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TX: 30.09.04 - DDA

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

WHITE
And for the last half of the programme we're going to be talking about the Disability Discrimination Act and the latest part of it to come into force. Tomorrow the final part of the DDA comes into force, it means that disabled people must have access to high street shops and services, if premises don't comply then people who don't bring them up to scratch risk paying compensation which could amount to tens of thousands of pounds. Today, as I say, we devote the second half to it, we'll be discussing how momentous the new legislation is and finding out just how well prepared businesses are. Among our guests will be the minister for disabled people, Maria Eagle, and Marie Pye of the Disability Rights Commission, both joining us from Brighton - there's a conference going on.
 
Marie, first of all, I suspect some people are going to be saying surely we've had the Disability Discrimination Act for getting on for a decade, I mean what is actually new about this, what can't you do tomorrow that you could have got away with today?
 
PYE
Basically Peter if you're running a high street shop or you're responsible for a hospital or you're the manager of a gym and you're not user friendly for disabled people and your service is still full of obstacles - steps, poor lighting, heavy doors, narrow aisles - then from this Friday you could find yourself in court if you're not planning or haven't made any changes to those. And those are the kinds of things that 10 years ago the Government announced they wanted to be changed, so they've given businesses and service providers 10 years notice and tomorrow that 10 years runs out.
 
WHITE
Does it make a difference in terms of refurbishments that you do from tomorrow? The suspicion is that quite a lot of people might have done refurbishments rather quickly in order to avoid the Disability Discrimination Act.
 
PYE
Well if they have they've got to be effective, they've got to work and they've actually got to make sure that disabled people can use those services. And what we've found is that some businesses have planned this, done it properly, actually made those changes, made those improvements very well. Others, I'm afraid, have done a very good impersonation of an ostrich and stuck their heads firmly in the sand and they're going to find themselves ostriches in court. At the Disability Rights Commission we don't want loads of people in court, we don't want these £50,000 fines, we would rather they spent that money on improving their businesses for disabled people.
 
WHITE
Okay, we'll come on to the issue of the courts and what they can do in a moment. This hasn't been greeted with enthusiasm from all quarters, from tomorrow, as we've heard, businesses will have a legal obligation to make reasonable physical changes to property to ensure that disabled customers can access their services. Many are anxious about this and what's required of them and they feel it could cost them thousands of pounds. Nigel Taylor runs a newsagents in Oxford.
 
TAYLOR
It's a very, very small shop, we're talking less than 200 square foot of selling space. It's got a single door entrance, of which there's two steps up to gain entrance to the property. On entering the shop there's - on your immediate left hand side as you go in is the paper racks and magazines and we then have a newstand in the centre of the room which actually divides the shop into two halves. To gain access to it with a wheelchair is impossible at the present and it would be very, very difficult to change that because it's a Grade II listed building, we'd have to get permission from the college who owns the building and also planning permission etc., it would also involve us moving the front door to the centre of the frontage. Ramps would be a problem insofar as there's not that much path space out the front to put a ramp in. And we would also have to lose our centre aisle with the papers on, that would have to disappear completely because there would be no room for wheelchair manoeuvre within the shop. We haven't had it costed accurately but we know we're looking at £5-6,000 a least, after that we really couldn't look into it any much further. Being a newsagent means some of the goods that we sell - 15-20 pence chewing gum and sweets - to actually recoup the cost of this would take us years. Whether there are any grants available for this, again I don't know, that's possibly a route we could look down into but again really it's such a small building it makes it unviable as a business to run.
 
WHITE
That's Nigel Taylor. Well I'm also joined by David Southwell of the British Retail Consortium. David, do a lot of your members feel like this do you think?
 
SOUTHWELL
I think a lot of smaller retailers especially would echo a lot of Mr Taylor's frustrations. And I think one of their frustrations, which they would feel very justified about, is that for the last five years the retail community has been asking the Government, not for grants, not for handouts, but just for tax credit on the capital investment to make these changes to help them comply with the regulations tomorrow and they've not received any help at all from the Government and I think that's a justifiable concern and one which a lot of small retailers will be echoing.
 
WHITE
Let me bring in Maria Eagle on that. Are you just preaching without offering any financial help, I mean you could offer tax breaks couldn't you?
 
EAGLE
Well I think the key thing and it should reassure Nigel Taylor and other small retailers in his position is to think that these are reasonable changes, so if the cost of making these changes would far outweigh Mr Taylor's ability to pay for them then no court would think that it was reasonable that he should have to pay that. The law says that he can provide a service in an alternative way. The key thing is that people wanting to buy sweets and papers from Mr Taylor's newsagent's shop can be enabled to do so, it's not an absolute law that says every building and every premises has got to be perfect, otherwise you're going to be taken to court. It's designed to enable people, like Nigel Taylor, to still meet the requirements of the law but make sure that he can service disabled customers.
 
WHITE
But he still has to do that, he still has to make the initial outlay, take the risk of being or take the risk of being taken to court. Wouldn't it possible to have provided something which would mean that all of us pay to some extent, that's what would be the effect of tax breaks and therefore it would be the whole community taking responsibility for this act wouldn't it?
 
EAGLE
Well I think that, as Marie said, this legislation's been on the statute book for nine years, it's not been implemented yet, it will be on Friday, people have had plenty of time to plan for these changes. But Mr Taylor shouldn't worry about being put out of business, because this is about reasonable changes nobody will be put out of business. This is about making sure that almost 10 million of our fellow citizens can get what the rest of us take for granted. And if Mr Taylor can do something to make his services more accessible he'll get more custom, he'll sell more sweets, more papers because there's people out there wanting to buy from him who can't get into his shop and can't access his services.
 
WHITE
David Southwell what about that - this law came in in 1995 and it was said then that this part of it would come into force in 2004, nobody can actually pretend they didn't know it was coming.
 
SOUTHWELL
Oh absolutely and nobody is and no we're also not pretending that we haven't been asking the Government for tax breaks for capital investment for that period of time either. I completely agree with the minister - this about reasonable changes. I think a lot of small retailers will have some very innovative ways of addressing this issue and it's not just going to be about large capital investment projects but the Government certainly could have helped at any point during that period by actually just giving some tax credits to the smaller retailers.
 
WHITE
And Maria Eagle I'd just like to press really this point about the fact that you get your money back - there are lots of disabled people out there. There are indeed but what he's talking about - what Nigel is talking about - is a lot of very small sales of things, isn't it going to be a long time before he recoups 6,000 quid?
 
EAGLE
It would be if he's selling things for 15 and 20 pence but given the circumstances he described I don't think a court would think it was reasonable for him to put ramps in. But you know not every person with a mobility impairment is a wheelchair user, perhaps if he just thinks about something like a handrail then some people with mobility impairment can get up one or two steps and that helps some people. So just because you can't have perfection you can't do everything doesn't mean you can't do something, people need to do what they can. And the key thing here is that the law is making people think about what they can do and I think that's its greatest power.
 
WHITE
Okay let's look at the reality of this, this is what it means to the disabled man or woman in the street, earlier this summer Mik Scarlett visited his local high street in Camden in North London to see how it was measuring up to the new act, he took our reporter Carolyn Atkinson with him.
 
ATKINSON
We're outside Barclays Bank at the moment, what are we greeted with here?
 
SCARLET
We're greeted with two escalators - one going up, one going down. Firstly they are too narrow to actually get anything other than a very small pushchair on but it is actually illegal in this country to put a wheelchair on an escalator because if you fall backwards and injure anyone it's, kind of, bad news. But there's no lift, there's no other access that I can see...
 
ASSISTANT BRANCH MANAGER
There is a lift ...
 
ATKINSON
Are you the manager?
 
ASSISTANT BRANCH MANAGER
I'm one of the assistant branch managers. Go straight through there's a lift there, press the button, go up to the first floor and then just the doors there, just open it and go straight round.
 
SCARLET
You push that bell ...
 
ASSISTANT BRANCH MANAGER
... on this one here, somebody will come down to you.
 
ATKINSON
Do you think it would be better to put a sign saying - lift round the corner?
 
ASSISTANT BRANCH MANAGER
Well yeah but then you could look anywhere couldn't you - that's why we've put the buttons there so that you can press the button and we'll let you through.
 
SCARLET
I've only been coming to Camden since I was 19 and - that's 20 years - and I've only just found that lift. [LAUGHTER]
 
ATKINSON
This is Inhibition Café, it's an independently owned, fairly average high street café selling sandwiches, what not, how is it for you?
 
SCARLET
Well I must admit it's not the most accessible of places. It's got a kind of - it's not a very high step but it's quite a pronounced step with a lip, I would probably use the doorframe to pull myself in but the main scary thing is that directly opposite the door at the moment is a flight of steps that go down into the basement where they've obviously got the actual kitchen. It would take some serious stunt wheeling to not end up, you know, joining the chef for lunch I feel. And I would imagine that someone with a visual impairment would be almost doomed because I'm sure that if you didn't really know the stairs were there, you'd just see the bar at the back of the room that is where they kind of serve the coffees from and you'd aim for it, there'd be just this sort of like little guide dog wandering about going - Where's my owner? - because he would be with the chef as well.
 
WHITE
Mik Scarlett, who is with us now, this is your local high street, you wheel up and down it every day, so have they done any of the things that you thought might help, what about the restaurant, has it still got the flight of stairs?
 
SCARLETT
Oh yes it's still exactly the same.
 
WHITE
Any warnings?
 
SCARLETT
Yes exactly the same and the bank is the same as well - no signs. In fact I can't actually say that I've seen any difference in Camden High Street at all.
 
WHITE
The thing is the things you were suggesting would be pretty reasonable, wouldn't they, it wouldn't cost much to put a sign up.
 
SCARLETT
No and I think this is it, is that a lot of people, a lot of the shop owners, are kind of saying - I can't ramp everywhere, and it's going to cost a fortune - but in reality that's not what the law says - the law says you've got to make your service accessible not your building. So basically if you have to - if you want to go and buy a newspaper you just need to be able to shout through the door - hello I need a newspaper.
 
WHITE
The problem is this word reasonable, isn't it, what's reasonable for you might not appear reasonable to Nigel Taylor in his newsagent's in Oxford. Do you not have some sympathy with his dilemma? And we've heard people saying ah yeah but he wouldn't have to do all that, but you know he thinks he will have to do something.
 
SCARLETT
I think - I really understand what it's like to be a small business, I would imagine it must be terrifying because they must perceive it as being this kind of draconian law that's coming in that says everywhere must be fully accessible and in reality that's not the case, but I don't think the Government's really explained it very well to them and it's almost like it's legislating for goodwill really because that's all about the law says - is kind of make sure that people can get stuff if they need it and sort of train your staff a bit - so really it's kind of basically saying I want to buy a newspaper, I can't get in your shop so do you mind coming out and selling me one, which is probably what he did anywhere.
 
WHITE
David Southwell is there a bit of scaremongering going on here on the part of businesses? I mean one journalist writing this morning - I know you can't take responsibility for what every journalist says - but he's writing in the Telegraph and predicting tomorrow will be called "red tape day", are some of your members really lumping this together with issues like the working time directive and increases in the minimum wage and that kind of thing - everybody hates the businessman kind of thing?
 
SOUTHWELL
I have not met a single retailer that is going to think about this as red tape. I think a lot of retailers are actually looking at yes this is a challenge but it is an opportunity. A lot retailers, not just because of the legislation, have been working towards this anyway because you'd be a foolish business not to. There are so many people who have previously been discriminated against, who've not had a fair level playing field in terms of service and it's also - it is a customer service issue, every customer deserves the right to have a good level of service and to have access to service. So for business reasons, for reasons of commercial sense as well as the legislation process it's entirely different from a host of red tape issues which cripple businesses and which are unnecessary and which are gold plating of legislation which don't need to occur. This is very different and I have not met a single retailer, large or small, who's described this to me as draconian red tape.
 
WHITE
Right, but they are describing it as something that they're rather scared of, nonetheless, some of the smaller ones, for the reasons that we've heard.
 
SOUTHWELL
I think Mik's point was absolutely spot on that it hasn't actually been very well presented I think by the Government. Yes, we've all known it's coming but more could have been done in terms of education. And a lot has been left up to organisations such as the BRC and the Disability Rights Commission to actually try and promote good practice and to try and promote awareness.
 
WHITE
Can I put that quickly to the minister, this idea that people - because we're still hearing lots of reports that businesses aren't ready, they don't know about this.
 
EAGLE
Yeah, I think unfortunately you're always going to get that, it's only when the law actually changes that some people start thinking about it. We have had nine years when this was known to be going to happen at some point and I think it's only when the law changes that many people finally get around to it. We've done a lot of work, spent quite a few million pounds, trying to provide information, government does give the DRC money to do that as a well known place that people can go but we've done a lot of work ourselves, I mean I've written to a million small firms, small businesses, about this and we have websites, we have things all over the place - information, videos - all kinds of things. So I would say to people who are concerned about this do take a little bit of time to get the information, it is available.
 
WHITE
Some small businesses do seem to be struggling as we've heard but others are embracing it, Norman Pierce is the landlord of the Sun Inn near Craven Arms in Shropshire. The pub dates back to the 1600s and it's a traditional country watering hole. And for the last 10 years Norman has been gradually modernising his pub and at the same time making it disabled friendly.
 
PIERCE
At the moment I'm actually standing on the car park, next to me is two disabled parking spaces, there's a sign asking disabled drivers to sound their horn and a member of staff will come out and be of assistance. Next to that is a slope up on to a patio area and off of the patio area is a slope down into the lounge bar, both of those slopes were steps but with the aid of a few bags of cement and a few barrel loads of sand one Sunday afternoon they were changed into slopes. As we come on through the door into a small porch area, once again it is sloped from the step - or what was a step - sloped down. The slope is actually done with quarry tiles turned upside down. This reduced the cost to make it a non-slip slope. We've fitted on the walls by the slopes handrails, which are just basically a handrail that you would go and buy in your local do-it-yourself shop and fitted to the wall. It's as simple as that. All the work that's been done has been done on a rolling maintenance and repair schedule over the last 10 or 12 years. We've come to an area where the ladies toilet is and this is also an entrance to the disabled toilet. As you can see here the basins have got lever taps - they were replaced two years ago when the original taps started to leak and drip. I recently had a phone call from a coach company - could a coach part of 50 stop off for lunch? And they explained to me they'd got one in a wheelchair and could we accommodate the one in the wheelchair? When I explained that we could this meant we had a coach party of 50. If the wheelchair user could not have got in then we'd have lost not one person, we would have lost 50 people. So there's one prime example of the benefits that the Act and actually having a pub that is disabled friendly can create.
 
WHITE
Norman Pierce, landlord of the Sun Inn in Shropshire, maybe not a clubbing venue Mik but perhaps one that you would at least be able to frequent. But for people who are not conscientious and enthusiastic as Norman and need a bit of a nudge from the law who's going to see that this actually happens? This is civil law, nothing to do with the police and actions will have to be brought by individuals who feel they've been discriminated against. So how's it going to work? Sandhya Drew is a leading barrister who specialises in human rights and equality law. Sandhya Drew, how easy will it be for ordinary members of the public to bring these kinds of cases, if that's what they think they need to do?
 
DREW
Yes, well and first of all assuming that they think they need to do it I suppose the first point to make is that in many cases people will simply go to the pub down the road, it's never easy to challenge this sort of exclusion and if one takes the example of Rosa Parks who challenged racial segregation in public places in the States one could always say that she could have gone to another seat on the bus. But once someone is determined enough, perhaps having been excluded from seeing a particular film with their friends for a long time or been put next to the toilets in a restaurant - these are two examples I've come across - then it's relatively simple. One can take a case to the county court and the remedies that the county court can provide are first of all compensation - at best it's undignified to be turned away from - or not being able to make use of the service ...
 
WHITE
So you can win on hurt feelings.
 
DREW
Well yeah absolutely and at most it can be very humiliating for the people concerned. Perhaps more interestingly what someone could try to obtain from the court would be an injunction, which is an order either to do something or not to do something, and the courts are increasingly willing to make injunctions ordering service providers to make their service accessible to the disabled person in question.
 
WHITE
Can I ask you about the cost to someone who brings that kind of case?
 
DREW
Yes, it's expensive and in the county court there is exposure, even if someone decided to take the case themselves, there is exposure to the other sides costs and of course it being not in the employment sphere union funding is not available. However, there is the possibility of funding from the DRC, there is the possibility of, in certain cases, of public funding and certainly from my recollection Peter when the DDA had been in force and the Disability Rights Commission had not yet been set up that there was both very good work in supporting cases from disability charities and an organisation which I'm involved in - the Disability Discrimination Act Representation and Advice Project - was a panel of lawyers who offered their services for free to support people who would not otherwise be able to bring a case. So where there's a will there's a way.
 
WHITE
But - yes - the question is though even if you bring all this it's still going to hinge on this word reasonable isn't it and what's reasonable to one person, as we've heard, isn't reasonable to somebody else.
 
DREW
Well it's a bit more specific than that - the Act sets out factors that need to be looked at - costs - the costs of making the adjustment, whether or not funding is available, so that is something that Parliament had in mind and the effect on the person with the disability and the nature of the service provider. So there are specific criteria set out but clearly there's a degree of uncertainty as to how a court would decide the matter.
 
WHITE
Let me bring back Marie Pye, how many of these cases could the DRC take on - are you expecting to be inundated?
 
PYE
We are expecting disabled people to want to take cases and the Disability Rights Commission will be taking cases forward. And as people know in the past under other bits of the DDA we've been really successful, as I'm sure executives at Ryan Air remember very well. And I really think a lot of disabled people will not just take cases for their own sake, not because they can't get in to see a film, but because disabled people have been denied their rights for so many years that people will take these cases for the sake of others, for the sake of the other 50 or a hundred people who couldn't get in to see that movie in that cinema.
 
WHITE
Mik Scarlett, would you - do you think you would bring a case? We've asked you to check these places out for us, what would it take to make you say I'm actually going to take this lot to court?
 
SCARLETT
Oh I think I definitely could, I can think of quite a few places, in fact I think my girlfriend and myself have got a shopping trip planned on Saturday and we're going to wander round Central London not being let in to places on purpose and going - I am mortified, the pain and the agony - and then I can retire.
 
WHITE
Well we will see. Maria Eagle do you want to see the law courts being used to make the law stick because surely it's going to take cases to actually define some of these points that at the moment are simply defined by guidelines?
 
EAGLE
It will and I think there will be cases. However, I also used to be a lawyer and I know how hard it is for people to take cases, it's harder for disabled people for all kinds of reasons and I'm sure it will be a last resort. But I'm confident that the DRC will help to define the law. But what I'd say to those upon whom these obligations are being placed tomorrow is - don't go away and hide and pretend that it doesn't matter until somebody takes you to court, just face this up, find a bit out about it and do it and stop excluding disabled people. We know it's not done deliberately half the time, it's lack of thought, it's lack of understanding. Between all of us, I think, we need to improve as a society and one of the problems with all of this in the past has been that disabled people have been excluded, they've been marginalised, they've even been segregated in the not too distant past and some still are, we don't understand enough, as non-disabled people, about their needs, we need to get better, society needs to get better, this law will make it happen quicker than it otherwise would.
 
WHITE
Okay, well we will see of course and here on You and Yours we will be keeping a very close eye on the law and how it acts and indeed how business reacts. Thank you to all of you who took part this morning. Do you want to see the law courts being used? We'd like to hear from people, if you want to comment on anything we've discussed, as ever, you can e-mail us via our website at bbc.co.uk/youandyours and of course you can write to us as well. 

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