Disability Discrimination Acts - summary

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The Disability Discrimination Act has been superseded by the Equality Act 2010. This page is pending review as a result of the changes in legislation and may no longer be accurate. Meanwhile, useful guidance can be found on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.


The Disability Discrimination Acts of 1995 and 2005 aim to ensure that disabled people are treated in a fair and equal way. The Acts place duties on providers of goods, facilities and services and make it unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person:

  • By refusing to provide (or deliberately not providing) any service which it provides to other members of the public; or
  • By providing a lesser standard of service for disabled people.

The 2005 Act covers all functions of public bodies, not just services and therefore includes the provision of paths, etc. Other changes included a requirement on public bodies to positively promote disability equality by:

  • Explaining how you will promote equality for disabled people
  • Challenging discrimination against disabled people
  • Helping to remove barriers for all disabled people

To 'comply' with the DDA, services and facilities must meet current codes of good practice. There are regulations for the built environment but not the countryside apart from BS5709 for Gaps, Gates and Stiles. For England codes of good practice would be: The BT countryside for All standards and By All Reasonable Means, published by the Countryside Agency.

What is disability?

Cabinet Office figures from 2002 suggest that there are over 11 million people in the UK who are categorised as disabled. Similar Office of Deputy Prime Minister figures from 2003 estimate that 1 in 5 people in the UK has a disability. These figures do not include the many people who at any one time have a temporary disability or medical condition along with the families and friends of disabled people who are affected by someone else's disability. It is important to recognise that disabled people are not a homogenous group, and there is a wide diversity of abilities and impairments. There has been a tendency in the past to focus on the needs of wheelchair users when making decisions about facilities and services. Other types of disability include:

  • People with mobility impairments who can often walk, but not very far or not on uneven surfaces and may find most stiles difficult
  • People with visual impairment may be blind or partially sighted – most have some vision and may be able to read signs or leaflets if well designed
  • People with hearing impairments may be profoundly deaf or have limited hearing abilities
  • People with learning difficulties or disabilities
  • Speech and communication difficulties
  • Mental health problems.

The DDA defines a disabled person as someone who: has a physical or mental impairment which has an effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. That effect must be 'substantial, adverse and long-term (over one year)'.

What do I have to do?

  1. Find out what your authority has already done or is doing about improving access for all
  2. Speak to the person in your authority who has responsibility for equalities or access issues to do with the DDA
  3. Check on the work which will have been done under your ROWIP
  4. Pursue the good contacts and relationships which should have been established with groups of disabled people during the ROWIP consultation
  5. Talk to neighbouring authorities or others listed below about what they've done ie. don't re-invent the wheel.

For specific advice go to the More Information list below – someone somewhere will know the answer to your question and guidance will exist.

Good Practice

Many authorities see the requirements of the DDA and their ROWIP responsibilities as an opportunity to completely review their work on public rights of way in a new light – considering how access can be improved for all.

Everyone benefits from being outdoors in the countryside, disabled people are no exception. The Countryside Agency in By All Reasonable Means urges all those involved in countryside recreation to consider disability in its widest sense and to make, by all reasonable means, the benefits of the outdoors available to all. Disabled people value the countryside and feel frustrated that their needs are not catered for.

When sites or services are unable to reach the BT Countryside for All standards in the 'wider countryside' for example, the principle of least restrictive access is a useful piece of guidance. This principle emphasises the need to ensure that practical works on sites and service provision should restrict the access of a minimum number of people. In other words, providing facilities which have the highest possible standard of accessibility. Priority should always be given to removing or modifying human-made barriers since these are generally the things which restrict access the most. Of course, there may be a variety of reasons why the highest accessibility standards cannot be achieved, including consent of the landowner or practical difficulties. However, it is important for local authorities to make the reasoning for all such decisions transparent. Consultation and involvement of disabled people at local and regional level is required by the DDA and will result in pragmatic solutions which have local support.

The BT Countryside for All approach of determining how accessible a place, service or feature should be (the standard) according to how remote a place is (the setting) is now widely accepted. So, for instance, visitors should reasonably expect surfaced paths and lots of seating close to buildings and in more formal landscapes such as country parks, but less intervention in remoter and less developed settings. Design of countryside furniture may also vary (though there are minimum standards of accessibility). For example, seats should have arms and backs in more formal settings, whilst simple benches and perches on walls, rails, logs or boulders are appropriate in remote locations. Similarly, there is a basic, minimum standard of information and orientation that should be provided even for the most remote sites. However, more popular or accessible sites and routes should have information and interpretation in several formats.

The handbook written for Local Access Forum members has a section on DDA and accessibility.

York City Council researched accessibility and the needs of people with disabilities as part of the ROWIP exemplar programme. See ROWIP examplar

Policies and strategies

Lake District National Park Authority

The Lakes has a Miles Without Stiles action plan to create, improve and promote routes for people with limited mobility.

The authority consulted a wide audience across the whole National Park to identify paths that could be improved for some, many or all of the following: wheelchair-users, visually impaired people, parents or carers with pushchairs, and anyone who simply finds it difficult to negotiate stiles or rough ground. This resulted in 148 route proposals.

They devised a scoring mechanism for prioritising the proposals into a Miles without Stiles Action Plan. The mechanism used eleven criteria weighted according to their value for the target audience. This was created through two countryside managers' workshops and discussions with the Lake District Local Access Forum.

All of the 148 routes were audited and scored by Rangers. A Project Team then moderated the top scores to create the Miles without Stiles Action Plan. The five year plan aims to create or improve 25 routes for people with limited mobility. These will be promoted on the authority's website and in a revised booklet.

The routes are being designed and constructed to meet the specifications laid out by the Countryside Agency, on page 40 of 'By all reasonable means: Inclusive access to the outdoors for disabled people'.

The Action Plan offers partners the opportunity to promote health and well-being for all, by creating routes where they are needed most.

Barney Hill, Access Development Adviser, 10 October 2006.

Access Improvement Fund

The National Park Authority administers a grant fund – the Access Improvement Fund which supports capital schemes within the Lake District National Park that extend the countryside path network or make it more accessible for everyone to enjoy. The LDNPA provided £10,000 in 2006/7, extra financial support is secured each year from partner bodies.

The fund is designed to encourage countryside managers and landowners to :

  • dedicate new rights of way and permissive paths.
  • improve path surfaces for cyclists and people with limited mobility.
  • remove or replace stiles, and improve bridges and gates to make the countryside more accessible.

More details on what the fund has achieved since it began in 2002, including how it relates to the Miles without Stiles project.

Morpeth BC – Castles, Woods & Water project

The Castles, Woods and Water project Access Strategy has a foreword by Dame Tanni Grey Thompson including the statement "People aren't disabled by their bodies but by the limitations of the environment and the lack of understanding of others". The Project aims to ensure that no-oneis unreasonably excluded from anything the project has to offer, to achieve this they have adopted a clear straightfoward access policy.

The strategy has been influenced by 'Sense and Accessibility'. It summarises the aims of the access strategy, and looks at access in the past, present and future.

In addition the project published an 'Access policy' document which states exactly what the management committee will do to improve access.

There is also a separate document listing the main projects planned to improve accessibility including making provision for wheelchair accessible boats!

Information provision

A key aspect of improving accessibility is giving people the information they need to enable them to decide for themselves where they can and can't go and, of course, where they want to go. The internet makes information provision easy and flexible for authorities, some have used this medium to very good effect – examples of good websites were reviewed in the projects for CCW, SNH and the New Forest detailed below .

The Access Company

Contracts for the Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage have enabled The Access Company to develop a methodology for summarising accessibility as Access Statements for public consumption. In addition, good practice in providing access information and path details by local authorities and national parks was include in thios survey.This work is being further developed for the New Forest National Park by mapping and adding accessibility data to a searchable database and website. See The Access Company for details.

East Sussex County Council

The authority's website provides information on surfaced routes to coast, woodland, and other countryside sites. The information desribes what the site has to offer, what the surface is made of and how the long the path is, as well as information on services and transport links.

An example is:

"This large country park shows the stages of ecological succession from grassland to woodland. The 750 metre trail of medium difficulty undulates slightly but has a consistent crushed stone surface.
It passes through varied habitats and around a large pond where there is a disabled fishing platform. There are surfaced paths to a picnic area which has tables for wheelchair users."

It would be useful to know what 'undulates slightly' actually means – what is the maximum gradient? Also there is no information on the width of the path or if any barriers are encountered.

There is a link to further information on what the authority plan to do in the future to improve access, as well as links to general access information.

Shropshire County Council

Shropshire have produced a booklet of accessible walks, assisted by a local couple who are wheelchair users. The walks are graded into three categories based on how much support a wheelchair user would require to negotiate the paths. Information is given on services, including resting places.

Devon County Council

Has a specially designed web page to encourage family groups out into rural areas on safe and easily accessible paths. The routes are chosen to exclude stiles, steps or any obstruction which would cause difficulty to those with limited mobility.

For each area a list of routes is described. Many paths are listed with a contact telephone number which allows user to find out more specific information. The routes are labelled with symbols to show if they are suitable for people with a young family, visually impaired users, wheelchair users or those who are less mobile. (Devon's website shows how this is done.)

Labelling routes in this way provides an easy visual clue, but needs to be supported with more detailed information about the length, gradient, width of the path and barriers so that people can judge for themselves what is suitable for their level of fitness, experience or ability. The Devon website provides some additional information, and gives phone numbers for those seeking further details.

Dorset County Council

Dorset has a webpage offering information on a range of sites. The same information is availble free in leaflet form. Information includes what the car parking facilities and costs are, access to toilets, shops, cafes as well as short descriptions on what the access paths are like. An example of a path description is given below :

"The trail has been surfaced for wheelchair users. It is possible to make a circular route for wheelchair visitors by returning through the village along the road. A Maiden Newton Village Trail leaflet is available, giving details of the trail plus a longer round walk. Wheelchair friendly picnic tables are available at Rock Pit Farm but are sited on grass. Nearest disabled toilet in Dorchester."

Whilst this degree of information is useful the majority of people with mobility impairments would need to know more, such as:

  • how long is the circular route?
  • what are the gradients like?
  • how busy is the road?
  • is there a footway?

It is useful to know that the picnic tables are sited on grass, but it would be good to know how far they are from the surfaced trail.

Not all authorities have the resources to put as much information on their website. Other have simple sections stating their accessibility policy and giving contact numbers for more information.

Staffordshire County Council

Staffordshire's access for all has this level of information, with a link to the country parks page for accessible trails.

More Information

Guidance, equipment and information:

  • RNID 'Solutions, Quality products for deaf and hard of hearing people'. Source of listening loops, costs and suppliers, etc. Tel. 0870 789 8855.
  • RNIB customer services 08457 023153. Booklets on print, signs, websites, etc. Call 01733 375370 for advice about braille transcription and a directory of organisations who can produce braille.
  • United Kingdom Association of Braille Producers have a checklist for braille production you can use for your own production or to check the work of a braille producer. Tel. 01733 370777
  • The Joint Mobility Unit (JMU) has an access partnership to advise individuals and organisations on physical access issues (though their focus is mostly on the built environment, it does include information). Tel 020 7391 2002. They have the JMU Sign Design Guide (£20) available from them or RNIB. Tel. 020 7391 2002
  • RADAR (Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation), 0207 250 3222. Source of RADAR keys. Their access officer can give contacts for disability groups around the UK.
  • The Kennel Club has produced guidelines for countryside managers on developing a positive welcome for dogs including assistance dogs. Other sources include: dogsforthedisabled.org, hearing-dogs.co.uk and guidedogs.org.uk
  • Centre for Accessible Environments, Tel 0207 840 0125. Offer training and publications plus advice on availability/costs of auditing equipment such as Gradlevels, light meters etc.
  • The Disabled Ramblers publish a newsletter and run regular walks for their members who use powered scooters. Tel. 01628 621414
  • The Plain English Campaign has an A-Z of alternative words which helps write publications in simple language.
  • British Standards (for BS8300 for buildings and 5709 for gaps, gates and stiles) from the British Standards Institute.
  • The Disability Rights Commission offers advice on the legislation and have a helpline. Tel.08457 622633. They also publish guidance documents on organising events, using BSL interpreters, producing easy to read documents, signage for people with a learning disability, etc.
  • The National Museums of Scotland publish a book called Access in Mind for £5 which gives guidance on better communicating with people with learning disabilities. ISBN 1901663183.
  • SNH's Countryside Access Design Guide provides information on best practice and design sheets on accessible countryside furniture and structures
  • Centrewire, 'Designs for easy access to rights of way' suppliers brochure. Based in south of England, useful to see ideas for accessible designs and costs. Tel. 01491 614490.
  • The Sensory Trust guide to accessible websites is available free as a download. Its publication 'A guide to accessible greenspace' is available for £15 ISBN 0 9526 745 3X from The Sensory Trust, Watering Lane Nursery, Pentewan, St. Austell, Cornwall PL26 6BE. Phone 01726 222900 Fax: 01726 222901
  • The Centre for Accessible Environments is a charitable organisation working to improve accessibility to all environments. CABE Space also produce guidance on access statements.

Several organisations and individuals provide professional support or training for access audits in the countryside. These include :