OPINION: Disability rules are worthy, but need enforcing

Geraldine Peacock, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

It is not often I write with my disability, Parkinson's disease, at the forefront of my mind. But trying to support someone else with Parkinson's to challenge their employer's behaviour, and the TUC's recent call for better legal protection for disabled people, have both made me stop and think.

Thomas Edison, the inventor, could have been talking about the Disability Discrimination Act when he said, "Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress" and "Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless".

The Act was a very welcome piece of legislation. Since its conception ("born of restlessness and discontent") people with disabilities have become more confident that our attributes are better recognised and promoted and that, when we encounter discrimination, there is a form of redress available.

In public life, strong role models are emerging through appointments such as James Strachan to chair the Audit Commission and Kate Nash as chief executive of Radar. However, there is still much room for improvement.

This does not mean that what exists is useless, but it does need some careful attention. There is little or no protection for disabled people who work for small businesses, use public transport, or want to rent property.

Such omissions undermine the credibility of the Act as a whole.

There are also grey areas like the Act's requirements for 'reasonable' adjustment, 'reasonable' care, and so on. What is 'reasonable'? This is established through case law and this means litigation by people prepared to fight - and not everyone is.

The TUC's drive concentrates on the crucial area of employment. The Act does not cover smaller businesses, which make up the majority of UK employers - including not-for-profit agencies.

As a result, unemployment rates among disabled people are double those of the wider population. While that figure is slowly falling, the number of blind and partially sighted people out of work has actually risen since the Act's introduction. Awareness and enforcement of the Act are what really counts, and we owe it to disabled people to ensure that it applies to all aspects of life.

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