What is disability discrimination?
Last Updated on January 12th, 2021
If you are treated less well or put at a disadvantage for a reason that relates to your disability in one of the situations covered by the Equality Act 2010.
Discrimination may take the form of a one-off action, the application of a rule or policy or the existence of physical or communication barriers which make accessing something difficult or impossible.
What is often misunderstood is that discrimination does not have to be intentional to be unlawful.
What are ‘reasonable adjustments’?
One of the situations covered in the Equality Act is ‘failure to make reasonable adjustments’; a statement that is sometimes taken by organisations to mean making their sites accessible to a disabled person.
While such adjustments may well be essential but they should not be implemented in isolation.
Access to buildings is not just a matter of ramps and power-assisted doors – if people with disabilities are to have equal access they must also be granted the same consideration when planning a safe way for them to evacuate in an emergency.
What are the current UK standards and key regulations?
Equality Act 2010
There is a duty placed on employers and providers of services (such as train and bus companies) to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and users respectively under Chapter 2 (Part 20) of the Equality Act 2010.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
The RRFS0 states that those who are responsible for a building must provide a fire risk assessment and a disaster response plan that provides a safe means of leaving the building for all persons likely to be in the premises, including disabled people.
The Building Regulations 2000
The 2 sections of the Building Regulations that apply to a disabled person are:
- Part B – fire precautions, including means of escape in case of fire.
- Part M – access and facilities for disabled people
BS 8300:2018 Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people
As a Code of Practice, this British Standard takes the form of guidance and recommendations. It promotes good practise design principles to ensure new buildings and their approaches can meet the needs of disabled people and are convenient to use
In addition to the above, the Government provides guidance about completing a fire safety risk assessment for people responsible for providing means of escape for disabled people. You can download a copy by clicking here.
What should I do next?
Initially, you should check that an organisation’s current safe exit procedures and plans are meeting the needs of disabled people to reduce any risk the building may cause. Things to consider include creating refuge areas, improving lighting on escape routes or potentially removing the risk altogether by moving those with restricted mobility to the ground floor.
If not already actioned, then an employer should work with a disabled employee to create their Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan.
What is a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan?
Shortened to PEEP, a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan is an individual plan written to the needs of a disabled person. They may be an employee, a regular visitor to site or service user. It outlines the roles and responsibilities of those involved and includes other elements such as the route they are likely to take and what support they require in the event of an emergency situation.
For occasional disabled visitors or service users, an organisation can develop a range of ‘general emergency escape plans’ which considers variables such as the likely location of a disabled person, the escape routes available and what members of staff are required. On entering the building, a disabled visitor can be made aware of the plans, procedures and instructions in the unlikely event of an emergency.
What assistance can help the safe escape of disabled people?
No two situations will be the same so it is important an organisation ensure whatever measures are put into place, they meet the duty of care laid out above. Measures should include but not limited to:
- The provision of evacuation chairs or comparable equipment
- Persons trained in the correct and safe techniques for using the evac chairs
- Those trained staff are aware of the persons they are expected to assist
- Regular drills using the evac chairs to practise the escape procedures
- Training new staff to replace those who subsequently leave the organisation.
What other factors should I consider?
Depending on the duty of care you provide, you may need to arrange for emergency instructions in different formats for different disabilities, for example:
- For someone with a visual impairment consider a braille, large print, audio instructions or a tactile map of the building
- Pictorial instructions or a physical demonstration of a safe egress route for those with learning disabilities.
Also, consider how you alert those who need to evacuate:
- Visual fire warning system or vibrating alarm for someone with hearing impairments
- Extra support for people through a ‘buddy’ system.
Practical measures include:
- For someone with autism, an orientation disorder or dyslexia, colour coding of escape routes may help.
- Step edge markings and non-slip coverings
- Easy ways of contacting someone for help, advice or information.
Is there anything else?
A risk assessment should be used to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to take account of an individual’s disabilities; they should not be used to discriminate against someone.
The HSE website has extensive information and advice on how to take account of disabilities within various types of organisations.
Always seek the ideas of disabled people on how the building can be adapted to ensure their safety, along with those who may be required to help them, in the event of an emergency.