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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 17:38 GMT
Mixed reception for disability Bill
Disability minister Maria Eagle
Disability minister Maria Eagle: "Met manifesto commitments"
Disabled people are to have more powers to challenge discrimination, the government has pledged.

Draft legislation before Parliament plans to introduce tough powers to protect the disabled.

It will include more rights on public transport and a duty on public bodies to promote disability equality.

But critics say the bill fails to address a number of key concerns and puts business before civil rights.

Under the proposals, public bodies will be required to take the needs of disabled into account as they plan and deliver services.

Illnesses covered

This obligation mirrors those introduced for racial minorities in the wake of the Macpherson Inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder.

The bill also plans to set a deadline for public transport to be accessible, with the date subject to consultation.

Anti-discrimination measures will be extended to protect those suffering long-term illnesses, such as HIV and multiple sclerosis.

Ministers believe up to 73,000 people could benefit from this change.

Duty on public bodies
Long-term illnesses covered
Deadline for transport accessibility
Measures to counter landlord discrimination
Disabled people will also be able to challenge landlords who fail to take reasonable account of their needs when trying to find a home, such as a contract legible to the partially-sighted.

Private organisations with more than 25 members - such as golf or working men's clubs - will also be prevented from discriminating on grounds of disability.

Disability Minister Maria Eagle said: "There are all sorts of things that organisations do without thinking about their processes and how they affect disabled people."

"This bill is about removing barriers before they stop people."

The minister said the bill would close the loophole which failed to define transport as a public service.

But on a deadline for full transport access, Ms Eagle admitted there had to be a balance "between wanting to have access and the costs of making the changes".

Transport: Fears over deadline

Bert Massie, chair of the Disability Rights Commission which has legal powers to pursue cases, said the bill represented a major shift in thinking.

"The provision for a public sector duty to promote disability equality similar to that used for race will have seismic implications in reforming practices and policies," he said.

But Andy Rickell, director of the British Council of Disabled People, the Disability Discrimination Act was weak legislation even after the amendments.

"Some of these things are fundamental, like access to transport, and the government is listening too closely to the transport lobby," he said.

Short of the mark

Mr Rickell said the deadline for transport accessibility could be so far in the future that those who started the campaign would be dead before they could benefit.

"The government agrees on rights. But then it draws the line in the wrong place, favouring the powerful, and the disabled are not powerful," he said.

Andy Gill, of Direct Action Network, a disability protest group which has blockaded government buildings, said the legislation fell well short of the mark.

"We did not support the Disability Discrimination Act from the word go because it is not addressing the real concerns of what disabled people need.

"We need legislation to ensure that all disabled people have the right to live as full participants in society."

Mike O'Donovan, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: "We are very pleased to see the proposal to extend the Act to include everyone with MS from the point of diagnosis.

"MS is a progressive and fluctuating disease. Its serious symptoms can come and go and are not always visible.

"It is only right that everyone living with it should have the same legal protection."

Charities await disability detail
26 Nov 03  |  Politics


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