Major new laws to protect disabled people from discrimination come into force today (1 October), as part of the Equality Act.
The act – introduced and steered through parliament by the last Labour government – brings together nine separate pieces of existing legislation, but also includes a series of new rights for disabled people and other minority groups.
Much of the act is being implemented today, although the coalition government says other measures will be phased in over the next three years.
Among crucial measures introduced today are laws banning employers from using health questionnaires to discriminate against disabled job applicants – a move welcomed by disabled people’s organisations as a major step forward for disability rights.
Other measures coming into force today will provide new protection from indirect disability discrimination, and should make it easier to prove that someone seeking protection under the act is a disabled person.
Theresa May, the home secretary and minister for women and equality, said the act would make it easier for businesses to comply with discrimination law by streamlining equality legislation, and would provide more protection for disabled people.
Other major improvements included in the act are likely to be introduced next year, including measures on accessible taxis and the provision of auxiliary aids for disabled pupils.
But disabled people’s organisations have raised major concerns about the coalition government’s plans for how public authorities should promote equality under the act.
In August, activists described draft regulations for these “specific duties” as an “enormous setback” in the battle for disability rights. Most of these duties are likely to come into force in April 2011.