By Nick Golding
Local government has just four months remaining to plan how it intends to give disability equality the same profile as racial and sexual equality.
All of this must change by 4 December when the disability equality duty comes into force, meaning that councils and other public bodies have to give disabled people a say in preparing an action plan to promote equal opportunities.
Chief executives are being told they must ensure heads of departments are aware of the duty and relations are improved with disabled groups.
Marie Pye, the head of the Disability Rights Commission's disability duty team, said: '85% of chief executives know the date the duty's coming in - that's a cause of optimism. It's whether that's getting cascaded down to other departments that's important.
'Disability equality has sat either in adult services or facilities management but what this is about is devising an action plan that covers all areas of council work.'
Ms Pye gave the example of many waste management officers failing to work out how disabled people could recycle if they were unable to carry their recycling bins to their front gate for collection.
Councils will be expected to show that disabled people have had a role in planning services, rather than just being consulted. Chief executives are being urged to strengthen work with local disability groups.
Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers president John Schultz has taken a key interest in disability issues. He said: 'There's bound to be a variation in how well [councils] are responding.
'It's not about saying you must have a ramp here or a stairlift there, it's about changing the entire culture so the organisation automatically takes into account the needs of disabled people.'
Mr Schultz called on councils to work out how they could increase their number of disabled employees in the same way they had made efforts to ensure women had been able to gain top jobs.