If you have limited movement, you will know there is much more to a stress-free day out than simply finding your ideal mobility scooter for sale and taking it out to your favourite places. As anyone who has experienced trying to navigate public buildings will appreciate, getting out and about in comfort and with convenience is often easier said than done.
Did you know, however, that all kinds of public places are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people so that they are just as able to access their facilities as anybody else? In this article, we will address some of the most common questions relating to the complex issue of public access.
Which places need to provide disabled access?
Under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, all sorts of public places are legally required to ensure they provide easy access to people with all levels of mobility. Some of the many venues which must make reasonable adjustments include private clubs (e.g. golf clubs), shops, banks, cinemas and places of employment – and any refusal to do so could form the basis of legal action.
The recent change in accessibility laws has certainly clarified the rights of disabled customers and workers but, thanks to the inconsistency of the rules that were previously in place, there remains some confusion in this area. One thing that must be remembered by everyone with a disability is that it is never their obligation to pay for any adjustments that have to be made, whatever the venue in question may claim; if your employer’s office building makes it impossible for you to get up and down the stairs with ease, for example, they need to foot the bill for any work that will have to be done to resolve this.
Fortunately, public spaces are far more accessible today than they were 30, 20 or even 10 years ago, although there is still a long way to go until universal access to places like shops and restaurants is achieved. If you come across somewhere that is not fully accessible and is, therefore, preventing you from using its facilities, don’t be afraid to bring this to the owner’s attention – it is their duty to make things better.
What could prevent somewhere from making ‘reasonable adjustments’?
Of course, it is important to remember that not every public place is able to make changes to improve their accessibility immediately, and there are various factors that may be behind this. By law, locations need to agree to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ – in practice, this means that, depending on individual circumstances, some places cannot be compelled to accommodate everyone’s wishes.
If, for example, a shop’s owners can demonstrate that they literally do not have the funds or other resources to make the access changes that have been requested of them, they may not have to, as the adjustments could not be considered ‘reasonable’. Similarly, if there is no proof that the changes that have been asked for would be of significant practical use, they also could not be classed as ‘reasonable’.
Other factors that could prevent your request from being carried out by a public venue include the nature of your disability and how practical it would be for the changes in question to be made. So, if the layout of a building would require it being completely redesigned at great expense so that one wheelchair ramp could be added, the buildings’ owners could potentially argue against this work having to be done.
What can places do to improve access?
There are many different steps that public places can take to ensure they are doing all they can to free up access to disabled patrons, with most of these actions falling into one of three categories: a change of practice, a physical change, or the provision of supplementary equipment or services.
The first of these types of change is, in practical terms, often the easiest to carry out but it can also be met with the most resistance; as any disabled person who has tried to question the way a long-established venue operates will be able to tell you, changing the way an institution thinks is usually extremely difficult. For instance, asking your place of work to rethink their parking policy so that disabled drivers can use the parking bays that are closest to your office but normally exclusively reserved for senior management figures would probably be a ‘reasonable’ request but may not be welcomed at first.
The latter two methods of improving access are more common and can also make a great difference to the lives of disabled people. A few examples of physical changes that could be made to a public place include the installation of wheelchair ramps, stairlifts, automatic doors, ambient lighting and braille signage. Non-permanent auxiliary items – such as British Sign Language interpreters, hearing induction loops and audio CDs – could also prove invaluable in certain locations.
What if somewhere refuses to improve access?
As we have already discussed, all disabled people have the right to request that a public place makes reasonable adjustments to accommodate them. And, as we have also discussed, venues are within their rights to refuse to carry out these requests if they are found to be unreasonable. However, businesses need to be aware that, if they are found to have insufficient grounds for turning down such a request, they could face serious consequences.
The Equality Act 2010 states that refusing to improve access in a public place when the request is deemed to be reasonable amounts to unlawful discrimination. In practice, this means that any disabled person who can demonstrate they are being put at a substantial disadvantage by somewhere refusing to make reasonable adjustments will be able to make a discrimination claim that could lead to the venue in question facing a fine or enforcement action.
Whilst relaxing at home in a comfy rise and recline chair is certainly a great way to spend time, we would all like to think that we could go out and about whenever we want, without the fear of being unable to experience our destinations of choice. Because of this, it is vital that public places continue to improve their levels of disabled-friendly access – and, just as importantly, that disabled people themselves continue to draw attention to buildings that have not yet done all they can to make things easier for their less physically mobile visitors.