DDA and reason
Tuesday 23rd November 2004 18:07
Here's an ethical conundrum for you: a wheelchair user contacts a hotel and asks if it has a lift that can accommodate his wheelchair. Somebody on reception reassures him that the hotel has suitable disabled access, so the wheelchair user books a room.
However, when he arrives at the hotel, he discovers that his wheelchair is too big to fit into the lift and that the replacement wheelchair on hand for such situations is unsuitable for his use.
Exit one disgruntled guest, leaving another business to wonder exactly how many hoops it needs to jump through to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
But which party is right, and which is wrong? On one hand, it is tempting to share the anger of the guest, for whom the absence of an appropriate lift resulted in the frustration of a wasted journey.
But does that make the hotel the villain of the piece? Given that it does have a lift and a wheelchair on hand for disabled guests - and that it can point to new ground-floor toilets, a ramp up to reception and disabled-friendly parking spaces as proof that it has taken steps to adhere to the DDA - it seems unfair to accuse it of a lack of care.
Last month's changes to the DDA compelled employers to make reasonable adjustments to their premises where a physical feature makes it difficult for disabled people to make use of their services, or else provide those services by some other means.
Quite what constitutes "reasonable adjustment" can vary wildly from one premise to another, however, and depends upon the resources available to individual companies, the constraints of planning permission and a raft of other considerations.
In reality, the law is unlikely to expect a modestly sized hotel to rip out its guts to make space for a lift shaft of sufficient size to accommodate the largest wheelchair. Yet it certainly will expect operators to offer clear and accurate information about their services to prospective guests.
Both parties in our ethical puzzler disagree on whether hotel staff clearly communicated the limitations of their lift. But whatever the truth of this particular case, the moral of the story is that the DDA should be viewed as a framework in which effective and reasonable customer service can be extended to all customers.
The Government does not expect to see expensive renovation projects at every hotel and restaurant in the land. But it does want to see due care taken and common sense shown; and it has charged operators with ensuring that, where reasonable, they can provide the services their disabled guests require.