Trainee solicitor, Kashif Aslam, takes a look at what the Welsh Government are doing to tackle inequality and make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in his latest blog.
The Equality Act 2010 states that both public and private companies must make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people can use their services.
However, the Act doesn't specify exactly what would be considered 'reasonable' in any given situation – meaning companies and businesses sometimes face difficulty.
A recent case, Firstgroup Plc v Paulley, is a good example of this confusion. Because Firstgroup had failed to require non-disabled passengers to move from designated disabled areas on its buses, the Supreme Court ruled that they were unjustified and, therefore, unlawful.
Although the Supreme Court concluded that an absolute rule stating that any non-wheelchair user must vacate the wheelchair area would be unreasonable, they ruled that the bus driver involved should've taken further steps to ensure access.
This case gives a good example of the difficulties companies face when attempting to determine what is and isn’t reasonable in any given situation, and, accordingly, what adjustments are and are not reasonable.
The Welsh Government's Approach
The Welsh Government’s Framework for Action on Independent Living recognises that certain barriers that society creates often leave disabled people at a disadvantage, known as 'the social model of disability'.
This policy sets out two key aims:
- To remove these barriers and create an enabling society
- To promote the rights and full inclusion of disabled people.
To use public transport as an example, the Framework emphasises the importance of:
- availability and accessibility for all users
- enabling disabled people to go to work, participate in family and social events and have access to cultural and public services.
The national survey of Wales 2013/2014 - which surveys around 12,000 people a year - found that disabled people gave public transport an average rating of 5.7 when asked about their satisfaction with the services.
This shows that there is clearly room for improvement to ensure disabled people have better access to public transport.
The Welsh Government aims to make such improvements by meeting its Equality Objectives 2016/2020. These include:
- Putting the needs, rights and contributions of people with protected characteristics (such as disabilities) at the heart of the design and delivery of all public services (particularly health, mental health, education, housing, social services and transport).
- Ensuring support, and tackling barriers, to enable disabled people to enjoy their right to independent living and have voice, choice and control in their lives.
The most recent equality report demonstrates progress towards this objective (for example 'a series of voluntary bus quality outcomes that bus operators will need to achieve in order to receive a Bus Services Support Grant'.
It's good to see that the needs and rights of people with protected characteristics are being placed at the heart of design and delivery of public services. At a time when potentially momentous projects such as the Cardiff Metro are being planned, this is crucially important.
Under equality legislation, both public and private companies are required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people can use their services. The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on providers of goods, services and facilities to make reasonable adjustments to avoid a disabled person being placed at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ compared with a non-disabled person when accessing services and facilities. What are reasonable adjustments? Citizens Advice’s website provides examples of reasonable adjustments: Providing ramps and stairway lifts; A portable induction loop for people with hearing aids; and Providing information in alternative formats, such as Braille.In January, the UK Supreme Court gave their judgment in just such a case. The Equality Act 2010 does not prescribe what a reasonable adjustment will be in particular circumstances. So, how is it decided what is a reasonable adjustment in any given situation?