The Disability Discrimination Act – What It Means For Small Businesses

The Disability Discrimination Act essentially requires businesses to take all reasonable steps to make their services accessible to disabled people. There are no exceptions for this; it applies to all businesses from the smallest to the largest. It also applies to all forms of business both offline and online, even if a firm has an online presence purely for informational purposes and no actual trading takes place on it, it is still covered by the DDA. 

Fortunately, complying with the law is largely a matter of common sense and in business terms it makes sense to offer services to as many people as possible. Here are some basic guidelines on how this works in practice.

Access For People With Mobility Issues

Terms like “reasonable” and “unreasonable” are used widely in law and are usually deliberately left undefined because much depends on context. A multinational company building a major new building will be judged to a very different standard from a multinational company operating out of a listed historic building, which will be judged to a very different standard to a small local business.

As a rule of thumb, the easiest way to assess access for people with mobility issues is to try taking a pram or pushchair through your premises as though you were a customer. If you experience difficulties, see what you could do to improve them. If the answer is nothing, which it may be depending on your premises, see what you could do to work around them. Ensuring equal access could be achieved as simply as by putting up a sign saying, “Due to the nature of our premises, people with mobility issues may have difficulty using them, please ask and we shall be happy to assist”. It may also be helpful to have a buzzer on your door so that you can open it for people who are struggling. 

One key issue for people with limited mobility is the provision of toilets, so if you do need to provide them, from a legal perspective it's better to have one toilet which is suitable for people with mobility issues than two toilets which aren't.

Access For People With Hearing Issues

This tends to be the least complicated. Some businesses have closed-loop systems for hearing aids, but this is not currently expected of small businesses. The one issue which may crop up is over the use of the telephone, but if an e-mail address is also provided, or you use text messaging, this can be easily resolved.

Access For People With Limited Sight

This is one of the most common disabilities, purely and simply because people tend to experience reduced sight as they age. Resolving it often rests on being able to remember that clarity comes before creativity. 

For example, it's perfectly fine to use engraved signs, just ask the engraver to use a clear font rather than an elaborate one. If you use a hand-written menu, make sure it's written by someone who has good handwriting. If you run a website, there is plenty of online information about making it accessible, but basically much of it boils down to having a decent level of contrast, using clear fonts in appropriate sizes and making sure pictures have captions for people who can't see the images properly.

As a former full-time IT pro, the author got to know the DDA in relation to web design and finds it rather amusing that a lot of the advice given to make websites accessible to disabled people is exactly what she would consider to be good web design practice in general.

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