Ian Streets, of About Access discusses the importance of accessibility training following examples of discrimination issues at Starbucks and the First Group
Never has the need for disability and accessibility training been more relevant.
The case of a wheelchair-user who couldn’t get on a bus and the experience of a Starbucks customer mocked by staff for his stammer, raised eyebrows and emotions at the time. They also raise management issues which offer lessons to other businesses.
The bus driver was, perhaps understandably, confused when presented with a situation for which he had not been trained. The Starbucks barista was condemned as callous by some media. Both cases were avoidable.
We can only wonder at the costs of dealing with the case brought by Doug Paulley of West Yorkshire when he was unable to board a bus operated by First Group because a woman refused to move a buggy and sleeping child.
Mr Paulley initially won a discrimination claim and damages at Leeds County Court, where a judge ruled that the company’s policy should have required the woman to move. First Group won the second round at the Court of Appeal, which highlighted the needs of other passengers who might be vulnerable and which raised concerns over confrontation and delayed journeys.
Mr Paulley pursued the matter with the Supreme Court and won a victory of sorts – the judges didn’t restore his compensation of £5,500 but they did rule that the driver should have taken further steps to persuade the woman to make space for Mr Paulley.
The decision was welcomed by Mr Paulley and by disability rights campaign groups, but it took an awful lot of lawyers and judges to get there and ultimately it merely highlights the lack of foresight of transport companies who make more of an effort to publicise policies about eating and drinking on buses than about who can get on and off.
The key outcome of the saga was the court’s recommendation that the bus company should provide training for drivers and devise strategies that they can lawfully use to persuade other passengers to clear the wheelchair space when required by a wheelchair-user. The court also suggested that bus companies should make other passengers more aware of the needs of wheelchair-users and should conduct surveys to find out more about the requirements of bus users generally.
Richard Procter didn’t go to court with his complaint against Starbucks but the price they paid for ridiculing him in one of their outlets was large scale embarrassment in the national media.
The barista highlighted the fact that Mr Procter has a stammer by writing the name “R R R… ichard” on the side of the cup. Mr Procter, clearly tired of the years of verbal jokes, kept the physical evidence for media photographs and spoke up for people who are less well equipped to cope with such public humiliation.
The British Stammering Association condemned the “ridicule and thoughtlessness” and Disability Rights UK spoke of a clear breach of the Equality Act 2010.
Starbucks apologised to Mr Procter and suspended the barista. They also announced plans to provide additional awareness training for staff.
There are differences between the two examples. The Starbucks episode is more of an individual issue, although it’s not out of the question that other customers may get involved to support someone who they see as a victim of discrimination.
The bus incident has the potential to affect a lot of other people on either side. Some might be more worried about their bus being on time than about a disabled person being prevented from boarding by an obstruction. Other people may take the opposite view. It all makes the management of the situation more important, along with the training behind it.
A training programme should be developed that makes employees aware of disability and disability etiquette and what to do and what not to do in a given situation.
It doesn’t only apply in these cases – there will be many more instances that are specific to different environments. It is a defence for a business owner to say that they have given training, and to be able to clearly demonstrate that, if a member of the public makes a charge that they have been discriminated against.
But the whole point of the training is to get things right in the first place and to then show a robust, high quality approach in the event that you do have to defend a discrimination claim.
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