articleThis content is more than 5 years old.

Public authorities to have greater duties in future

Allan Tyrer | 01.12.2004

At BSA's 2004 national conference in Stirling, Nick Croft from the Equalities Unit at Edinburgh Council, spoke about plans to require public authorities to take greater steps in promoting equal opportunities for disabled people. Allan Tyrer, who co-led the workshop, reports.

The proposed changes are among those contained in a draft Disability Bill to amend the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and will come into force in late 2006 at the earliest. They are:

1. The introduction of a new duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity. At present, legal challenges almost always take place after discrimination has occurred. Preventing discrimination in the first place is preferable to retrospective justice. Accordingly public authorities would have a positive statutory general duty to have due regard for eliminating unlawful discrimination and harassment of disabled people, and promoting equality of opportunity.

Regulations would impose a specific duty on many public authorities to produce a disability equality scheme (DES), ie an action plan, developed with involvement of disabled people. This could include -

  • Employment duties - positive action initiatives and monitoring of disabled employees by grade, length of service, promotion, access to training and development.
  • Access audits are important components of the general duty, but are not sufficient to meet the general duty.
  • Training provision will form a key part of the DES.
  • Impact Assessment is a key feature. This involves listing all policies and functions and assessing whether they have an adverse impact on disabled people. If so remedies have to be outlined.
  • Minimum monitoring standards: recruitment, retention and career development of staff; are public services and functions taking account of the needs of disabled people; are education institutions monitoring admissions and educational achievement of disabled students?

2. Extension of the DDA to cover all public authority functions (with just a few exceptions). The DDA already covers most services or facilities provided to the public, including by public authorities. However, the new rules would extend the DDA to 'public functions', such as powers of arrest and collection of tax which may not be seen as provision of a service. Like the current obligations for service provision, public authorities would have an 'anticipatory duty' to make reasonable adjustments, ie assessing in advance policies/functions that are likely to be very much less favourable for disabled people.

Nick also looked at whether stammering should be viewed as a disability, outlining some advantages and disadvantages:

advantages

  • can meet the DDA definition;
  • offers extended rights in relation to services accessed;
  • offers extended rights in relation to employment;
  • routes into potential alliances with other parts of the disability movement;
  • social model offers insight. (Broadly, the 'medical model' equates a person's disability with their impairment, whereas the social model views people as being 'disabled' more by the environment - eg by design of buildings and people's attitudes.)

disadvantages

  • leads to stereotyping;
  • potential discrimination and harassment;
  • societal view of disability can be dis-empowering;
  • difficulty with agreed definitions;
  • medical model leads to "cure approaches".

Depending on one's attitude to this question, Nick suggested that the new proposals present opportunities for BSA and for people who stammer - see below.


Opportunities for BSA

  • ensure BSA is assisting public authorities with the consultation of disabled people;
  • contribute to the evidence gathering process by submitting research on stammering;
  • assist with impact assessment to ensure needs of BSA members included;
  • ensure stammering is listed within employment monitoring frameworks;
  • offer training modules to public authorities to raise awareness of the needs of people who stammer;
  • ensure BSA is listed as an agency that will report progress on the disability equality scheme;
  • ensure that BSA is involved in service improvement discussions;
  • offer BSA as a supportive partner to public authorities.

Opportunities for people who stammer

  • extended and more clearly defined rights in employment;
  • extended and more clearly defined rights when accessing services;
  • services better tailored to meet the needs of people who stammer;
  • to join a disability movement with a long and proud history and a bright future;
  • increased profile and understanding of the needs of people who stammer;
  • will ultimately depend on whether people claim an identity rooted in disability...

Nick Croft is the Senior Policy Officer in the Equalities Unit at Edinburgh Council.

From the Winter 2004 edition of Speaking Out