Although there is no legal area of practice or study readily or easily defined as “Disability Law,” there are several key statutes regarding disability and related matters. Further, there are a great many decided cases to consider regarding disabilities.
A key and landmark statute was the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) (DDA). Under the DDA, for the first time the concept of ‘reasonable adjustment’ was introduced.
Although mainly applicable for employers, other service providers and facilities were also obliged under the DDA to make reasonable adjustment to working practices or to their premises to accommodate disabled employees or service users. The overriding idea was that the disabled should not experience less favourable treatment at work or elsewhere on account of their disability.
The Act stated that any adjustment had to be reasonable and appropriate. As such, any adjustments were very much up to the discretion and the actual needs and requirements of both the disabled and the employer or service provider.
Another key part of the DDA was encouraging better and equal access to buildings, service providers, public transport, and similar. Once again, amidst those matters addressed, it was access to employment, both in finding a job and having improved access around the workplace, that was the primary concern end of the DDA.
An often unremarked part of the DDA focussed on discrimination. Although discrimination, in various forms and guises, had been addressed by other statutes and regulations previously, it was not until the 1995 Act that disability discrimination was addressed and outlawed. It was the DDA that moved away from prior, more passive, laws, and made treating someone less favourably due to their disability illegal. The less favourable treatment could be at work, guide dogs been forbidden, service facilities being hard to access, landlords mistreating disabled tenants – or anything in between.
The DDA was the first law to actually directly address disability discrimination directly.
The DDA For The 21st Century
Another significant legal advancement for the disabled came in the form of the Equality Act (2010). As the title suggests, the Act is mainly concerned with discrimination- however, disability discrimination forms a large part of that. Workplace matters such as discrimination, bullying and harassment are also referenced a great deal in the 2010 Act.
The key point regarding the 2010 Act was that it effectively replaced the DDA. Although the DDA had proved itself in setting out the legal rights of the disabled- times change. Social and cultural attitudes change- and the law has to adapt and catch up. The Equality Act is one example of that.
In further outlawing discrimination (including against the disabled), particularly in the workplace, the Equality Act effectively carried on where the DDA left off, the 2010 Act modernised disability legislation, and brought disability legislation up to date.
There are other statutes affecting the rights of the disabled, and preventing any related discrimination. However, by far the most significant, and the legislation with the most impact, has been the DDA of 1995, and the Equality Act of 2010.
Although the latter Act has effectively superseded the DDA, rendering it comparatively and figuratively obsolete- the DDA was undoubtedly a great step forward for its time. Further, a great many regulations, rules and cases were decided based on the DDA. Its legacy, therefore, lives on as a great step forward for the rights of the disabled.