Disabled people doubt Equality Act a decade on

More than two thirds (71%*) of disabled people are unlikely to use the courts to challenge inaccessibility in their communities, despite experiencing widespread problems.

Sophie speaking at our award ceremony
  • 71% of British disabled adults are unlikely to pursue legal action against inaccessible yet vital services.
  • Nearly a quarter of disabled adults experienced difficulties accessing key services in 2018/19 (24%).
  • The new figures suggest a lack of confidence in the Equality Act 2010, passed by government ten years ago.

Nearly a quarter (24%**) of disabled adults have experienced problems accessing key services where they live, including GP surgeries. 

The worrying findings, from a YouGov survey commissioned by leading disability charity Leonard Cheshire, reveal widespread ineffectiveness of powers under the Equality Act nearly 10 years after it came into force. More than 2,000 adults with long-term health condition or disability were polled.

Cost, time and confidence in the legal process were all highlighted as deterrents for disabled adults who would not be likely to take action when it comes to holding establishments to account for their commitments to accessibility. 

“I could not afford to bring legal action against a venue and, if the process became drawn out, I would be concerned about how my mental health would be affected,” one respondent explained. 

One person felt it would be “too much trouble for too little result”, while another echoed these sentiments saying it would be “too much hassle and I doubt it would make any difference.”

As the government hopes to reopen pubs and restaurants in late June, inaccessible facilities could risk isolating the disabled community further. 

Under the Equality Act, which took full effect in October 2010, a service provider has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure anyone can access their services. This not only includes making physical adjustments, but also making adjustments to any policies and procedures that could put disabled people at a disadvantage.

When asked her thoughts on the legal process, Jane from Hertfordshire, who recently complained to her local supermarket about a lack of a mobility scooter at its store, commented:

“I think very few people would feel able to take legal action. Many disabled people have negative experiences with obtaining and retaining benefits such as Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and are exhausted by the ongoing fight with authority. I would certainly complain, but that would be it.”

TV presenter and campaigner Sophie Morgan, Leonard Cheshire’s Global Ambassador for Women’s Rights and Inclusive Education, understands how painful the legal process can be after taking a supermarket to court for a basic lack of accessibility:

“These findings are depressing but not surprising from my experience. There is an entrenched reluctance to come forward and fight for your rights because of the prohibitive cost and the sheer stress of fighting a further battle that frankly should have been won by now. The Equality Act was passed a decade ago yet so few of us leverage it to protect or enforce our rights.” 

Talking about changes that need to be made to address this issue, Gemma Hope, Director of Policy at Leonard Cheshire, said:

“Time and time again disabled people are made to feel like less valuable members of society, with a lack of access to local amenities threatening their independence and leading to feelings of isolation. No one should feel like they don’t have the freedom to visit their local doctor, supermarket or even pub. 

“While pursuing legal action is an option, it really shouldn’t even have to get to that point. As government begins to make plans to come out of lockdown, disabled people must not be excluded from key services and facilities. We’ve worked with hundreds of organisations to make their practices inclusive. Others must up their game to make accessibility their priority.” 

The charity recommends that anyone affected by the issues raised by this research should get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau for guidance. 

Media enquiries

For further information and high res images please contact Erin O’Reilly via erin.o’reilly@leonardcheshire.org.

Notes to editors

YouGov research

  • *71% (1,500) of those surveyed said they were either fairly unlikely or very unlikely to take legal action against a venue or service if it was not accessible for someone with their disability or health condition. 27% (570) fairly unlikely and 44% (931) very unlikely.
  • **24% (507) of respondents with a disability or health condition said they had trouble accessing a service or venue in the last year because it wasn’t accessible for someone with their disability or health condition. Venues and services listed were: tourist attraction (e.g. amusement park, aquarium, zoo etc), a restaurant, pub/bar, GP surgery, concert venue, sports or exercise facility, cinema, nightclub, supermarket, local supermarket, sporting venue, other. 
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 6712 adults of which 2135 had a long-term health condition or disability. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17 - 24 July 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Equality Act

Requirements for reasonable adjustments were first put in place in the UK with the Disability Discrimination Act, which came into force in 1995. It was enhanced several times over the following years, and eventually repealed and replaced with the Equality Act in 2010. 

Potential claimants can also check if they are eligible for legal aid for ‘civil’ cases.