Disabled get second-class treatment

LORNA MARSH Hundreds of disabled people in Norfolk are being treated as second-class citizens as businesses and public services openly flout laws meant to give equal access to everyone three years after they were brought in.

LORNA MARSH

Hundreds of disabled people in Norfolk are being treated as second-class citizens as businesses and public services openly flout laws meant to give equal access to everyone three years after they were brought in.

The scandal is revealed as cam-paigners take the battle for disabled rights into their own hands with demonstrations across the county highlighting the flawed system that allows lawbreakers to carry on unhindered.

During its Action for Access week, the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP) has lifted the lid on the reality of the day-to-day problems faced by disabled people and the disturbing failure of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to address them.

The act was applauded when in October 2004 it made it illegal for places like local councils, doctors' surgeries, churches, shops, hotels, banks, pubs, courts, and voluntary groups to make access difficult for disabled people.

But many of those places are still woefully lacking in the "reasonable adjustments" they were obliged to undertake to ensure they met their legal requirements.

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And the framework of the law supposed to help disabled people discourages them from bringing complaints and, in reality, has allowed those providing services to get away with doing nothing.

Only disabled individuals, not groups, can take action and they have to pay for court costs if they fail.

In addition, the time and energy required to go through a David versus Goliath legal battle when facing big businesses puts many off. The issue is compounded by the confusion that still surrounds the act.

The situation has resulted in those it affects feeling "let down by society" and has sparked further calls for strengthening of the law.

Bill Albert, chief executive officer of the NCODP, said: "There is a law that is flawed because the only people who can enforce it are disabled people who are often in the least position to do so."

Alyson Rose, spokesman for the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), an independent body set up by the government to give advice and legal support to disabled people, employers and organisations, said: "It is a key point that people do find it difficult to challenge businesses with the current process.

"And people just go elsewhere rather than bring a complaint, so those places that haven't got access remain inaccessible as the pressure on them decreases.

"What we would like to see are employment tribunals taking on cases rather than county courts so disabled people do not have to fund complaints themselves."

Ms Rose said the commission was also recommending an increase in fines as a deterrent.

Latest figures revealed that up to 8,000 complaints are received by the DRC regarding access every year. Only a handful of these are brought to court.

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