Aside from ensuring there is no discrimination when it comes to the way in which staff are treated, operators of pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels also need to be aware of the obligations of the Equality Act, which requires equality of access to services for disabled people.

Who has a disability?

Under the Equality Act it is unlawful to discriminate against anyone because of a “protected characteristic”, one of which is disability.  A physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, will be a disability.

Far more people than you think will be covered by this definition; it is certainly not just those in wheelchairs or with blue badges in their cars.  Government research shows that one in five people of working age are disabled. People whose mobility, sight, hearing, dexterity, co-ordination or memory is impaired are all covered, and may also include people with cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart conditions, people with mental health conditions and facial disfigurements.

Disability discrimination

The Equality Act prohibits direct and indirect disability discrimination, harassment and victimisation.  It also requires reasonable adjustments to be made to premises and services.

Reasonable adjustments

As a service provider you must make changes, where needed, to improve your service for disabled customers so that they are not at a substantial disadvantage compared to others.  This duty requires you to take positive steps to enable disabled people to access your service, going beyond the obligation to merely avoid discrimination.  You are required to think about and take reasonable steps to overcome features that may create a disadvantage for people with particular kinds of impairments, whether visual, hearing, mobility, learning disabilities or mental health conditions.  You are required, as far as reasonably practicable, to make your service as accessible to disabled users as it is to the non-disabled users. In particular, you must consider:

  • The way the service is provided.   Do you need to change a practice?  For example, a restaurant that requires all diners to wear a tie may need to make an exception for a guest with severe psoriasis which makes it too uncomfortable for him to be able to wear a tie.
  • The physical features of the premises to ensure that the disabled are not at a substantial disadvantage. Physical features include signage, entrances and exits, car parking areas, internal and external doors, bar counters, tables etc.  If a physical feature disadvantages a disabled person you will need to take steps to remove it, alter it, provide a reasonable means of avoiding it or provide the service in a different way.
  • The requirement to provide extra aids and services if this would enable a disabled person to use your service.  For example, a menu in Braille for blind or partially sighted diner or a portable induction loop available at reception for use by deaf customers.

What is reasonable?

What is regarded as a “reasonable” adjustment will depend on the size of your organisation and resources, the cost of making the adjustments and how the adjustment might benefit other customers. You will need to consider:

  • How practicable it is to take the steps
  • Costs
  • How disruptive the work would be
  • How much money is available/already spent and whether any financial help is available.

Not all adjustments involve major and expensive building work.  There are many adjustments to your premises and services which are not expensive and which can be relatively easily made.  For example consider:

  • replacing round door knobs, which may be difficult for those with limited mobility to grip
  • putting mirrors and coat hooks at lower levels in the disabled toilet
  • clearly marking the entrance to the pub or restaurant
  • full height glass doors enable wheelchair users to see someone approaching from the other side.

You should consider how you can make your services easier for disabled people to use.  These changes need not have major cost implications.  For example:

  • permit entry to those with guide dogs – environmental health have granted an exemption for guide dogs and venues should not turn them away
  • provide staff training in disability awareness
  • staff should be ready to assist disabled customers in accessing the premises and finding a suitable table
  • when furniture is replaced consider buying furniture that is easily moved and which allows adequate height and clearance underneath
  • apps are now available to read menus out to visually impaired diners
  • offer table service as an alternative to counter service for disabled customers if counters are high or food is displayed in raised cabinets
  • hotels must offer a few rooms which are fully accessible to disabled people.

The costs of a discrimination claim

Someone who has been discriminated against on the grounds of their disability can bring a civil action in the County Court and claim damages for injury to feelings.  There is NO limit on the amount of damages that can be awarded.  The court can also grant an injunction to prevent future discrimination.  You could also be ordered to change a policy or make a reasonable adjustment.  You will also end up paying both your legal costs and those of the victim if you lose your case in Court.

Loss of Revenue

Whilst the majority of buildings are now accessible to the disabled, if you still have access issues how much longer can you afford to continue to ignore this sector of the market?  Aside from the threat of legal action, with all the inherent costs, there is clearly a strong business case for making services easier for the country’s 8.5 million disabled people who have an estimated spending power of £2 billion.

Grab good publicity

The British Beer and Pub Association recognises the importance of welcoming disabled people into pubs and how this can be worthwhile from a business perspective too.  It has produced two useful documents:

A guidance document entitled Open Welcome – Why being accessible is good for your pub.

A guidance note, Why should I create an access statement? This provides practical guidance on why and how to create an access statement and has a link to an online template.

If you are accessible for disabled customers then why not publicise the fact and boost your business as a result. A clear accessibility statement posted on an operator’s website can be a very effective marketing tool.

… and avoid the bad

As well as creating business by being accessible, failing to accommodate disabled clientele can result in bad publicity.  In one case an Inverness restaurant was criticised on Facebook by relations of a man with Downs Syndrome for refusing to serve a children’s portion of fish and chips.  The criticism led to bad reviews on Trip Advisor.

Next steps

An access audit is the best way to identify problems which disabled users may have. The resulting report will enable you to draw up an improvement programme.  This is strongly advisable before any major refurbishment work is undertaken.  Contact the National Register of Access Consultants (NRAC)

Then draw up an Access Statement and post it on your website so that disabled people can check this before they visit your premises.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.