Inspired by ‘Purple Tuesday’, and with greater awareness of the protection under the Equality Act 2010 from being treated less favourably because of disability, awareness of disability etiquette can only be a good thing.
Disability discrimination can occur when an individual is treated less well or put at a disadvantage for a reason that relates to their disability in one of the situations covered by the Equality Act. It can be a one-off act or omission, the application of a rule or policy, or the existence of physical or communication barriers which make accessing something difficult or impossible, even if these rules, policies or physical environment apply to everyone.
An intention to discriminate is not a pre-requisite for it to be unlawful. Employers are under additional obligations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers to mitigate the impact of any disadvantage in the workplace that their disability puts them in.
‘Purple Tuesday 2021’ is a “change programme for organisations of all sizes from all sectors to get involved in, with the common goal of improving the customer experience for disabled people 365 days a year”. Now in its third year, it is a positive campaign to increase awareness of the needs of disabled people.
The campaign has drawn considerable press attention with the help of supporters such as Sainsbury’s which has, among other things, undertaken specific training on disability etiquette for its customer-facing staff. Apart from improving shopping experiences for disabled customers, the value of disability etiquette training for employers generally improves awareness of how not to treat a disabled person (whether a customer, client, colleague or prospective colleague) less favourably. Knowing what not to say and what to do in order to avoid causing offence to a disabled person is helpful.
Here are some tips from ‘Purple Tuesday’:
- If you are talking to a wheelchair user, talk to them directly and make eye contact with them, rather than the floor or the person they are with. Also, don’t start wheeling a wheelchair user without their consent!;
- Let a blind person reach out for your arm to guide them rather than you give them your arm (or you taking their arm without it being offered);
- Do refer to ‘disabled people’ or a ‘person with a disability’ rather than ‘the disabled or handicapped person’;
- Avoid using phrases such as they ‘suffer from’, which suggests discomfort. Instead, use phrases such as ‘living with’ a health condition;
- Remember that people with mental health issues have a ‘condition’ and should not be described as ‘crazy’, ‘mad’ or ‘sad’.
There are numerous resources available on the ‘Purple Tuesday’ website, which consider the different aspects of how a disabled person might access an organisation. For example, website users might benefit from a speaking tool if they are partially sighted. Such a small adjustment might assist workers accessing internal communications systems (i.e. the intranet) when learning about an employer’s internal news and benefits.
Taking five minutes to browse the ‘Purple Tuesday’ resources will hopefully provide some useful ideas for employers as well as service providers.
For more information on the topics covered in this alert, please contact our Partner, Emma Bartlett, who specialises in employment and partnership issues for multinational employers, senior executives, partnerships and partners.
CM Murray is Ranked Band 1/Tier 1 for Employment (Senior Executives) by Chambers and Partners UK 2022 and Legal 500 UK 2022. ‘Brilliant employment law team…Incredibly talented knowledgeable and commercial in their very professional approach. Very able in international employment matters.’ (Legal 500 UK)