The Disability Discrimination Act, or DDA as it is more commonly referred to – came into force in late 1996 and was introduced to try and end the discrimination which many disabled people felt they experienced when it came to recruitment and employment, accessing land or property or even having access to goods, facilities and services. This article aims to help outline your employment rights and the DDA from an employer’s point of view.

The act has a fairly wide definition for what is considered disabled by stating that a person must have “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities” to be considered disabled by the act.

So this would include physical impairments such as weakening or negative changes to the body that are caused by illness, by an accident or that they have had since birth – like blindness, heart disease, paralysis of a limb or even severe disfigurement or mental impairments like learning disabilities such as dyslexia or recognised mental illness.

The impairment needs to have lasted or be likely to last more then 12 months, be more then a minor or trivial issue that affects at least one area of your daily life, such as mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination, speech, hearing or eyesight, the ability to concentrate, learn, understand or your perception of the rick of physical danger. This list is by no means exhaustive and for more information please visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

What does this mean to you as an employer? Since October 2004, all employment with the exception of the armed forces has come under the DDA, where as before it depended on the size of your organisation and certain organisations were excluded other then the armed forces, this is no longer the case.

As an employer you are legally responsible for making sure that you do not have discrimination in the workplace, this includes making reasonable adjustments that are needed for anyone with a disability. You also must ensure that a disabled person is not discriminated against when recruiting, applying redundancy or dismissal procedures.

Any employer who fails to comply with any of their duties under the DDA will be guilty of discrimination, unless they can show justification as to why these duties have not been met.

Adjustments may be required in several areas within your company, for example:

The recruitment process – When advertising a vacancy, it is a good idea to only include the tasks that are needed for that specific job, offer the option for people to apply in different formats if needed, for example, email/over the phone/or Braille and bear in mind that if you have selection tests as part of your recruitment process, some candidates may require extra time/assistance to complete them.

Work arrangements and working environment – When you have a disabled person working for you there are several adjustments that might be needed to make it easier for them to work, these are classed as “reasonable adjustments” under the DDA.

These could include:

  • Arranging or giving training or specialist equipment – for example, talking browser software or voice recognition software.
  • Providing supervision or a reader/interpreter – for example a support worker or sign language interpreter.
  • Modifying instruction/reference manuals to make them more accessible – for example providing an audio format as well as a written one.
  • Allocating some of the disabled persons duties to another member of staff – for example, a supermarket assistant that can not stack high shelves – a colleague could be asked to stack the high shelves for them.
  • Altering the working hours – for example if someone is taking medication which gives them side effects at a particular time of day, they are allowed to start later, or finish earlier to accommodate this.
  • Allowing absences during working hours if needed for assessment, rehabilitation, treatment or counselling.
  • Modifying assessment procedures by allowing them longer to complete any tests, or providing them with someone to help them understand the questions.
  • Modifying or adjusting the premises – for example installing wheelchair ramps or changing the direction that a door opens.
  • Assigning the disabled person to a different place of work – for example allowing them to work from home if they are unable to attend the office due to their condition.

The cost of these adjustments is normally minimal as most disabled people don’t require major adjustments to their working environment, in addition to this, the government may be able to offer financial assistance through their “Access to work” scheme which is designed to help with advice, practical and financial support for both disabled people and their employers to help overcome any issues in the work place as a result of their disability.

Obviously, the complying with the Disability Discrimination Act does not mean that you can’t employ the best person for the job, it just ensures that you do not discriminate against employees or potential employees while employing the right person for the job. By complying with employment rights and the DDA you will also be able to demonstrate to your employees that you are willing to offer employment on an equal footing regardless of any disabilities they may have or develop and saves you from the risk of costly litigation, bad publicity and being brought before an employment tribunal.