Disabled bring record number of court cases

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The Independent Online

Record numbers of people with disabilities brought discrimination claims against a range of businesses and public services last year, including restaurants, airlines and nightclubs, a watchdog organisation has found.

Record numbers of people with disabilities brought discrimination claims against a range of businesses and public services last year, including restaurants, airlines and nightclubs, a watchdog organisation has found.

A report, published yesterday by the Disability Rights Commission, warns that the findings reveal just a small proportion of the discrimination to be found across Britain.

In the past 12 months the number of discrimination cases supported by the commission rose by more than 50 per cent, and many of the cases succeeded in court.

In one case a man was refused entry to a nightclub because of a facial disfigurement and in another a pupil was banned from a school trip because of his diabetes.

Announcing the annual review, the commission's chairman, Bert Massie, said: "The figures and cases speak for themselves. Disabled people continue to face discrimination in all areas."

The commission's legal team arranged representation in 64 new cases, up from 41 the year before. Some cases are going to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal and one is going to the House of Lords.

In several cases, instead of or as well as compensation, there has been a commitment to changes in policy.

Last month the commission warned the budget airline Ryanair that it faced legal action after charging some disabled passengers an extra £18 for the use of a wheelchair.

A test case is expected to be lodged at Central London County Court in response to the charges, which the airline levies at Stansted airport in Essex. The case is being brought on behalf of Bob Ross, who suffers from arthritis and cerebral palsy, and is seeking undisclosed damages and the removal of the charge.

In another case Ian Hunter was refused entry to a nightclub in Kent because customers "might become upset" if they had to drink from a glass he had used. The manager at Bar Rio in Gillingham also warned Mr Hunter, 20, that he might get "picked on" by customers because of his appearance. Mr Hunter has a genetic disorder, epidermolysis bullosa, which gives him blisters on his hands, feet and neck. Mr Hunter, who won £2,000 compensation at a tribunal last year, described his experience as "humiliating".

A number of high-profile disability rights awareness campaigns have helped to trigger the sharp increase in discrimination cases and calls to the commission helpline.

Earlier this year The Independent reported that the commission had raised fears that Labour was dragging its heels over manifesto pledges to introduce new disability laws.

The proposed law to plug major gaps in the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 would have provided important new rights in transport and housing. It would also outlaw discrimination against the half million people with long-term illnesses such as cancer or HIV. Some critics claim ministers prefer non-legislative measures to "encourage" employers to hire more people with disabilities.