The Equality Act 2010 requires companies, shops and owners of public buildings to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate the needs of disabled people who might use the premises. This could apply to visitors and to anyone carrying out occasional work in an office as well as to permanent employees, so just because a particular company has no disabled staff does not mean that they can ignore this law.
The key phrase here is ‘reasonable adjustments’. This means that there is no automatic right for a disabled person to demand that changes are made to a building to ensure that they have the same right of access as an able-bodied person. As an example, a small company with very limited resources may not be required to make a series of costly adjustments. Nor would an organisation that operates a very old building, in which making complex adjustments may simply be impractical. Installing a full-scale lift that serves all floors of a building may in some circumstances be an example of an adjustment that is just too costly and/or complex.
However, examples of reasonable adjustments might include:
- Reducing the steepness of steps and stairs
- Installing ramps as alternatives to short flights of steps and stairs
- Widening an entrance or corridor, or the gap between banks of desks in the open office
- Installing automatic doors
- Installing a disabled toilet
- Improving lighting and signage
- Installing a fire alarm that has both a flashing light and a siren
The duty to make adjustments does not just apply to the design of a building. Again dependent on resources and practicality, examples of other reasonable adjustments might include:
- Making written information available in Braille and/or audio
- Providing a hearing aid induction loop
- Giving certain staff special responsibility for assisting disabled colleagues and visitors
Before deciding that any adjustment would be too costly, organisations should find out what tax allowances might be available that would assist them in making the necessary adjustments.
Under no circumstances should an organisation ask for payment for any adjustments made. So a company making adjustments for the benefit of a disabled employee cannot ask that staff member to pay.
Separate legislation, known as the Wheelchair Access Regulations, stipulates that all new public buildings in the UK must be fully accessible by wheelchair users.