Anti-Discrimination Agency: In future, persons with disabilities must have a right to accessibility in the workplace and during everyday activities 2018.11.13

Looking forward, millions of persons with disabilities may hope for the entitlement to greater accessibility in the workplace and when going about their daily business – irrespective of their degree of disability. According to a recent legal expertise by the Anti-Discrimination Agency, people with disabilities must in future be afforded the right to claim damages from private employers or service providers on grounds of discrimination if reasonable accommodation, such as computers with braille keyboard at the workstation or ramps in front of shops, are not provided.

To date, only severely disabled people are entitled to accessibility – and only with regard to their working life. According to the Anti-Discrimination Agency, this entitlement must in future apply to all persons with disabilities, and must be expanded to also include everyday activities. This is a legally inevitable consequence of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and must therefore be explicitly enshrined in German anti-discrimination law.

"To date, people with disabilities are only partially granted the right to equal access. This means, Germany does not implement a key element of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and of EU law, thus risking an EU infringement procedure", stated Bernhard Franke, acting head of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, on Tuesday in Berlin. Franke called on the legislator to improve this situation and to explicitly include the right to ‘reasonable accommodation’ in the German General Equal Treatment Act. This would give those affected the right to claim damages from private employers and service providers in case such accommodation was not provided. This proposal is in keeping with the mandate to assess "how private providers of services for the general public can implement reasonable accommodation", which was announced in the Coalition Agreement between the Parliamentary Groups.

"The term ‘reasonable accommodation’ needs to be included in the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG). In addition, this legal principle should not only benefit persons with disabilities, but should rather apply to all groups protected by law", explained professor of law Eberhard Eichenhofer, the author of the expertise. Concrete fields of application could, according to Eichenhofer, include the provision of reasonable accommodation for older people in the workplace, the use of easy language for business transactions or in facilitating access to leave on religious holidays, such as the Sabbath.
As early as 2016, when the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency presented their evaluation of the General Equal Treatment Act, it had recommended the inclusion of ‘reasonable accommodation’. The expertise that has been compiled now offers for the first time a comprehensive legal account of why Germany does not sufficiently implement applicable European and international law.

The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (ADS for its initials in German) was established when the General Equal Treatment Act (German abbreviation: AGG) entered into force in August 2006. This Act aims to prevent or eliminate any discrimination on grounds of racism or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.