Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The Disability Equality Duty - does it work? (Part 2)

Well done – London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham
As you may recall from reading my previous blogs I am a Fulham football club fan (we are possibly the best team in the world) and usually after a football game, my friends and I would go out for a meal.
In the past, there have not been many accessible places to eat around the Fulham area. Although its quite a walk, we went to the new development at Chelsea village, I went there about a year ago and came across the usual barriers which prolong my journey quite significantly such as, “dropped kerbs”. By this, I mean, dropped kerbs that are no help to anyone, they should be flush with the road surface and not have a small step as large numbers of there dropped do.
Last week, I went along the same route which goes along Fulham road towards the New Kings road, practically the whole route had been re-paved incorporating proper dropped kerbs. which was a big surprise to me and in comparison to the last blog entry about the disability equality duty - this is a good example of when it does work.

Monday, 20 October 2008

The Disability Equality Duty - Does It Work? (Part 1)

The Disability Equality Duty is part of the DDA which came into force just over two years ago. This is concerned with promoting the rights of disabled people within society and ensuring that the needs of disabled people are met within the functions provided by public authorities.

One such public authority is the police.

I am a regular football supporter (Fulham Football Club - possibly the best in the world) and use a local bus-stop which is near to the tube. As you can imagine, after any home match, the whole world and his father head towards this area and as such, the police are present to undertake crowd control. In the past, the buses pull up far away from the kerb so their ramp cannot be deployed correctly. Therefore, often I have asked the police to have a word with the driver before the bus moved to ensure that he positions the bus near to the kerb. On previous occasions this has worked and in my mind this is how the Disability Equality Duty should work firsthand. However, three weeks ago I asked a police officer the same thing and my request was refused! The police comment was "that they were on crowd control duties and so were unable to assist with anything else".

I believe I am a member of that crowd and I should have an equal right to be controlled and logic would tell me getting me onto the bus and away from the area falls under the remit of crowd control and I believe that this is what the Disability Equality Duty should be.

I would welcome anyone’s comments on this issue as in the above scenario it does seem that this is a grey area.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Disabled People Do Work

For the past two weeks, at my office, I took on a work experience student from a local secondary school. I was given two briefs; (i) to show to him all the workings of an office environment; and (ii) to show him that disabled people do work and the opportunities available.

The first of these briefs was excellent for all of the staff in the office as it helped us all to understand in more detail what each other's role is. The second one is someting more monumental to me and my specific business namely the empowerment of disabled people. I strongly believe that when you are given the opportunity to learn and develop skills, you can start to go places and meet your true potential.

This whole exercise was a success for all involved especially our student!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Shortlisted for RADAR Award

I have been shortlisted for a Radar People of the Year Award. I set up my business in 2001 with a view to increasing the inclusion of disabled people in mainstream society through consultancy and training. As Director and Senior Disability Equality Consultant, I have worked tirelessly to this end over the last seven years, and have now seen my efforts recognized by the organization Radar, which has shortlisted me for the prestigious Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The winner of this Award will be announced at an awards ceremony on the night of Monday, December 1st at the Battersea Evolution in Battersea Park, London.

As you can imagine I am feeling extremely pleased with myself and, of course, have all fingers and toes crossed!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Hotel Reply

The on-going saga of the Radisson Hotel continues........

I have received a response from the Radisson, Birmingham over the weekend. They have duly acknowledged their mistakes and shortcomings and have offered various gestures to apologise for this situation. However, I am concerned as to their understanding of the DDA as they comment that "The Radisson SAS Hotel Birmingham takes the Disability Discrimination Act extremely
seriously and the hotel fully complies with the Act" - The DDA is not compliant based legislation but is an evolving piece of legislation whereby the boundaries may change on a daily basis.

Even though the gestures and the apology were made, the response did state that they accept no liability but surely the admission itself implies this?

Monday, 6 October 2008

hotel refusal continued

I was incredibly disgusted with the hotel’s mistake on Saturday 4th October 2008.

I had previously booked a twin accessible room and a twin connecting room staying at the Radisson, Birmingham. On Saturday, my Personal Assistant arrived at the hotel at approximately 12.00 noon to leave our bags there and I was horrified that there was no mention of the Hotel’s mistake then.

We went out for the day and returned at approximately 9.00pm in order to check-in. We were told that the Hotel had been double-booked and as it was the Radisson’s mistake. they had arranged for us to stay in similar rooms with similar facilities and same star category at the City Inn, Birmingham. We were told that a taxi had been ordered on account and would arrive to take us to the City Inn.

The taxi did arrive and we were taken to the City Inn, at which point, the driver insisted on payment and would not accept that this had been paid on account. This issue was resolved when I checked out as the taxi fare was deducted from my hotel bill.

The rooms were not twin bedded nor connecting which I found particularly disturbing as I had to share a bed with my Personal Assistant (and his snoring).

Secondly, this contravenes the DDA, which I did point out to the Radisson in my original booking – therefore, surely under the DDA the second room should have been free of charge. This matter has made me incredibly angry indeed and this is the reason why the DDA exists in order to preserve the rights of the disabled person as people like the Radisson take advantage.

I was equally disturbed by the fact that the Radisson reception staff looked me directly in the face and misled me about the taxi and about the same standard of room. I am not only seeking compensation but I am also seriously considering taking legal action against the Radisson.

In any case, I will not be staying at a Radisson ever again, but should this be mistaken as a complaint from one individual please be aware that all family, friends and colleagues will learn about this treatment and I am sure that they will also decide not to use the Radisson in the future.

Therefore, i asked them to consider the issues raised above and get back to me their comments.

I am stIll waiting........

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

When I thought my day couldn't get any worse

After I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, a bunch of rude and obnoxious people stormed onto the train and pushed past me even though the train was terminating there and the rule is, to let people off before you get on the train.

No boarding for wheelchair users

On the return I was going to use the DLR at Tower Gateway; however I was informed that this had shut so it was suggested that I use Tower Hill tube - useless really as this is inaccessible to wheelchair users. So I proceeded to walk back arriving back at 14.05pm - miserable and very wet. I walked through the ticket gate and staff shouted out to the platform staff that a ramp was needed. I proceeded to the platform where the staff were still letting people onto the train and I politely asked him for a ramp for me to board. Totally ignoring me, he blew his whistle for the doors to shut and the train to go. Rather perplexed I asked "Why did you let the train go? you let everyone else on". And his answer was, "because you use a wheelchair and it would take a lot more time".

Do black cabs get lost?

At about 10.40 we caught a taxi to the Tower of London and told the driver to enter via St Katherine’s Way, through the East Gate of the Tower. Did the driver do this? No, don’t be silly. He dropped us off outside an office block which was at the other end of St Katherine Way and we were therefore unable to locate the tower. After speaking to many of passers-by, we finally got directions and started walking. By the time I arrived into the conference it was 11.30 and it was due to end around noon. I decided, after this ordeal, that I would go and look at the Crown Jewels while I was there and I have to say that the Queen has some serious bling!

Broken down train

This morning, I was on my way to a conference which was being held at the Tower of London. This was due to start at 9.30am, so I caught the 8.05am train from Sutton, which would get me into London Bridge at 8.42am. The train broke down just after Norwood Junction. After about half an hour the driver announces that he is trying to fix the control, so we must be patient. After another hour he comes back on the announcement and tells us he can't fix it so he is waiting for a repair team. Yet another hour later, and one of the repair team tells us the train is now fixed and it would be fast to London bridge. In this situation I was thinking about what other barriers to access does this cause and I came up with two clear things: firstly, the lack of announcements or re-assurance that something is actually being done to the train and regular progress reports thereafter; and secondly, the ramp at London Bridge was not ready as the staff are unable to deal with delays or disruptions!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Employment of disabled people

Today, I was thinking about the employment opportunities for disabled people (or the lack of them!) Currently, there are very few projects that empower disabled people through educating about their rights and how to find work, whether employed or self employed.

There are currently projects that are often run by charities which offer advice and support either by finding employment opportunities for disabled people, or there are also a few projects around developing disabled entrepreneurs - but there is nothing available that offers both.

I believe this is a gap that needs to be filled - even since the Disability Discrimination Act was passed (about reneuyears ago), the statistics still show that there is a one in seven chance of a disabled person being employed, compared to a non-disabled person finding the same job.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Lunch is a good practice

Although there are examples of good practice, these need to be highlighted and therefore I want to share an element of good practice with you.
I had booked myself and my Personal Assistant on a one day training course. The course had been arranged in an accessible venue, but just before the event the organisers contacted me to inform me that only my lunch was included in the course fee and I would have to pay an extra £45 for my Personal Assistant’s lunch. After I had spoken to the organisers about my Personal Assistant’s role, they decided as a matter of good practice, to waive the £45 charge. Good result!
Hopefully this experience of good practice will be taken on board by others.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Twin beds?

Further to my post last week about hotel refusal, I can confirm that the Radisson did in fact come back to me and after seeking advice, they were able to offer a twin accessible room rather than an accessible plus a PA room. I believe that this meets adequate to meet their legal requirements under the DDA but I still do not feel that this is not best practice, as a PA is completely separate from the disabled person unless they require assistance at that particular time. Therefore, best practice would dictate that the PA should be accommodated within a separate room in order to preserve the privacy and dignity of the disabled person. The decision by the hotel means that I will have to put up with the drone of my PA’s constant snoring – cocktail sticks need to be packed to keep my eyes open the next day!

Friday, 19 September 2008

My experimence of the No Limits 2008 show

I was travelling from Cheam, Surrey to No Limits show which was held at the Excel Centre in the Docklands. I used the train and tube to get to Canary Wharf on the way there. Then I went to Heron Quays DLR station. The lift to the platform was out of order, so it meant I had to travel the other direction one stop and then return. I did this, but the route between the platforms was terrible. There was no obvious or well signed route between the platform and the dropped curbs were blocked off due to road works. However the route between platforms is covered under DDA part 3, as tested in the Central Trains v Roads case. I then proceeded to Customs House DLR station and walked to the Excel Centre.
Overall the DLR, which is meant to be a state of the art, fully accessible railway, was not accessible at all, in my opinion.- for various reasons e.g. Lack of colour contrast, lift dimensions were too small, poor platform marking etc.
I think the DLR needs to take a good look at its access and make changes accordingly, as accessibility was achieved when it was built, however it should surely evolve with time.
The show itself was a disappointment. Mainly, due to the lack of disabled visitors. In my opinion, the reason for this was because of the poor location of the Excel centre, as it is not easy to get to.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Hotel Refusal

I am going to see the football in October (West Bromwich Albion versus Fulham - with a Fulham win of course) and need to stay overnight in Birmingham City Centre. After sourcing a hotel to stay in - the Radisson - which is accessible and fitted my access requirements perfectly, I contacted the Reservations Department. My access requirement was for a wheelchair accessible room with a connecting room for my personal assistant to stay in (his snoring is the worse but don't tell him I told you). This connecting room should be complimentary, so as a disabled person, I do not need to pay any more than anyone else as per the needs of my condition i.e. having a personal assistant. I believe there was a case under the Disability Discrimination Act about two or three years ago which clarified the situation that the hotel must only charge for one room in these circumstances - the original claim was made against Intercontintental Hotels for a stay in an Express by Holiday Inn. I emailed the Radisson on Monday to make the request which they have refused. Now I have emailed them again but this time I have sited the DDA case and I am currently awaiting their reply.

It should be done as best practice in the original enquiry and it should not be necessary for someone to quote the law every time they want the same service that should be afforded to anyone.

Monday, 15 September 2008

My Danish Adventure

Whenever I have travelled within Europe, it has always proven difficult as there have been a lot of access barriers (not just the language).

From my research, Europe can be split into two broad areas; Northern -Scandinavia, Germany etc or Southern – France, Spain etc.

The research I have done showed that Northern Europe was very ahead in their thinking around disability and access so there should be very few barriers. Imagine my shock when on a recent visit to Copenhagen, I found this to be completely untrue!

It was the case that attitude, information and communication barriers had been eradicated. However, the physical barriers were very prevalent and very visible. In my experience suitable accommodation was very difficult to source.

When I arrived, as I had never visited before, I wanted to look around the city. The two main options were a tour bus or a river boat cruise. Both were inaccessible. Therefore, a third and far less appealing option had to be thought of and this was to do a “walk around” tour myself. It was impossible to see the whole city in a day - after all I am not Superman - and so we were only able to go and see a few of the sights. This presented me with a number of physical barriers such as poorly maintained pavements, ramp up a pavement and steps down the other side, seldom dropped kerbs etc.

My Auntie, who lives in Denmark, has put me in touch with someone who I can write a letter to within the Danish Government, to explain these issues and why Copenhagen does not reflect the perceived image that Scandinavia has relating to accessibility.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Website accessibility

This entry is about a very important issue that is currently being talked about within the disability community and only a few people have taken the step to use the DDA. Lots of huge companies do not understand the effect that their inaction has on disabled people, I will discuss this a bit more later on.
There is an international convention about website accessibility (Worldwide Web Consortium) which lays down several basic standards, e.g. Show clear font, text description of pictures, ability to adjust text size, ability to use the keyboard instead of the mouse, the ability to resize the windows without distorting the text……just to name a few.
This has come to my mind today as I was using the internet to book some train tickets yesterday with Virgin trains. The Virgin trains website itself I found quite easy to navigate although I did not test its full functionality. However right at the end of my section I was transferred to a Visa verification site. Firstly I thought “this is good” as people are taking fraud seriously. But, I then started to go and fill in their verification form. As I used the key board as opposed to a mouse I found the page very hard to navigate as I could not move around the page using the tab key as I usually do. When I had answered two questions I then found I had to scroll down and this was not possible unless you went to the scroll bar with the mouse. I also tried to change the font size as it appeared quite small, but this was not possible.
Surely this shows the big companies like Visa, should ensure their compliance with the website accessibility convention and the responsibility for this must also lie with Virgin trains as they are the ones who are using the Visa site.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Doggy Poo!

This has really irritated me over the past few days in that an inconsiderate dog - or should that be dog owner - keeps leaving his packages all over the street outside my office. Apart from the disturbance to members of the public using the road, it is of particular distress to me as a disabled person, a wheelchair user, as I have to navigate around these "blobs". I was thinking "do you often see a human being crouching down in the middle of the street and depositing their waste - apart from Paula Radcliffe that is". Shouldn't it be the same for dogs/dog owners. Today, I contacted my local council to complain about this and I am really unsure how seriously they took this matter. I suppose I will be waiting weeks and weeks before something is done!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Visit to The British Library

Last Tuesday I was travelling to the British Library which is across the road from the new St Pancras International Station. After experiencing my poor level of service at St Pancras station, I proceeded to depart the station to walk over the road to the British Library. The pathways have been newly paved and all the dropped kerbs were in fact dropped kerbs i.e. completely flush with the road surface. They were also very wide and obstruction free. However, all the way through from the station there was a clear lack of visual contrast, as everything (paving, kerbs, railings etc), was a light grey colour and there was no differientation between the objects.

I then passed the front of the British Library (where there was a non-accessible entrance with steps) and I saw a sign with the wheelchair symbol telling me to go around the building. It was lucky it was not raining that day as the route was quite long and it was uncovered.

When I got into the British Library, there was a courtyard outside where there were some steps (which did not serve any purpose) but again there were no warnings at the top of these steps to alert you to the fact of their presence. From the point of view of a wheelchair user, these steps cannot be seen.

I then walked around the courtyard, again uncovered, to go into the entrance to the British Library. At which point, the security guards carried out their security checks but I was slightly concerned that as a disabled person, they just did their check without telling me what they were doing i.e. they seemed frightened to talk to me. Anyway, after this, I went up in the lift which did meet the required dimensions under the access regulations. However, it did seem rather small and maybe unuseable in some situations. I then went up in the lift to the Business and IP Centre in order to meet with Rachel Elnaugh who I was seeking business advice from. Her advice was extremely helpful and gave me a positive way forward. The only point I would make about the room I went to was that, again, the dimensions were all correct as per the access regulations but a sofa was positioned right by the turning circle so by using my wheelchair I found it difficult to manoeuvre in and out of the room. This is the type of barrier that staff need to be aware of within organisations such as the British Library i.e. that small steps of repositioning the sofa shows that they want to include disabled people within the services that they provide.