace of that change had been slow and the challenges that remained were enormous. She said the public sector had to work with the Government to tackle inequality and the new duties were an important step.
“Our public institutions need to give serious thought to the needs of disabled people. This should not be a tick box exercise but integral to organisations’ culture,” she said urging public sector representatives to plan ahead and to ask themselves difficult questions. ”Everyone – from the very top of the office to the shop floor – needs to ask difficult questions of ourselves and our businesses” she added.
Public institutions, she said, needed to be asking why disabled people were paid less, why they were more likely to have no qualifications and why people with learning difficulties were more likely to die young from physical illnesses which had nothing to do with their impairment.