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Yesterday the BBC reported on the successfully settled Judicial Review case of Dr Yusuf Osman, 44 against the DWP to send him benefit letters in braille or as accessible PDFs. the DWP must have known that Yusuf was blind because he will have been receiving Blind Persons’ Allowance.

During the Pandemic, I acted for various people with sight loss who received letters about Shielding which they could not read. Local authorities sending letters about Council Tax and even Eye Departments at hospitals sending appointments letters to people they knew had no sight to be able to read them.

The Judicial review in Kate Rowley’s case against the Cabinet Office was successful in establishing that Government communications should be provided in British Sign Language, although this is still not part of mainstream planning on communications in the way it should be.

It’s not just people with sight of hearing loss that need communications sending in accessible formats….. also people with Dyslexia and Specific Learning Differences.

Technology can provide a quick, easy and inexpensive solution to avoid these problems. Assistive technology can read out messages as long as they are not in pdf format. Making sure that video clips posted on line have audio, BSL, captions and alt text is also important.

Legal Service Providers and the Courts are often also slow to realise the need to provide information in different formats which is one of the reasons that working with the team at Inspire Legal is so refreshing. Through our use of tech and applications we can ensure that access to justice is accessible. More on that from the Managing Partner Natalie here.

Judicial Review isn’t the only way to tackle the problem though. The easiest way to deal with these issues is by a County Court case which is much more straight forward and provides compensation and a Court Order compelling a change.

The Legal Bit

A practice of communicating with tenants, patients, council tax payers etc in limited ways, including hard copy letters, secure messaging systems, or SMS text messaging can put a disabled person with sight loss or Dyslexia which impair reading, at a substantial disadvantage compared to those who are not disabled.

Unless reasonable steps are taken to avoid the disadvantage by providing information in an accessible format, such as an ordinary e-mail compatible with assistive technology or in easy read, or interpreting information into BSL, the service provider will most likely be in breach of section 35(1)(c) of the Equality Act 2010, by a failure to make reasonable adjustments within the meaning of sections 20 and 21, as applied by section 36(1).

What Happens Next?

The team at Inspire has a free Guide as to how to complain without having to ‘go legal’ straight away.

Remedies for these failures are financial and non financial. You can pursue both or one of the other, but in my experience service providers need to feel a financial impact in order to make a cultural change.

Compensation for disability discrimination falls into one of three different categories as defined by the case of Vento v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, and as set out below:

Upper band: £27,000 to £45,000. The most serious cases, such as where there has been a lengthy campaign of discriminatory harassment. Only in the most exceptional case should an award of compensation for injury to feelings exceed £45,000.

Middle band: £9,000 – £27,000. The middle band should be used for serious one off cases which do not merit an award in the highest band, or for cases where a policy or practice repeatedly causes difficulty in day to day life.

Lower band: £1,000 – £9,000. Less serious cases, such as where the act of discrimination is an unintentional, isolated or one off occurrence.

It follows that unless changes are made to systems immediately that there may be numerous claims against organisations which will end up being so costly that decision makers in those organisations will take notice and make improvements to the accessibility of their communications and service.

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