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The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and Adults with Learning Disabilities

Kirsten Stalker, University of Strathclyde
Co-author(s): Jennifer Lerpiniere


This paper will present findings from a 15 month study, funded by the Baily Thomas Trust, entitled Rights and Responsibilities: the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and Adults with Learning Disabilities. The focus was on Part III (access to goods and services). One aim of the study was to explore how far people with learning disabilities and family carers were aware of their rights under the Act.

This aim was addressed through focus groups with people with learning disabilities and family carers and interviews with disability organisations. Members of a self-advocacy organisation co-facilitated the focus groups with people with learning disabilities. Focus groups and interviews explored 1) knowledge of the Disability Discrimination Act, 2) understandings and experiences of discrimination and 3) views about the accessibility of services.

Overall, knowledge of the Act and awareness of rights was low. People generally found services, such as shops, cafes and sports centres, reasonably helpful. However, problems had been experienced with staff attitudes, the behaviour of other customers, inflexible application of rules, inaccessible information and insufficient support for communication.

Several participants recounted personal experiences of what they considered to be direct discrimination, for example, being refused service in a pub or prevented from using a swimming pool. People felt a strong sense of injustice about such treatment but most had not actively challenged it. However, a few individuals, usually activists in disability organisations, had protested.

The findings show an urgent need for wide-scale information provision, education and consciousness-raising, along with stronger enforcement of the law and penalties to improve compliance. Legislative changes are also required, along with more advisory and better legal support for people with learning disabilities.

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