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Last Updated: Friday, 8 April, 2005, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Disability bill gets Royal Assent
By Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website disability affairs correspondent

Photo of Bert Massie and Maria Eagle holding an enlarged copy of the bill
Maria Eagle and Bert Massie think the act is a step change
A new law to promote the rights of disabled people has been enacted - honouring a 2001 manifesto pledge.

The 2005 Disability Discrimination Act strengthens existing legislation by widening the definition of disability and setting a deadline for rail access.

Campaigners have welcomed the new measures, but say the act fails in a number of key areas.

Disability Rights Commission (DRC) chairman Bert Massie described it as "a major advance in civil rights".

The 2005 act contains a number of measures which disability campaigners said were missing from its predecessor, the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.

These include:

  • Widening the definition of disability to include people with progressive conditions like MS, HIV and some cancers from the time they are diagnosed.
  • Improving access to transport by including transport operators in the requirement to make their services accessible, and by setting an end date of 2020 by which all "rail vehicles" will have to be disabled friendly.
  • Placing a duty on all public bodies to promote positive attitudes to disability.
  • Extending the protection given to people with mental health problems by removing the requirement that conditions should be "clinically well recognised".
  • Giving tenants the right to make reasonable, disability-related alterations to their homes.
  • Making disability rights legislation apply to private clubs with more than 25 members, including political parties.
  • Placing a duty on local authorities not to discriminate against disabled councillors.
  • Including bodies that award qualifications like GCSEs and A-levels.

"We warmly welcome the introduction of the new act and thank members from all sides for its cross-party support and swift passage through parliament," said the DRC's Bert Massie.

As the legislation was completing its passage through the House of Commons, disability minister, Maria Eagle, said: "This is a bill of which we can all be proud."

The consultation process for the new law began in 1997 when the government appointed the Disability Rights Task Force to look at gaps in the existing legislation.

"This act now represents real progress for disabled people," said Kate Nash, chief executive of pan-disability charity, Radar.

"It's designed to combat discrimination and to help disabled people achieve the full social inclusion that so many people take for granted in their day-to-day lives."

Radar has coordinated the New Spirit Coalition (NSC) - a group made up of more than 30 disability organisations with the aim of achieving full social inclusion.

The NSC says it is disappointed that no protection is offered to people who experience occasional and unrelated bouts of depression.

It also points to the lack of a plan to promote independent living, the fact that disabled people don't have the right to make reasonable adjustments to the communal areas in flats, and the absence of a duty to provide audio visual technology on buses for people with sight and hearing impairments.

The coalition says its members now look forward to the implementation of measures put forward by Number Ten's strategy unit which set out a 20-year plan for reducing the inequalities between disabled and non-disabled people.




SEE ALSO:
'Landmark' Disability Bill published
26 Nov 04 |  UK Election 2005
Disability plan to cut inequality
19 Jan 05 |  UK Election 2005


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