The Disability Discrimination Act & Platform Lifts - 20 years on!
The DDA was introduced 20 years ago and formed for the industry an invaluable set of standards. In this article Stannah Engineering Director, Paul Clifton looks back at life before the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to the present day Equality Act and what it meant to those in the platform lift industry.
The Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 8 November 1995, just over twenty years ago this Act of Parliament, had a goal of creating a society where disabled people and those with long-term health conditions can participate fully as equal citizens. Under the DDA 1995 an estimated 10 million people in Britain suddenly had new rights to fair treatment in employment, education and all customer services. Before the DDA was introduced access to many public services, transport, leisure, education meant many disabled people were excluded from society and potential business revenue lost.
The DDA made a huge difference to the lift industry. As a lift manufacturer, Stannah already supplied what we now know as platform lifts, but these were often for a single individual’s needs under special circumstances and known as access lifts or wheelchair lifts.
The DDA 1995 required building owners and service providers to make reasonable ‘adequate’ provision to ensure independent and equal access to all persons in all non-domestic environments. This was very much open to interpretation.
From 1st October 2004, businesses and service providers had a duty to make reasonable adjustments, considering practicality and financial restraints, to the physical features of their premises, in order to overcome barriers to access.
In 2005 the DDA received royal assent. The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) announced a 2006 deadline which imposed a duty on public bodies to actively promote disability equality and in 2007 a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights began its work. The legislation now required all building with public access to ensure disabled access to all services.
The lift industry exploded with ‘new’ disabled access lifts, platform lifts that provided access as building owners demonstrated their premises welcomed all visitors and ticked the DDA box. At Stannah we developed an ever-growing range of dda lifts, with ever-changing legislation keeping us on our toes.
From 1st October 2010 it was goodbye DDA and hello Equality Act. Now our society had acknowledged that disabled people were not special cases but merely that all of society should be included in, and have access to, the built environment. Yes, wheelchair users, may have particular problems but have you ever had to use a double buggy for your children or a shopping trolley? At last the ‘disability’ tag was dropped in favour of recognising that stairs can present problems to all of us at some time in our lives.
Since the DDA/Equality Act was introduced Stannah Lifts have installed over 10,000 platform lifts. Over the last 20 years we have seen these change from access lifts through to wheelchair stairlifts travelling on an incline against steps, cabin platform lifts with automatic buttons and a cabin, and recent introductions of low pit lifts also known as Machinery Directive passenger lifts.
Today the lift industry offers a myriad of people-moving lifts to provide solutions for all buildings and all users, with almost all standard lifts designed around the equality requirements. These features include footprints that allow for a wheelchair turning circle, handrails, tactile easy-to-use controls, obstacle-free approaches on landings to include colour contract between lift and its surrounds, clear signage, defined lighting levels and stopping and levelling accuracy to avoid tripping hazards.
The Equality Act applies to all service providers and those providing goods and facilities in Great Britain. An access statement, which provides information on the accessibility of your venue’s facilities and services, enables those with access needs to know they can visit/shop/eat in your building. It also helps you as a building owner to identifying areas of your building that could be improved upon, perhaps even a platform lift. There is guidance for building owners on writing your access statement available from Visit Britain.
We have come a long way. The DDA and subsequent legislation has changed our built environment and the lives of millions of people. It leaves a lasting legacy. Thank you DDA.
More about the author: Paul Clifton has worked in the lift industry since leaving school and is an Engineering Director at Stannah Lifts Ltd as well as a Lift and Escalator Industry Association (LEIA) Quality and Technical Committee Member.