10 things you might not know about the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA)

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The DDA basically provides disabled people with protection from discrimination.

According to the Office for National Statistics' Labour Force Survey (Sept - Dec 2006) nearly one in five people of working age in the UK, almost seven million people, is disabled.

The legislation may seem fairly straightforward, but did you know that:

1. As the only major employer in the UK not covered by the DDA, the armed forces do not have the same duties towards disabled staff as other employers. The argument is that all personnel need to be fit for combat and this is therefore a decision for the Ministry of Defence and not the Employment Tribunals.

2. Under the DDA, people who are addicted to for example alcohol or nicotine are not regarded as disabled. In today’s increasingly smoke free environment, it would undoubtedly lead to fierce debate if smokers were entitled to extra breaks during their working day under the DDA.

3. Although increasingly high on the government’s agenda, the occasional appearance of ‘stress’, ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ in an employee’s GP records will not be regarded as proof of a mental impairment. Although the government a few years ago agreed that people who claim to have a mental impairment should not have to show that they are suffering from a clinically well-recognised illness, the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases (WHOICD) still does not classify stress as an illness in itself .

4. Under the DDA, the word ‘accessible’ does not purely mean physically. To avoid falling foul of the Act, employees must ensure that their website is accessible and can be navigated by anyone - even blind and visually impaired people. Of course there are exemptions in the same way as there are when it comes to making ‘reasonable adjustments’, but this will have to be demonstrated if so.

5. The DDA does not apply to people who use glasses or contact lenses even though some may be almost blind without them.

6. In Australia, under that country’s DDA which is very similar to the UK’s, it is also unlawful to discriminate against someone just because one of their associates is disabled.

7. Specific progressive illnesses such as HIV, multiple sclerosis and cancer are regarded as disabilities from the point of diagnosis even if they don’t have any affect on the person’s day-to-day life at that time.

8. Employers can in some circumstances treat a potential employee differently if they have a very good reason. For example, if a person with a severe depression applies for a job as a train driver or a pilot, he or she may rejected on the basis that their condition and the side effects of any treatment could affect the safety of the passengers.

9. Albeit a very common syndrome, dyslexia also comes under the DDA. The British Dyslexia Association estimates that around ten percent of the UK population is either mildly or severely dyslexic. Because the impairments of dyslexia and other less obvious disabilities such as asthma, staff awareness training is crucial.

10. The biggest payout so far under the DDA was awarded against the prison service. The cost of falling foul of discrimination amounted to £500,000.

Published in Personnel Today.



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