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The Way I See It… The True Impact of the DDA


Many organisations have focused their attentions on the Part II of the Disability Discrimination Act. Rick Williams CFCIPD, Director of Freeney Williams Ltd, maintains that this is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true implications of the DDA on companies.

Over the past years many large organisations have introduced policies relating to disability. Primarily HR specialists have driven these policy developments, concentrating on the employment aspects of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) to ensure “compliance” with Part II. In other words they have concentrated on topics such as recruitment, career development, training and managing sick absences.

The problem with concentrating on Part II of the DDA is that organisations are still leaving themselves open to significant risks as well as missing out on considerable business opportunities. Part III of the DDA is equally important to organisations from both the purchasing and marketing aspect. Many organisations are not addressing the Part III implications in any cohesive or strategic way. They often leave the lead responsibility for DDA with HR even though they typically have no power to deal with the Part III issues effectively.

What are the other policy areas?
There are two key policy areas, which are often overlooked when organisations review their DDA positions: purchasing and marketing.

Purchasing departments can be, in effect, buying DDA liability when they purchase some services or products. This may well come back to haunt the whole organisation later, creating additional unnecessary risks and costs.

An example of this is using an outside agency to develop a website which is not accessible to or usable by disabled people. There is no legal obligation on the developer to make it accessible or usable when selling it to the company as it is a business-to-business transaction. However, when the buyer posts the website, thus providing a service to the public, it is covered by Part III of the Act. If the purchasing company has not ensured that accessibility and usability issues were explicitly addressed in the purchasing contract, who becomes liable to sort out the problem? It is the purchaser not the developer.

There are other areas that may well attract similar problems. The most common of these is likely to be where an organisation buys in a service; for example, a recruitment agency or using facilities management services which impact on members of the public, eg security and reception. When you start considering the amount of services and items that companies purchase it becomes clear there are significant risks being bought by companies where no thought has been given to the Part III implications.

Unfortunately, it is not only when organisations buy products for use by the public that risks exist. An example encountered recently was that of a national company buying an in-house, on-line learning package where the developers did not make it accessible to disabled employees. In law there is no need for the developer to have addressed this, of course, but once the system became operational and a disabled employee wanted to use that on-line system then the purchaser had to sort it out. The costs for doing this were considerable as it involved retrofitting the package to comply with accessibility and usability guidelines. With the package they bought some expensive liabilities which were entirely avoidable if they had been taken into account when setting up the contract.

One of the more testing issues for organisations is the change in the DDA relating to the use of recruitment agencies. In effect, if an agency working for another company doesn’t comply with the DDA requirements, then there might well be joint liability between the agency and the organisation. Unfortunately, our experience to date is that whilst some agencies are taking this on board, many are not, and a quick look at their websites highlights their lack of awareness of the DDA with many not being accessible to or usable by disabled people. The position is also very patchy when considering their practices and procedures on making reasonable adjustments for disabled applicants. We have done some mystery shopping in this area and the results can only be considered depressing, albeit predictable!

How is marketing important?
Many organisations still see dealing with disabled customers as an on-cost rather than as a potential and significant market. The latest statistics indicate that there are 9.8 million people in the United Kingdom who could be described as disabled and one in four families is now believed to have, or be close to a disabled person.

Looking forward, the figures are going to increase significantly, largely due to the direct relationship between age and disability, with most people acquiring their impairments post-45 rather than being born with them. The NHS estimates that 70% of the population alive in the UK today will acquire some form of impairment during their lifetime.

The single greatest impact on the incidence of disability will be that caused by an ageing population. By 2025, it is estimated that over 50% of the UK will be 50 or over. Extrapolating out existing incidences of disability on the basis of age acquirement alone, we estimate that by 2025, 32-35% of the population will have some form of impairment that impacts on their lives at any one time.

Given that the net annual disposable income of disabled people is now quoted at £80 billion per annum, it would be a foolish company that ignored this potential market.

Disability is an emotive issue and possibly the biggest single risk to most businesses is not financial loss but damage to reputation. For example, it is very difficult to estimate the amount of damage caused to Ryan Air by the recent court case involving a passenger who used a wheelchair and was charged for it.

Most people when they receive poor service, rather than complain, choose not to use that service again. It is difficult therefore, to know or accurately measure the actual cost of lost sales, particularly in retail and financial services.

What next?
What is becoming increasingly clear is that organisations need to think about disability in a more strategic way than they do at present, especially if they are to minimise their business risks and costs whilst maximising their opportunities. This means considering policy developments outside the HR area and broadening the issues into a strategic and holistic approach. Until they do this it is unlikely that organisations will be able to say they ‘mainstream’ inclusiveness.


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