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DISABLED ACCESS: LOCAL AUTHORITIES URGED TO ACT

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The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has joined forces with the Local Government Association to warn local author...
The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has joined forces with the Local Government Association to warn local authorities to start making preparations for the introduction of new access duties in 2004 or risk ending up in court.

From next year, everyone providing a service from the dentist to the supermarket to the local library will have to consider making improvements to the physical structure of their buildings to make them more user friendly for disabled people. This new legislation is likely to have a significant impact on local authority services.

Speaking at the LGA conference, Access to services: disability equality in local government yesterday, where the DRC/LGA joint-strategy guidance was launched, Bob Niven, chief executive of the DRC, commented:

'We are concerned that many larger local authorities are simply not grasping the opportunity to make their services accessible to disabled people. We aren't just talking about putting a ramp up the front of the town hall but also about improvements to premises where a whole range of services are delivered including: libraries, sports centres, swimming pools, streets, parks and open spaces, housing offices and recycling centres.

'There are 8.5 million disabled people in Britain who are regular users of council services. The strategy we're launching today with the LGA will help local authorities around the country make their services genuinely open for all.'

Laura Willoughby, chair of the LGA's equalities executive, said: 'Many local authorities have already done a lot of good work to improve access to services for disabled people and a lot can be learnt from their examples. It isn't the case that councils do not want to meet these new requirements, but many are unsure of the legal implications and are fearful of the costs it involves.

'Undoubtedly, it's vital that all councils are prepared when this comes fully into force next October. There is a lot of work still to be done and I hope that the guidance we c an now offer will help councils better meet the needs of everyone in their communities.'

The DRC has recently launched its Open4All Campaign to help local authorities understand the new legislation and benefit from improving access to their services for disabled people. The DRC's new website, provides practical advice and information to those affected by the changes.

Additional Info

'Access to Services: Disability Equality in Local Government' - The guidance launched by the LGA and Disability Rights Commission is intended to ensure that local authorities are fully informed about the impact of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It provides guidance for local councils on the development of disability equality strategies and cites examples of good practice work happening in local authorities across the country.

Survey findings - An NOP survey, commissioned by the DRC, found that disabled people experienced difficulties using everyday services because poor access and building design effectively barred them. When asked to name the two biggest obstacles disabled people faced the survey found:

45% said steps at the entrance to buildings

39% said being unable to use the disabled parking spaces

Open4All Campaign - The Disability Rights Commission's Open4All campaign, launched on 3rd October 2003, will provide information and advice to anyone who provides a service to the public. Visit www.open4all.org

The new legal requirement is an amendment to existing legislation - Part iii of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The new duties require that from 1st October 2004, those who provide a service to the public need to remove any physical barriers to ensure disabled people receive a fair service.

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