THE BLOG

Why the Disability Discrimination Act Is a Criminal Farce

07/10/2014 10:37 BST | Updated 05/12/2014 10:59 GMT

My lovely old dad was in a wheelchair for the last 10 years of his life and it was my duty and pleasure to push it around London.

But it's only when you have the privilege of helping a wheelchair-user navigate the streets of London does it hammer home how thoughtless many of us are by making it so difficult for them to get around.

One example of this lack of sensitivity towards disability is when we park, perhaps unknowingly, by lowered curbs on the road that have been specifically altered to make possible wheelchair access to and from the pavement.

From October 2004, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) should have been fully implemented and rammed into the public psyche. The very purpose of the DDA was to "end the discrimination that faces many people with disabilities".

This legislation also "allows the government to set minimum standards in order that people with disabilities can use public transport easily". And believe me, when they say minimum standards, rest assured that the standards are very close to "minimum" indeed.

The DDA also requires shops and offices to install ramps, and service providers to make "reasonable adjustments" to their premises to tackle any physical features that prevent people using their services.

However, few commercial enterprises have made any serious effort to comply with the Act. But even worse, in my opinion the government has barely bothered to police the Act - and seemingly have no great wish to do so either.

How pitiful it is that councils spend fortunes on parking wardens to police our streets and give tickets to those who have purportedly parked illegally because the council has painted pretty yellow lines by the curb in order to raise money to feel their coffers.

Why don't we see more "disability enforcement wardens" to check that the DDA is being properly complied with? Councils might want to make these new wardens a profit making enterprise - and I say go for it. Big time.

When a shop or office hasn't made any effort at DDA compliance, by either building a small ramp or buying a portable wheelchair ramp that can be pulled out at a moment's notice, then by all means fine them £500.

Sound like a lot? Trust me, it's a far more serious 'crime' than parking your car on a double yellow line - especially where your car poses no danger to anybody.

And then, if they still haven't built the ramps within a month, the fine is then increased to £1,000, and for every further month another £1,000, ad infinitum.

It might occur that the best people to police compliance would be the disabled community itself. However, blind former disability activist and playwright, Mandy Redvens-Rowe says disabled people "have willingly let things slip".

She went on: "There was a time when I felt compelled to campaign for disability rights. Once I stopped traffic to complain about the lack of accessible transport. But I don't do this any more. None of us do. Why? Because we were silenced by the promise of the new inclusive age. The golden post-DDA period when all of us would be equal."

Nearly 20 years after the DDA's initial introduction, very little has changed. When the Act first came into force most people accepted that changes would not happen overnight. There would be a gentle settling-in period - a period of readjustment, if you will.

Why has so little been done after this settling in period? Probably because, in the United Kingdom, the DDA is a civil rights law with no particularly serious consequences for non-compliance. However, in so many other countries, their equivalent of the same Act uses constitutional, social rights or criminal law to make those very same provisions.

In the UK, disability ramps are seen as an unnecessary expense at a time when everyone is trying to cut back. Basically, people think, 'no-one is chasing us to make these adjustments, so why should I jump through hoops to make them?' Whereas, in many other parts of Europe, there are serious consequences for non-compliance - and the ramps are fitted.

If only those daft shop owners understood that the market for disabled and older people represents an ever-increasing percentage of the population.

Not making it easier for them to wander around your stores simply means that their customer base is getting ever smaller as time passes - and relatively small adjustments could see big differences to their profit margins.