Achieving equal access is an important aspect of the two main pieces of equality legislation in operation in Ireland:
- the Employment Equality Acts, 1998-2004, which relate to community-based projects as employers
- the Equal Status Acts, 2000-2004, which relate to community based projects as service providers.
Both kinds of equality legislation are rights-based. They both prohibit discrimination, harassment and victimisation on nine grounds: gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community. Community-based projects whose premises are accessible to people with disabilities are on their way to meeting their obligations to people with disabilities under both types of legislation. This publication concentrates on the Equal Status legislation, although some features are common to both kinds of law.
Want to know more about your obligations as an employer?
- Read the Equality Authority's explanatory booklet Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2004. Download it free from www.equality.ie or get a free copy from the Equality Authority. It is available in ordinary print, large Print, on tape, on diskette and in braille.
Your obligations under the Equal Status Acts
The Equal Status Acts, 2000-2004 say that providers of goods and services, including community-based projects:
- must not discriminate against people with disabilities, including people with mobility, sensory, mental health and intellectual impairments
- must accommodate the needs of people with disabilities through making reasonable changes in what they do and how they do it where, without these changes, it would be very difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to obtain those goods or services unless it costs more than a nominal cost.
It is important to note that the law says that service providers, including community-based projects, must make reasonable accommodations, as these changes are called. The only defence they can use if they fail to do so is that "it costs more than a nominal cost". There is no upper limit on what you can spend, and the law allows you to take positive action in favour of people with disabilities. You can take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that people with disabilities can use your premises and services. It is important to remember that the law covers access to services - all the things that projects do - as well as to buildings.
The idea is that people with disabilities can access the same services as everyone else. The law doesn't require you to provide extra services just for people with disabilities though you can if you like!
What is meant by nominal cost exemption?
- Community-based projects, like other service providers, are not obliged to provide special treatment or facilities where the cost involved is greater than a nominal cost. Nominal cost exemptions depend on the circumstances of each case. A recent Irish employment case considered "nominal cost", stating that it "may not be the same for every employer or enterprise and that the term may be interpreted in a relative sense. What is nominal for a large enterprise employing thousands of people will not be the same as that of a small business with two or three employees".
- Making your premises and services accessible is a reasonable accommodation.
- Studies in the US show that more than half of accommodations made for people with disabilities cost nothing.
Think about this!
- If you hold activities in other premises, such as community centres, church halls and hotels, they too must be accessible to people with disabilities. If you hold your activities in inaccessible premises, people with disabilities will not be able to participate on a basis of equality with other people, and you will be in breach of the legislation. If you think that hearing-impaired people may attend your activities, be sure to find out if there is an induction loop system in the premises, or else hire one, as well as getting a sign interpreter to come along to facilitate the participation of deaf people.
Want to know more about your obligations as a service provider?
Read the Equality Authority's explanatory booklet Equal Status Acts 2000 and 2004. Download it free from www.equality.ie or get a free copy from the Equality Authority. It is available in ordinary print, large print, on tape, on diskette and in braille