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The Disability Discrimination Act and holidaying abroad - are people protected?

Leigh Day is currently instructed by an individual whose holiday in Cyprus turned into a degrading and humiliating experience as a result of his disability.

Posted on 27 August 2008

Frances Swaine & Merry Varney of Leigh Day are currently instructed by an individual whose holiday in Cyprus turned into a degrading and humiliating experience as a result of his disability.

Mr X, a wheelchair user, booked a holiday on the basis that the travel company assured him that the hotel was accessible and that accessible transport arrangements would be made for airport to hotel transfers. When he arrived at his destination, no accessible transfers were available and Mr X had to suffer the humiliation of being carried onto a coach. The experience worsened for Mr X when he arrived at the hotel to find that it was not accessible and for example, the only disabled toilet was located by the pool and open for a limited number of hours per day. Mr X had to endure a week in hot weather of being without access to accessible washing and sanitary facilities, and was forced to risk his own safety to carry out basic personal hygiene tasks.

Mr X’s experience raises the question of how far the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (as amended) goes to protect the rights of disabled persons who book a holiday in the UK, but take the holiday overseas.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (“DDA”)

Section 19 of the DDA provides that:
"(1) it is unlawful for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person –
(a) in refusing to provide, or deliberately not providing, to the disabled person any service which he provides, or is prepared to provide, to members of the public;
(b) in failing to comply with any duty imposed on him by section 21 in circumstances in which the effect of that failure is to make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for the disabled person to make use of any such service;
(c) in the standard of service which he provides to the disabled person or the manner in which he provides it to him; or in the terms on which he provides a service to the disabled person.”

The DDA goes on to define a “provider of services” as someone “concerned with the provision, in the United Kingdom, of services to the public or to a section of the public”.

We have commenced proceedings on behalf of Mr X against the travel company concerned. In these proceedings, we are arguing on Mr X's behalf that a travel company that sells holidays from the UK should be considered a service provider for the purposes of the DDA as the selling of the holiday clearly happens in the UK, and for UK companies, the organisation of the holiday also takes place in the UK. In addition, if employees of a UK company carry out discriminatory acts overseas, we are arguing that the individual who suffered the discrimination should be able to rely on the DDA for protection and obtaining redress.

Leigh Day believe that if this interpretation is wrong millions of disabled people are left in a vulnerable position, and with a difficult choice that they should not have to make. Either they can holiday in the UK, where they will be protected from discrimination and unfairly miss out on opportunities to travel abroad; or, they can book a holiday overseas through a UK company on the basis that they understand it to be accessible, and have no recompense for discrimination and distress suffered if the holiday turns out not to be accessible and therefore not the same holiday as a non-disabled person could enjoy.

If you are interested in more information about this issue, or know someone who has experienced similar problems, please do contact Merry Varney or Frances Swaine of Leigh Day. We are also interested to hear from disability organisations as to their views on this issue.

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