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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 14:32 GMT
Charities await disability detail
By Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

Transport access: Major element of the bill
Campaigners have welcomed proposals for a draft disability bill.

The bill would extend existing legislation to include access to transport and membership of private clubs.

The definition of disability will also be widened to add conditions such as HIV and cancer.

But some charities say the measures announced in the Queen's Speech don't go far enough.

The measures, first trailed in the government's Towards Inclusion document, also say people who are registered blind or partially sighted should be automatically counted as disabled.

'Fitting end to year'

The Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, Bert Massie, said the new measures were a fitting end to the European Year for Disabled People.

It's essential that the bill be enacted within the lifetime of this parliament
Kate Nash. RADAR
"The Government began the European Year with the news that they would publish a draft disability bill, and I look forward to its imminent publication," he said.

"At present, hundreds of disabled people are being turned away from the DRC's helpline because the law does not protect them from discrimination.

"A new Bill should offer a long awaited right for disabled people to use public transport.

"And it should deal with injustices caused to people with cancer and HIV by providing protection from discrimination."

Caution from campaigners

But some campaigners say the measures fall short of their demands.

We want to see a strong duty to promote the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people including the introduction of accessible technology
John Low, The RNID

"It's better late than never," said Andy Rickell, Director of the British Council of Disabled People.

"They're doing what they said they would do, but we think that's still not enough."

"We'd like to see it go much further. The enforcement mechanism is very weak - it relies on individuals bringing a civil action."

The disability umbrella group RADAR says the key thing is to enact the legislation before the next general election.

"It's essential that the bill be enacted within the lifetime of this parliament - any further delay would risk disappointing millions of disabled people," said Kate Nash, Radar's Chief Executive.

"The bill is a fantastic opportunity to reform some of the loopholes in existing legislation as well as introducing new rights," she said.

'Strong duty' urged

It is thought that the public sector will be obliged to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, in the same way that it does for ethnic minority groups.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) wants the public sector to go further

"RNID wants to see a strong duty introduced on public bodies to promote the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people including the introduction of accessible technology across all public services," said John Low, the organisation's Chief Executive.

Campaigners say that the detail of the proposals will need careful examination.

If, for example, transport operators are given several years to make their services accessible, many campaigners are likely to accuse the Government of reneging on its 2001 manifesto commitments.

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