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Disability Equality Duty (DED)

As part of the Equality Act (2006) a Disability Equality Duty (DED) has been introduced for the public sector. This new legal duty means that all public bodies have to actively look at ways of ensuring that disabled people are treated equally. This new law requires organisations across the public sector (including hospitals, local and central government, schools and colleges) to be proactive in ensuring that disabled people are treated fairly.

The duty is not necessarily about changes to buildings or adjustments for individuals. It is about embedding equality for disabled people into the culture of public authorities in practical and demonstrated ways. This means including disabled people and disability equality into everything from the outset rather than focusing on individualised responses to specific disabled people. The Disability Equality Duty is a new way for public authorities to tackle disability discrimination practically by introducing policies that actively promote opportunities and so prevent discrimination taking place.

The duty looks not only at promoting equality and eliminating discrimination but also at areas such as eliminating harassment, and encouraging participation in public life and promoting positive attitudes.

Local authorities need to focus on what outcomes they want the achieve with this duty, what success will look like, what their particular responsibilities are and how they will know they are making progress – and break this down to manageable stages.

What does the duty say?

The duty is a 'general duty' which applies to all public authorities, plus additional specific duties to support the majority of public authorities in achieving the outcomes required by the general duty. The basic requirement for a public authority when carrying out their functions is to have due regard to do the following:

What do we have to do?

As a public authority covered by the Disability Equality Duty the Council must do the following:

The Disability Equality Scheme (DES) sets out a structure for achieving outcomes, including involving disables people, gathering evidence, producing action plans and completing impact assessments.

The Disability Rights Commission has set out four steps in the successful implementation of a scheme:

The most effective examples of implementation of the duty have come through understanding the real difficulties of ensuring equality of access to all – the personal, organisational and societal blocks and challenges – and then working together with equality groups to begin to shift those blocks and challenges.

The Social Model of Disability

The social model of disability enables disabled people to look at themselves in a more positive way which increases their self-esteem and independence. 

(Information taken from Southampton Centre for Independent Living - Social Model and Manchester City Council - The Social Model of Disability).

The social model of disability enables disabled people to look at themselves in a more positive way which increases their self-esteem and independence.

Disabled people often feel at a loss for all the things they would like to do but cannot; a loss of goals and dreams that seem unobtainable. Disabled people often feel they are a burden on family and friends, and a problem for doctors who cannot cure them.

This traditional view of disability is called "the Medical Model of Disability", because it sees people as medical problems. As a result disabled people are expected to see their impairment as their problem, something they will have to make the best of and accept that there are many things they cannot do.

The social model of disability starts from a different perspective. It ignores how "bad" a person's impairment is. Instead it establishes that everyone is equal and demonstrates that it is society which erects barriers that prevent disabled people participating and restricts their opportunities.

How does the social model of disability work?

The social model looks beyond a person's impairment at all the relevant factors that affect their ability to be a full and equal participant in society. It makes the important distinction between 'impairment' and 'disability' and defines these as:


An injury, illness, or congenital condition that causes or is likely to cause a long term effect on physical appearance and / or limitation of function within the individual that differs from the commonplace.


The loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in society on an equal level with others due to social and environmental barriers.

Disability is shown as being caused by 'barriers' or elements of social organisation which take no or little account of people who have impairments.

Society is shown to disable people who have impairments because the way it has been set up prevents disabled people from taking part in every day life. It follows that if disabled people are to be able to join in mainstream society, the way society is organised must be changed. Removing the barriers which exclude (disable) people who have impairments can bring about this change.

Barriers can be:

For example, people with poor eyesight are given a simple piece of equipment - a pair of glasses. Without them they would be excluded from full participation in society and would therefore be disabled.

Similarly, the social model solution to the fact that a wheelchair user is disabled because they cannot use public transport is simple - make all public transport accessible to everyone!

Some examples of how society could change to allow disabled people to participate equally are shown below:

Medical problems and their social solutions

Painful hands, unable to open jars, doors - Better designed lids, automatic doors

Difficulties in standing for long periods - More seats in public places

Unable to climb steps into buildings - Ramps and lifts in all buildings

Other people won't give you a job because they think you couldn't do it  - Educate people to look at disabled people's abilities rather than looking for problems

This social model approach to disability that sees the problem as society's barriers, rather than the person's condition, allows disabled people to lift the blame from their shoulders and place it squarely onto society's. The social model of disability empowers disabled people to challenge society to remove these barriers.

The Medical Model of Disability

The medical model of disability suggests that disabled people's inability to join in society is a direct result of having an impairment and not related to the inflexibility of our society.

(Information from Manchester City Council and Disability Equality in Education).

The medical model of disability suggests that disabled people's inability to join in society is a direct result of having an impairment and not related to the inflexibility of our society. The emphasis is on dependence, backed up by the stereotypes of disability. Usually the impairment is focused on, rather than the needs of the person.

When people such as policy makers and managers think about disability in this individual way they tend to concentrate their efforts on 'compensating' people with impairments for what is 'wrong' with their bodies by targeting 'special' welfare benefits at them and providing segregated 'special' services for them and so on.

This model can also affect the way disabled people think about themselves and internalise the negative message that their problems stem from not having 'normal' bodies. This can result in disabled people believing that their impairments automatically prevent them from participating in social activities, making them less likely to challenge their exclusion from mainstream society.

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This page was last modified 10/12/2013 12:43:35

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