Design ignorant of Disability Act

The design industry is failing to meet its obligations to disabled designers, and is unlikely to change its ways despite the introduction last week of the Disability Discrimination Act.

The act introduces new rights for disabled employees, and potential employees, of any company with 20 or more staff. As a result, “it will be unlawful for an employer with 20 or more employees to treat a disabled person less favourably than other people for a reason relating to their disability, without justification”, says the Department for Education and Employment.

But a straw poll of design consultancies has revealed low levels of staff with disabilities, ranging from none at all to just two in two of the companies surveyed. Those trawled featured in Design Week’s Top 100 list of groups and included consultancies such as Pentagram, Fitch, Crabtree Hall/Plan Créatif and Sampson Tyrrell Enterprise.

None of the employed disabled designers are in wheelchairs. All of the companies questioned employ more than 20 staff.

Designers concede that a number of problems are keeping disabled people away from design careers. These range from access problems, both to colleges which offer design courses and to the “character” premises favoured by many designers, to perceived discrimination against the few disabled applicants for design jobs.

A number of designers say that disabled applicants for design posts are rare. Kenneth Grange, partner at Pentagram, says: “In defence of the trade, I think people are generous by instinct in our business.” And David Mackay, associate director of Crabtree Hall, says the new legislation will not be a factor for many small to medium-sized design companies, which are increasingly keeping to a minimum the number of permanent staff they employ, and instead relying on freelances.

See News Analysis, page 8.

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