The development of schemes requires consultation with disabled people, and an impact assessment must be carried out prior to developing the action plan. The scheme documentation must state how disabled people are included and which assessment method is employed. The assessment must cover the impact of existing policies and practices, and the likely impact of proposed policies and practices, in respect of equality for disabled people.
Social inclusionThe goal is to remove discrimination, combat harassment, promote positive attitudes and secure participation of disabled people in public life. The economic benefit of increasing the inclusion of disabled people is considerable and forms part of a policy to reduce the number of people dependent on incapacity benefits.
The legislation goes beyond the original 1995 version - requiring positive action to ensure that decisions and activities don't disadvantage disabled people, and actively promote equality through the policies and practices of the authority (and/or its suppliers). The assessment has to focus on the specific issues affecting people with different disabilities and find ways of building opportunities for disabled people to use the abilities they have available.
The range of impairments and conditions that constitute a disability is greater than previously considered and probably wider than most people realise.
Changing mindsetsThe new legislation seeks to ensure that everyone in public service (including staff belonging to suppliers who provide public services for the authority) appreciates how barriers limit achievement and prevent inclusion of disabled people. It also recognises the right of disabled people to be involved in decisions about the type and quality of support provided - based on their individual need rather than an authority's view of what should be provided.
Many existing training or employment programmes will no longer be valid or appropriate as they reinforce stereotype approaches and can create prejudice against disabled people. This includes activities such as disability awareness training - often involving a person without a disability trying out a wheelchair or taking a walk with a blindfold - which is demeaning towards those with the disability and can have a serious negative affect by preventing people from seeing the capabilities or appreciating the enhanced sensitivities in disabled people.
This training element will be a significant issue for many public authorities and in particular private contractors who must now acquire the skills and processes to support the legislation. Many organisations have devised positive equality training programmes; one supplier - Gallant2000 Limited - has developed highly effective one-day and six day courses, which usefully set the new requirements into an understandable context. Their courses have been independently accredited by NCFE, thereby setting a benchmark for such training programmes (visit www.gallant2000.co.uk for more information).
Supplying to the publicA contractor providing services that are for the benefit of the public automatically inherits an extended duty to fulfil the requirements of the act.
If appropriate evidence of a contractor's ability to fulfil the requirements isn't available when a contract award is about to be made, then the public authority may not award the contract, and may itself be prevented from receiving public funds supporting the service.
The authority must specify requirements in ITT documents, and properly evaluate tenders to ensure that compliance will be achieved. Bidders must fully appreciate what these requirements mean in terms of delivering services to public sector client organisations and provide evidence of compliance with their duties.
What's moreDDA 1995 made clear that access wasn't solely related to the physical elements of an organisation's property, although that was largely the perception of many FM staff. The legislation also relates to service design and information material.
DDA 2005 reinforces this message, and a classical example is that future website design will need to meet the W3C standards (which are currently being revised) in order to ensure accessibility and interoperability (particularly to support auxiliary devices such as screen readers for people with visual impairment). With a quarter of the working population having a disability (as defined by the regulations) there is considerable scope for improving the way that public services are provided.
The aim of the legislation is to ensure that by 2025 disabled people can enjoy the same rights and privileges as people without disabilities, and can actively participate in society, which includes contributing much more to the wealth and cultural diversity of our nation. Although this is Government legislation, it has cross-party support and reflects a new type of legislation that seeks to address future difficulties, not past problems.
The Disability Rights Commission has produced a Statutory Code of Practice The Duty to Promote Disability Equality that supports the DDA changes (ISBN 0 11 703605 6; visit www.drc-gb.org for more information).
Do these pithy issues prevent you from scoring your goal?
We're in this business because we like a challenge and want to make a difference. So why, when we're trying to achieve an improvement, are we met with obstruction and obfuscation?
It's likely to be a combination of timing and relevance. If we're trying to gain approval for an idea, the suggestion may be ahead of its time because of other priorities (other people may have more important issues, or other changes must occur first), or the worth we attach to the proposal is greater than the value assigned by other people. The same is true of relevance; we may believe that an idea ought to be appreciated by the person or people needed to sponsor its progression, but often they don't appear to give adequate consideration or can't see the benefits.
Facilities management suffers these problems by the bucket load. We're often told we have to be flexible, innovative, and respond to 'the organisation's needs'. So how do we improve our technique and achieve the requirement?
Context countsTurning around our viewpoint, to concentrate on what others are trying to resolve, can help us identify our priorities. A saving may seem worthwhile - but if the gain isn't of the same magnitude of return on effort as other departments can achieve, and worse it's difficult to translate into hard cash, then credibility is questioned.
We must therefore look at the problems that other people have and translate these issues into our initiatives. This involves matching our priorities to the goals set by those who will act on the suggestion and promote it through the organisation - because it meets a broader business plan and serves their need!
Take an organisation with buildings that need improvement. It may be that a refurbishment or redecoration would give a sparkle and provide a more attractive workplace. Such action isn't likely to gain enthusiastic support or solve the underlying problem if the organisation's real issues centre on addressing challenging market changes.
If we concentrated on aligning services to current needs rather than past expectations, we can highlight where support cost savings can be achieved - the solution then becomes relevant, well promoted and rewarded.
Understand the angstIt takes time and effort to listen, consider options, consult, and prepare rational arguments to solve problems. Understanding what's causing the organisation angst offers scope to make a difference, so improving our receptiveness to ideas, and even consulting external experts to give an independent assessment of options, can transform our achievements.
If plans are well-founded, logical and convincing you'll receive appropriate support and recognition from the decision-makers, those delivering the solution and satisfied end-users.
About the author
Ashley Fawcett is a director of Black Pear Limited, a company that helps organisations to overcome expensive short-term fixes to concentrate on smarter strategic solutions in FM, property and IT
Black Pear Ltd
Tel: 020 8911 2328
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