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Recent legislation requires provision for disabled people to be considered equally with that of other rights of way users—for example, when determining the management of access to the countryside. The most significant areas of legislation are outlined as follows:
Disability Discrimination Acts—The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 covers all functions of public bodies, not just services and, therefore, includes the provision of public footpaths and other rights of way. It requires public bodies to promote disability equality and to have had Disability Equality Schemes in place since December 2006. A Disability Equality Scheme needs to:
i. Explain how equality for disabled people will be promoted
ii. Challenge discrimination against disabled people
iii. Help remove barriers for all disabled people.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000—Under section 60 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (the CROW Act), local highway authorities are required to prepare and publish a Rights of Way Improvement Plan by November 2007. They are also required to review it not less than 10 years after publication. In developing the plan, the needs of disabled people must be taken into consideration. Further advice on what this involves is contained in the statutory guidance issued to local highway authorities by DEFRA in November 2002.
In addition, under section 69 of the CROW Act, to be commenced later this year, highway authorities must consider the needs of disabled people when authorising the erection of stiles and gates or other works on footpaths or bridleways.
Local highway authorities also have a duty to prevent, as far as possible, the stopping up or obstruction of public rights of way. Failure to do so can have a significant effect on accessibility for disabled people.