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The Equality “Act” – dispute resolved without problem solved

October 3, 2011

Another day another phone call

I am increasingly concerned that our current system isn’t making the world more accessible. This caller explains that despite having won a legal dispute with a company over repeatedly sending them letters in a format they cannot read (believe it or not sending printed letters to a blind person isn’t any good!) the same company have changed nothing and are “carrying on regardless”.

Hidden law

Apparently where a company settles a dispute the case doesn’t reach the public domain and seemingly nobody learns from it. Many people ask me what is the point of this law if it doesn’t work and I totally agree, just having a law isn’t enough, it’s got to work and be _made to work_.

Blame systemic ignorance?

I’ve worked on these problems for years and what I’m seeing is companies who are “systemically ignorant” of what is happening between them and their customers. Once a complaint turns legal, it gets hived off to the legal team and from the perspective of the people in that company responsible for the day-to-day running, the learning opportunity is lost. But hang on, I’ve seen people with job titles like “head of internal risk” involved in these cases, I think that says a lot about how some companies think about disabled people too.

Ignore and don’t learn

Just the other day I read a legal agreement between a huge UK company and a blind lady where the huge company agreed to take proactive steps to fix the accessibility of one of their very popular services for that blind lady. Tens of thousands of other people would gain access to that service, if the huge company fixed the access barrier. That was two years back and I know from a contact in the industry, that the huge company did not fix the problem when they had a chance. I would like to believe that company does value it’s customers and doesn’t go around shutting doors in customer’s faces deliberately, so the only possible explanation for this major failure is systemic ignorance.

Damage

Let’s not forget the impact this has on real people’s lives: the guy I’ve just spoken to feels his life is being ruined by company after company acting in exactly the same way as the one he’s just called me about “they’re all the same they just don’t get it” the most worrying consequence he shared is that the combined effect of this general systemic ignorance is directly on his mental health “I’m sinking deeper into depression because every single thing is a fight”.

It’s only a one-off problem?

Impact on an individual is a really important issue and I think we need a more holistic response to what might seem, to a non-disabled person, like just a one-off incident of a blind person being sent a couple of letters in print by a company who haven’t quite got their processes right yet but “give them a chance”. Problems do not seem to be one-off at all, companies are often complex with multiple departments who all replicate the problem, over and over again.

Collective damage

We all have regular communication with lots of companies in our daily lives, some small companies and some big and complex. Every engagement is important. When you add each little glitch up, from an individual’s perspective, the collective damage that the individual faces from a little glitch by each department of each company they deal with, is huge.

Little part of a big problem

If it’s only ever the individual who experiences the full weight of the collective damage, and the other parties including the company contributing to the problem and the legal people helping to resolve it, only ever see the little piece of the problem that they are causing, then it’s easier to see why so many people feel they aren’t being helped by the law.

Compensation for collective damage?

Until there’s a mechanism for recognising and compensating an individual for the collective damage that they are exposed to, it’s hard to imagine what will jolt companies out of their systemic ignorance and into realising how damaging their failure is on an individual.

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