Wheelchair access to businesses and services continues to be a very real problem for people with disabilities. It limits life choices, restricts access to the community and confers the status of second class citizens on many within the disability community. If you experience access discrimination, being informed about the options for redress, and in particular mediation services in Worcester and Hereford, is vital in defending and demanding your rights.
In this blog I’m not only going to look at the law surrounding wheelchair access, but also at how you can ensure it is proactively applied if you encounter discrimination.
The inability to access shops, restaurants, transport and other services and other services within your own community not only makes everyday chores a logistical nightmare, but severely limits opportunities for independent living. Many physical environments, and in particular older buildings and infrastructures, have been designed by able bodied people with little understanding of the needs of the disabled community.
It is important to know that if you, a friend or family member has a disability, you are protected by powerful equality legislation which enshrines your right not to be discriminated against when demanding access to a business or service. If this access is denied to you, you also have the right to legal redress, or to enter disability mediation in Hereford and Worcester to overturn discriminatory practice.
The Equality Act
Anyone with a disability is legally protected under the Equality Act 2010 , which stipulates that people with disabilities have the same right to access businesses and services as any able bodied person, and at no additional cost. Service providers, according to this act, need to demonstrate that they have made every ‘reasonable adjustment’ to ensure access to their services for clients with disabilities.
Although the term is imprecise in its construction, it is generally applied with a degree of common sense. A multi-national corporation, for example, would be expected to ensure compliance with lift and ramp access in its new buildings, and to modify older buildings where possible. An independent local hairdressers on the other hand, with a raised step into their salon, would need to show ‘reasonable adjustment’ in a more modest way befitting their means, for example by providing a temporary ramp that could be brought out for use by wheelchair users as and when required.
There will only be very rare instances where a wheelchair user can be legally denied access to a business or service. If, for example, a small company hires premises on the third floor of a building with no lift access, and the cost of installing a lift is deemed prohibitive, this would not be discrimination. However, in this instance, the company would still have a responsibility to show reasonable adjustment in another form to meet the needs of a disabled customer, for example if possible offering a remote service.
Position of strength
If you are denied access because reasonable adjustment clearly hasn’t been implemented, there are steps you can take to achieve redress. These can include legal action, or using disability mediation services to resolve your dispute. It is important when considering action to remember that you are in a powerful position. Over a million people in the UK use a wheelchair, making chair users a valuable potential market of between £5 and £10 billion a year, and few businesses will want to anger the disability lobby.
Litigation versus mediation
Redress is generally achieved either through legal representation or mediation. When it comes to disputes over wheelchair access, there are several advantages to mediation which have seen it increasingly become the go-to option for disability dispute resolution.
One of the most important advantages mediation provides over more traditional legal approaches is that it empowers the two parties directly. The person with a disability is able to directly engage with the provider of the service they are being denied. They have the opportunity to talk openly and frankly about how its denial has impacted on their lives, both practically and emotionally. This is generally a very empowering experience, allowing a participant their own voice and their own testimony, and often opens up a very constructive dialogue.
As the two parties engage with each other through a facilitator openly and freely, accommodation is far more likely to be reached than through the use of representing legal counsel. Often this more combative approach tends to entrench positions, denying as it does the opportunity for a more complete understanding of the issues involved on both sides. Litigation often destroys any possibility of future collaboration between the two parties. Mediation, on the other hand, often sets the foundations for a positive working relationship moving forwards.
There are also more practical benefits to mediation, both in terms of time and cost savings. Sitting disputing parties down together to discuss an issue generally leads to far more rapid resolution than resorting to legal proceedings. Most mediation will be resolved within a single day, and many within just a few hours. Compare this to the stories of litigation that run on for months or even years. Consequently the costs involved tend to be only a fraction of legal fees. Mediation has a high rate of success, with ninety percent of cases successfully resolved, but in the rare instance that consensus is not achieved, you retain your right to pursue legal recourse.