The Disability Equality Duty - for beginners

What is it?

The DED is a piece of legislation that finishes coming into effect in the UK in December 2006. The Specific Duty regulations actually came into effect on the 5th of December 2005, it’s only the General Duty that doesn’t come into effect until the 5th of December 2006.

Unlike other parts of the Disability Discrimination Act, the Disability Equality Duty is not about making individual adjustments for disabled people; it is about taking an organisation-wide approach to tackling disability-related discrimination.

In legal terms, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has been amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to place a duty on all public sector authorities to promote disability equally. It is therefore a part of the Disability Discrimination Act, having its own Code of Practice. The basic goal of it is to promote true equality, and true equality of opportunity for people with disabilities.

If such equality [of opportunity] were achieved this would mean for example, at a very basic level, that disabled people who rely on additional assistance for their daily living, such as getting up and dressed, would have the same ability to determine the time at which they get up and go to bed as non-disabled people. Code of Practice

You’ve never heard of it? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either. Here, take my hand, I’ll take you on a quick tour through the literature. Pretend it’s a Reader’s Digest condensed book.

Firstly, all of the documentation is available on the DRC’s site. They’re the experts, they’ve produced the guidance. If you want the legal advice, go to them. If you just want my take on it, with no guarantees to factual accuracy, then read on.

However, I must admit to being disappointed. After spending some time ranting about WCAG 2.0 because of the ridiculous length of the documentation and their inability to use plain English, I was disappointed to see that the DRC were suffering from the same malady. The documentation is approximately 75,000 words in length — and the information on impact assessments hasn’t been published yet. This isn’t helped by the fact that certain things such as the duty helping to avoid claims of unlawful discrimination being repeated six times in one document, or sections seeming being repeated verbatim across different documents. Similarly, plain English seems to be optional at times:

Additionally, consideration of the measures which may mitigate any adverse impact and alternative approaches which may better achieve promotion of equality for disabled people are essential.Do The Duty - DRC

To be fair, that’s actually comprehensible. It just looks like they’ve picked ten-penny words when two-penny ones would have served equally well.

Whether you’re the W3C or the DRC, if you’re producing something you’d like people to comply with please keep it as brief as possible. My take on it — this document — is still approaching 4,000 words, but that’s still a lot smaller. Anyway, that’s my complaint out of the way, now let’s have a look at it.

Who needs to do it?

Public Authorities. You’re a public authority if you’re a government department; an executive agency; a local authority; a university, college or school governing body; an NHS trust or board; a police or fire service, the CPS; the Crown Office; an inspection an audit body. In addition, some publicly funded museums, or people who carry out certain public functions also need to comply.

A private company which has contracted with the Home Office to run a prison establishment will be carrying out functions of a public nature in relation to the running of the prison.Code of Practice

Sometimes the nature of a function which is contracted out will mean that the contractor is itself carrying out the public authority function […] the public authority will be responsible for meeting the duty in relation to the procurement process, and the monitoring of the contract. The contractor itself will be bound by the general duty in relation to its carrying out of the function.Code of Practice

Basically, if you think you might need to do it, you probably do.

Who’s doing it?

The DRC also have a look who’s doing the duty page which is meant to highlight the commitment of several key figures in the public sector who are publicly supporting the duty. So far, it actually contains comments from Anne McGuire, the parliamentary under-secretary for disabled people at the DWP who you might reasonably expect because of her job would already be interested in this sort of thing, and Chris Banks, chair of the learning and skills council. Now I mean no disrespect to Anne or Chris, I’m sure they are both lovely people who are doing a fine job, but frankly I’ve not heard of either of them. Where’s Tony Blair, Menzies Campbell or David Cameron? If it’s that important, and frankly it should be, then I’d expect the leaders of the major political parties should be publicly backing it, and they should be doing it now.

The General Duty

It’s fairly straight-forward. Your duty, should you choose to accept it (not that you have a choice) is to promote equality for opportunity; eliminate unlawful discrimination; eliminate disability-related harassment; promote positive attitudes towards disabled people; encourage participation by disabled people and be prepared to take extra steps to meet the needs of disabled people. In other words, it’s what you should have been doing in the first place.

Equality of opportunity is not the same as treating everyone equally: treating everyone equally may well result in a lack of opportunity for people with disabilities. You must be prepared to take extra reasonable steps to promote equality of opportunity even if this means that you are treating a disabled person more favourably than someone else.

A disabled student may need a dedicated car parking space because she is unable to use public transport. Non-disabled users might also want a parking space, but will not suffer the same degree of disadvantage if they do not get one.Code of Practice

Public authorities have to have due regard to eliminate unlawful disability discrimination in the way they carry out their functions. Some service providers have to anticipate the needs of disabled users (provision of goods, facilities, services, private clubs, transport and education) whereas for others such as employers duty only occurs where they know or could reasonably be expected to know that a person requires particular adjustments, and for housing providers only if a person requests adjustments.

Due regard is a special phrase in this context, and means giving due weight to the need to promote disability equality in proportion to its relevance.

A primary school has a commitment to in-service training for staff but its budget is limited. It identifies that only a relatively small number of newly qualified teachers and support staff have ever had disability equality training. It also identifies a range of other training needs including child protection, health and safety and IT skills. The school assesses the situation and decides that whilst disability equality training for staff would undoubtedly have an impact on promoting disability equality, the school does not have the resources to undertake this extensively whilst meeting other key training needs. It decides to arrange disability equality training for the head teacher [..and for him/her to feed this back to other staff]Code of Practice

Public authorities are also required to have due regard to the need to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people, which means not representing people in a demeaning way, and it also means not pretending they don’t exist and not representing them anywhere at all.

Excuse me while I get side-tracked here. Demeaning is an interesting term: it is worth considering that by patronising someone with a disability by telling them how brave and special they are, that you’re demeaning them somewhat. Sure, it is important not to portray disabled people in a negative light, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to show them in the same honest light as everyone else and mention a disabled person’s faults as well as their virtues. At least, that’s what I think. The code of practice does specifically say you need to promote positive attitudes though, so I’m not sure if you’re allowed to say anything negative at all.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, the General Duty also requires public authorities to encourage disabled people to participate in public life, in order to help promote positive attitudes towards disabled people, reducing harassment and helping the relevant organisations to become more disability aware.

Public Life is a very broad term, incorporating… ooh, pretty much the lot — neighbourhood forums, pupils on school councils, user groups, public appointments and the House of Lords, apparently. Hell, if it’s just a case of people wanting to participate in the House of Lords, I’m up for a peerage if there’s any going…

What they are trying to say is that appointments should not be set up in such a way that they make it more difficult for someone with a disability to get a post. It’s also important to respect the wishes of disabled children in an educational setting (according to the code of practice, or "everyone, everywhere, disabled or not" according to me) so that they do not feel pushed into activities they do not wish to take part in.

Otherwise there could be a tendency for this sort of thing…

Johnny, you’re disabled, you must go on our school council to represent pupils with a disability


Anne-Marie, you’re going to take part in our Employers Forum on Disability so you can give us your perspective. I know you’ve said you weren’t keen, but you’ll have to, because you’re disabled.

These imaginary situations are obviously both discriminatory, because they are singling out someone with a disability for different treatment — and treatment they might not want — that someone without a disability would not experience. And that’s before I even mention the word tokenism

The Specific Duty

The Specific Duty requires you to involve disabled people in the development of a Disability Equality Scheme that will demonstrate how you intend to fulfil your duties. The Scheme must describe:

  • How disabled people were involved in the production of the Scheme
  • How you’re going to carry out your General Duty — The Action Plan
  • How you’re gathering information on your performance
  • How you’re going to assess that information once you’ve gathered it
  • How you’re going to review and edit your Scheme

Within three years of producing the Scheme, you need to have taken the steps you set out in your Action Plan, or justified why it was unreasonable or impractical to do so, and produce a report containing a summary of the steps you’ve taken, the results of your information gathering and what you’re going to do with that information.

where costs associated with an action unexpectedly escalate so as to be out of proportion to the duty, then it is unlikely to be practicable to implement the action.Code of Practice

The Action Plan should highlight your priorities, and specific outcomes you wish to achieve that will make practical improvements to equality for disabled people, how you’re going to measure performance against these outcomes — and the timetable you wish to achieve them in. Depending on the size of your authority, it may be appropriate for different parts to have different action plans within the one Disability Equality Scheme.

The plan needs to be committed to by the highest level of authority you’ve got — the Chief Executive or equivalent. You also want a senior officer with disability expertise to take responsibility for the day to day implementation. The scheme as a whole should be published and be transparent so that it is accessible to the entire community.

Involving Disabled People

Nothing about us, without us…DRC

This means precisely what it says, involving. This is not the same as consulting, where you ask them what they think and then you do what you think they should have asked for; this means you actually have to get people to take part in a meaningful way. It is suggested that you contact local organisations, existing forums — or if there aren’t any, setting one up; trade unions and any existing networks. Disabled people need to be recognised as key stakeholders in the scheme.

This means that you must maintain a regular dialogue with disabled people, disablility groups and ensure that there is a clear and transparent mechanism to provide feedback on the way you’re carrying out various aspects of the Disability Equality Duty.

Who should you involve?

There is no legal right for any particular individual person, organisation or group to be involved, although you should respond in a considered way to any requests by disabled people or organisations that wish to be involved.

You may also wish to target people from seldom heard from groups, who normally do not have much of a voice in these situations. These groups include disabled children, people with mental health conditions, people with learning disabilities and people with multiple impairments such as Deafblind people. It may also describe disabled people who are in, or have been in the criminal justice system, those from traveller communities, those from black and minority ethinic groups, or those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Disabled people should be involved throughout the Scheme, not just in setting it up. For example, when you come to assess the impacts of your policies and activities, disability groups may be able to help you with your evidence gathering, and particularly with the setting of priorities.

Collecting, Analysing & Utilising Data

This falls into four broad areas:

  • What information are you going to collect?
  • How are you going to collect it?
  • How are you going to analyse it?
  • What are you going to do once you’ve analysed it?

What information are you going to collect?

When deciding what information you are going to collect, it’s important to get your definition of disability right. It is important not to confuse the boundaries between ‘health’, ‘illness’ and ‘disability’. The definition of disability according to the Disability Discrimination Act is:

A person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activitiesDisability Discrimination Act

However, these factors do come into play to some extent because:

Anyone who has HIV infection, cancer or multiple sclerosis is automatically treated as disabled under the ActDisability Discrimination Act

Also, information that is collected should be based on the social model of disability, rather than the individualistic medical model. Basically, the difference is that in the individual medical model, disabled people are unable to participate in society as a direct result of their impairment, whereas the social model approach states that "people with impairments are disabled by physical and social barriers" and the problem of disability therefore results from social structures and attitudes. The social model has influenced a rights-based model of equality for people with disabilities, and this is the key to understanding and implementing the DED, which is why this model needs to be used when collecting and analysing your information.

Initially, you will need to determine the impacts of your current policies and activities in order to determine the effects they are having, but you will also need to continue to collect data so that you can see the effects of new or changed policies under the scheme, in order to ensure that you are paying due regard to equality of opportunity, eliminating unlawful discrimination, eliminating disability related harassment and promoting positive attitudes towards people with disabilities.

The sort of information you’ll need to gather will be:

  • Do disabled people have the same chance to access x service?
  • Do disabled people have the same change of promotion?
  • Is there any evidence of negative social stereotypes of disabled people and/or is anything being done to challenge this?
  • Is there evidence that disability specific services are actually meeting the needs of their users?
  • What is the experience of disabled people (particularly when compared to non-disabled groups)?

You’ll also need to decide whether you’re looking to collect quantitative data (i.e. figures), which is easier to compare and contrast, or qualitative data (i.e. descriptions) which can give you a better feel for a particular problem but can be difficult to compare from one collection cycle to the next — or more likely, what mixture of both will you be looking to collect.

It may be worth trying to ask standard questions, so that the responses you receive can be compared against others — the DRC provide three standard questions to use when gathering evidence for disability equality in their DED evidence gathering guidance document. A final, and key point to remember is that there’s no point collecting data you’re not going to use — so make sure you’re asking the right questions!

How are you going to collect it?

Firstly, if you’ve got a large organisation, break it down into manageable chunks. For example, if you’re a Local Authority, you might want to break this down into Housing, Cultural Services, Local Environment and so on.

Secondly, work out what information about disabilities you already have, and use this to determine where the gaps in your knowledge are. If the answers aren’t clear, you might need to do some more detailed work such as using focus groups to improve your base of knowledge.

Next, choose your method(s) for collecting information:

  • surveys and questionnaires
  • interviews and focus groups
  • secondary sources and data reviews
  • observations
  • desk-based research
  • mystery shopping

Of course, at any point in time where you are asking other people to contribute to your research, you will achieve better results if you emphasise the C-VASP (you can pronounce this sea wasp, like the jellyfish, if you’d like — I know it’s not perfect but it’s the best acronym I could make!) nature of their contributions. This of course means that all contributions are Confidential and that personally identifiable information will not be disclosed to others without their express permission; that taking part is entirely Voluntary, that the information will be collected in an Accessible manner to ensure the widest range of people with disabilities can contribute, that the information is based on Self-Disclosure so you’re not asking frontline staff to guess whether customers are disabled, and that the results will be used to bring about Positive benefits in terms of delivering service improvement and developing good practice.

How are you going to analyse it?

You should look at the evidence to determine whether disabled people are enjoying equality of opportunity as other groups, and what their levels of participation are to compare them against your targets.

When you can start to see trends within the data collected, e.g. you may be able to see that a particular policy or action isn’t benefiting disabled users, or that it is benefiting them but not so much that you’ll reach your targets.

Look at the reasons behind the relative success or failure of your activities; a good way to do this may be to break the data down by impairment type so you can see which groups benefit most or least from a particular policy or action.

An organisation believes it has made its premises fully accessible for disabled people by ensuring that they meet the best available standards of access for wheelchair-users. It is surprised when it carries out a general questionnaire-based satisfaction survey of its users to find that many disabled people have indicated that they still have difficulties using the building.

The questionnaire includes a general question about disability, not categorised by impairment type. The public body does not therefore readily find out that the difficulties are predominantly experienced by people with sensory impairments and learning disabilities, for whom improvements to make the premises more accessible have not been made.

DED evidence gathering guidance document

What are you going to do once you’ve analysed it?

If you want to use the ten-penny words, this bit is the Impact Assessment. You should know the answer to this question before you begin — there is little point in collecting the data unless you know what you’re going to use it for. I would imagine that you’d be looking to use the data to assess the success or otherwise of your policies and actions, to allow you to review your Disability Equality Scheme and Action Plan, and make changes to them if necessary in order to ensure that you’re complying as best you can with the General Duty imposed on you by the legislation.

You should really be checking to ensure that your activities aren’t making things worse, and to identify the areas where you can best promote equality of opportunity. To learn the lessons from where you’ve gone wrong, to recognise what you’ve done right and produce better working practices for the future. Oh, and don’t forget to involve disabled people in your assessment. That’s not to say you should send out your final report to them as an afterthought; remember that interested service users with disabilities and disability groups should be involved throughout the entire process.

…and don’t forget it’s a continuing process. It’s not ‘tick box, done, move onto the next thing’. At the risk of using some ten-penny words, you’re striving for continuous improvement. Think of it as a spiritual way of life, a kind of a Zen thing.

But it’s really up to you. You can just use the data to prop up the wobbly leg on your desk if you’d rather, but then you might have problems complying with the legislation.

And for Local Government…

The DRC have produced a document which is a quick tool for assessing an organisations progress on disability equality, entitled Test Your EQ (presumably this is Equality Quotient). If you look at the questions in here — which are pretty much recapping what has been said before — and you can answer them all satisfactorily, then you’re probably doing ok. If not, well, like I said before, you’d better get cracking…

The DRC asked the OPM to work with a small group of local authorities to help them develop their Disability Equality schemes, in order to share the knowledge with other councils across the UK. The first report available gives an idea of the current organisational policies and structures in UK councils for disability issues, the major achievements that the councils believe they have made over the last 3 years, and the biggest challenges that they have faced to delivering improvements in disability equality.

Both of these reports are available from the same page on the DRC’s site, in a PDF, word and RTF formats.


Let me just recap. The General duty requires you to promote equality of opportunity; eliminate unlawful discrimination; eliminate disability-related harassment; promote positive attitudes towards disabled people; encourage participation by disabled people and be prepared to take extra steps to meet the needs of disabled people. The Specific Duty requires you to produce a Disability Equality Scheme with the involvement of people with disabilities, and an Action plan to explain how you’ll carry out the General Duty. You then have to collate and analyse information relating to the impact of your plans and revise your plans and actions as appropriate. Oh, and you’ve got to carry out the actions as well.

Well, that’s it, now off you go, toodle-pip, what-what?

5 Responses to “The Disability Equality Duty - for beginners”

  1. responds:

    Comments on The Disability Equality Duty

    I just heard about this "new" legislation in the UK, the Disability Equality Duty. I read a nice analysis on it on ThePickards.

    Your duty, should you choose to accept it (not that you have a choice) is to promote equality for opportunit…

  2. Ben "Cerbera" Millard responds:

    As the implementor of Calthorpe Park School’s website, a secondary comprehensive in England, I guess the accessibility of the website would come under this.

    The quote about the primary school from the General Duty section is very useful to me (maybe that’s why you added it?). It shows they recognise the very tight budgets schools have, which is some comfort.

    Calthorpe’s entire web budget per year is only just in four figures for everything — including what I get paid. I expect only a tiny handful of school’s can afford the expertise required to produce and maintain an accessible website. Hopefully as these techniques become taught in universities and online courses, the expertise required will become unbiquitous.

    In the meantime, this duty seems to balance the needs of disabled people with the logistical realities quite well.

  3. JackP responds:

    @Ben - to be honest, it was just the best quote that illustrated due regard!

  4. jeanne holloway responds:

    remind bodies that the hidden disabilities are as significant as physical disabilities and that for whole institutions in education to be involved all staff must be aware of who they are teaching, the implications of any disability for learning and the implications for teaching - all staff are now support teachers. I have just spent 2 years producing a teaching resource book on hidden disabilitities including mental health issues by working with and asking the disabled what they would like staff to know and understand about their disability - I emphasise the social model of disability. I have learnt so much !
    Jeanne Holloway author of Hidden Disabilities and Mental Health Issues the Teaching Kits - this resource is available on CDROm so that it can be put on the school/college website or intranet as an important first step in raising whole staff awareness of the implication of hidden disabilities and enabling them to look at student comments. (Connect Publications.)

  5. Asif Afridi responds:

    Excellent overview of the key points of DED. Thankyou!

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