Charity's fears of disabled access

A SUFFOLK charity today raised fears new disability discrimination laws had done little to improve access to Ipswich shops.The findings by Rethink Disability come just two months after discrimination laws were strengthened and they prompted small traders to appeal for understanding about the pressures they face in complying with the regulations.

A SUFFOLK charity today raised fears new disability discrimination laws had done little to improve access to Ipswich shops.

The findings by Rethink Disability come just two months after discrimination laws were strengthened and they prompted small traders to appeal for understanding about the pressures they face in complying with the regulations.

The Stowmarket-based charity has called on businesses to take additional steps to comply with the new Disability Discrimination Act rules, which came into force in October.

Its chairman, Linda Hoggarth, said some businesses are flouting the laws by not making "reasonable" changes to improve access to their stores.

"We're worried that people haven't taken any notice of the legislation and they think it doesn't apply to them because they are small," she said.

"It's disappointing from our point of view that people do seem to think that it doesn't matter very much."

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Mrs Hoggarth added: "We wouldn't have the expectation for a small shop in a small market town in Suffolk to make major changes but what we would like to see is that the owner has thought about what changes they can make to help disabled people."

Rethink Disability says businesses are missing out on millions of pounds in sales by not providing adequate access for people with disabilities.

However Suffolk Chamber of Commerce leapt to the defence of traders by assuring disability groups that small businesses would make any changes they could to abide by the legislation.

"Among chamber members I know, a lot of them are making the reasonable changes they have to make," the chamber's chief executive Bob Feltwell said.

"I would say all of them will offer to help whenever they can."

Mr Feltwell stressed it was much more difficult for smaller outfits to embark on costly building improvements, such as widening entry access, than it was for large companies.

"No one wants to break the law but it's not always possible to make the changes that larger companies can," Mr Feltwell said.

Disability groups argue many changes can be made through simple steps like placing a door bell outside entrances to enable customers to call for assistance or coloured strips on steps to aid the visually impaired.

Mrs Hoggarth said she feared that if businesses did not begin to comply on a wider scale they could face legal action.

But she added: "We don't want to take a big stick, it won't do the cause of disabled people any good at all."

Weblinks: www.rethink-disability.org.uk, www.suffolkchamber.co.uk

Are you a trader struggling to cope with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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