UK public-serving businesses will have to lay out an estimated 1.23bn over the next five years to provide access to all areas for the nation’s eight million disabled people.
The changes will lead to wide-ranging opportunities for design consultancies to redevelop public access areas including shops, cinemas, hairdressers, restaurants, banks and playgroups. Bank documents, menus and other literature will also need redesigning for people with visual impairments.
Under the Government’s decision last week to fully enforce the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, public and private sector businesses will be required to spend up to 230m during the first phase of change and a further 280m annually for four years.
By 1 October, service providers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, by providing auxiliary aids and services as well as ensuring there is reasonable alternative access where there is a physical barrier.
A code of practice will be published in June giving companies advice about the regulations. Physical barriers restricting access to services, such as the absence of wheelchair ramps, must be rectified by 2004.
As well as changes in the physical layout of public services, the regulations also place emphasis on greater personal service. This includes opening doors for customers who cannot easily manage it themselves and writing down information for people with hearing difficulties.
Minister for Disabled People Margaret Hodge says the measures are “another step towards our goal of enforceable civil rights for disabled people and a more inclusive society. The new rights will lead to a high street revolution in the way that services are delivered to disabled people.”
“Shops and restaurants could change their layout to accommodate wheelchairs, while larger organisations such as local authorities or banks could consider making more information available in large print or braille,” she adds.