Friday, 30 January 2009

Legal Victory Is A Small Step Towards Better Inclusion

In our daily lives, there are many barriers disabled people encounter none more so than the physical barriers. Couple these barriers with attitudinal barriers and we are faced with exclusion from many mainstream activities.

The Disability Discrimination Act together with the adoption of the Social Model of Disability should help eliminate this problem. However, many organisations still seem to do the bare minimum to assist access for disabled people and in the past, legal cases have been settled at minimum cost and usually without any admission of unlawful behaviour.

Finally, we have someone who was willing to take on the big boys and from this we have one of the most significant legal cases so far under the Disability Discrimination Act.

David Allen, a 17 year old wheelchair user from Sheffield decided enough was enough when he could not access his local bank. Together with assistance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Sheffield Law Centre, he took on the Royal Bank of Scotland.

This action was taken following numerous occasions when David was treated less favourably by his branch in Sheffield City Centre. Despite signs indicating accessibility, David found the branch was completely inaccessible to wheelchair users. On occasions he was asked to give personal information whilst in the street and was eventually advised to use the nearest accessible branch over 10 miles away.

Judge John Dowse, at Sheffield County Court, passed judgement that Royal Bank of Scotland had not made any serious attempt to make the branch accessible as required under the law. He awarded David £6,500 - the highest ever payout for this type of case. Even more significant, was the fact that he ordered an injunction against the service provider – the first time ever since the DDA came into force in 1995. The bank has been ordered to install a lift at the relevant branch so that David and other people with mobility impairments can access the building.

This ruling sends a strong and decisive message to all service providers that they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against or treated less favourably.

I, for one, thank David for pursuing his right for inclusion and taking on the big boys.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Blue Badge Abuse

Back in October 2008, the Government announced they were to channel £55 million into strategies to help eliminate the abuse of the Blue Badge scheme.

About time to but are we seeing this in action yet?

The time has come when the Government and Local Authorities need to take a tough attitude towards this type abuse and ensure that this scheme benefits those it was intended for.

Today as I travelled around my local area, I saw little evidence that any changes have been put in place. Within 20 minutes, I saw two occurrences of this abuse. I cannot understand the selfishness and insensitivity of people who abuse the Blue Badge scheme, or of people who park in accessible parking bays without authorisation.

Created in 1971 this scheme was meant to provide essential assistance to disabled drivers but many have found it more and more difficult to locate designated bays due to the increased use by non-blue badge holders together with fraudulent blue badges.

Misuse of the badge itself by a non-disabled person is an offence under Section 117 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, as amended by Section 35(6) of the Road Traffic Act 1991.

It is also an offence under Section 47 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to park a vehicle which is not displaying a badge in a designated accessible parking bay.

When announcing the project, Paul Clark said “he hoped to give accredited parking enforcement officers the power to confiscate badges that are being used fraudulently”.

Proposed plans included:- a national database of legitimate blue badge-holders, use of technology such as barcodes to combat forgeries, publicity campaign to highlight blue-badge abuse and a fairer application process.

Statistics bear evidence that this abuse is wide-spread and it is believed that one in every 200 badges currently in circulation are stolen every year and these can fetch up to £1,500 on the black market – a very lucrative market it would seem!

On its announcement, Helen Smith, director of policy and campaigns at the disabled motorists’ charity Mobilise, said: "I'm really pleased that the Government is undertaking some reform because something had to be done”.

Hear, hear but I for one still await real evidence of these changes being made.

For genuine blue-badge holders, this must be tackled head on and immediately. I will continue to follow the Government’s progress on this…...

Friday, 23 January 2009

What is the "Social Model of Disability"?

I believe strongly in the Social Model of Disability and fully embrace its more modern approach. As I go about my job, I am frequently asked "What is the Social Model of Disability?" So here goes - a quick definition......

There are various ways of looking at disability.

The traditional and most commonly used method is the Medical Model of Disability. This puts the focus on the individual disabled person and because of what is “wrong” with them and the main point of why services need to change i.e. services need to change to fit with the individual disabled person.

Contrary to this is a more forward thinking approach which is being used more widely and this is the Social Model of Disability. This moves the focus away from the individual disabled person to the barriers that the disabled person faces and it is these barriers which disables them. They do have an impairment or condition but this is private and personal to the individual and should not be the subject of gossip or chit-chat. The barriers that face a disabled person can be wide ranging e.g. physical, attitudual, information and communication, organisational and environmental to name but a few. The Social Model of Disability encourages inclusion of disabled people within all mainstream activities and most importantly treats disabled people on the same level as everyone else.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Language - Appropriate Boundaries

Do you ever think about how you refer to people?

Of course you do – nobody goes out of their way to cause offence – or do they?

Over the years, the language we use when talking about disability and impairments has changed dramatically. Often certain words or terms used by our elders, or even ourselves as children, are no longer acceptable. It is imperative that we, as a society, realise that the language we use affects the way we view disabled people and realise that negative stereo-typing can cause a feeling of humiliation and be degrading. But let’s be honest, above all this, is the fact that it is just downright rude!

Today, in our world of political correctness there is much confusion as to what is right and wrong. We feel worried about saying the wrong thing and putting our foot in our mouth unintentionally. So what is right and wrong? What are the appropriate boundaries?

Let me pose a question to you:

“I am a wheelchair user and I have the nickname “Crip”.
Is it okay for you to use this?”

Well – have you got an answer yet?

Whilst I may jokingly refer to myself as “Crip” to people I know very, very well – and I mean very well indeed – I would never use this moniker in an unfamiliar group or environment. I would most definitely have words to say if one of my close family members or friends used it in those circumstances. So is this hypocritical – most definitely but we need to look at the wider picture.

A conversation took place recently between two of my work colleagues. Like many daytime conversations this banter was light-hearted and took place between two people who know each other extremely well both professionally and socially. Person 1 joked about Person 2 being "a nutter”. Simple enough, no offence was meant and none was taken but do we know for certain that another work colleague saw it that way. This term could easily have been seen as portraying a negativity and ignorance towards Mental Health Issues and may have caused unintentional offence.

Maybe there are no right or wrong answers but we need to be aware of the appropriate boundaries. Life is a juggling act and every day we make assessments on our behaviour. Most of us would not go into a job interview and swear for England neither would we walk down the High Street naked (well most of us wouldn’t). No, we adjust our language and our behaviour to fit the environment and company we are in.

That is all that can be asked of us:- be aware of how our actions may be perceived by others.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Accessibility at High Profile Events

A truly memorable day in history took place yesterday so remember the date 20th January 2009 and before you ask it was not the announcement of the Brit Nominees.

President Barack Obama stood solemnly and took his oath during all the pomp and circumstance of his inauguration ceremony (even if he did stumble his words). In years to come people around the world will be asking “Where were you when Obama was sworn into office?”

Most of the seats were set aside for those deemed worthy i.e. VIPs including many diplomats but 5,000 were made available along the parade route at a cost of £16 and these were snapped up instantly. It is estimated that nigh on two million people without tickets crowded into Washington DC’s National Mall in order to say they were part of this historic event.

Before the event, the Inaugural Committee stated that they wanted to make this Inauguration the most accessible of all time and we have yet to hear confirmation that this was indeed the case.

With all events of this nature, it is sometimes hard to find that happy medium that suits everyone and accessibility more often than not takes a back seat.


It can sometimes be perceived as being more hassle but surely all groups of society should have adequate provision made so we can all enjoy such events be it a Royal Wedding, a winning sports team parade or just my visit to Craven Cottage every Saturday to see the mighty Fulham play!

So what measures need to be considered?

Many of the security measures and crowd control systems put into place for these events prevent disabled people from being fully included at an event. The most simple of changes can present huge barriers to the disabled. For example, road closures may mean that the most accessible and quickest step-free route is no longer available and therefore this impacts on walking distance and time. Overcrowding at transport links may mean these are far from accessible to mobility impaired travellers – I, myself, have written about this very thing (see blog entry 20th October 2008). Crowds can cause a sense of vulnerability or disorientation to many.

We have a moral duty to consider all options when planning these events and with a view to London 2012 we have the time to incorporate the knowledge that can be gained from many of the Disability Groups.

Time and time again we have seen contradictions by those involved with the planning of these events and this can be highlighted by comments made in Washington before yesterday’s event

Christian Kent, of the Washington Metro, advised people that "if they have any concern about being able to navigate or endure these conditions, they should avoid travelling into downtown Washington on these days". Only to be told by George Akembe of the District of Columbia Center for Independent Living - a wheelchair user - "if this is supposed to be the most accessible inauguration in history, why are they saying disabled people should stay home?

Surely high profile events, not just here in the UK but the world over, should have accessibility for all.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

One Rule For Them - Another For Us!

In its wisdom, the Government has decided that MP’s do not have to supply receipts to justify their exorbitant claims for expenses. These may include items such as flowers for their homes, window cleaning or any other frivolous fancy that they may have in any particular day.
Over the past year, there have been numerous examples of these parasites filling their boots at the expense of us, the ordinary taxpayer! Who can forget Derek Conway, a former government whip paying his son, Frederick, a salary equivalent to £981 a month from the parliamentary staffing allowance, despite being a full-time undergraduate at university at that time. And he was not the only one....... Malcolm Bruce, Liberal Democrat, has in the past paid his wife Rosemary £28,500 a year. Whilst Sir Stuart Bell, Labour, has employed his wife Margaret for £35,000 a year. At the time, they all claimed that the arrangements fully complied with the rules.
Well, in my mind these rules stink more than a public toilet!
Of course, there was much talk from the Commons about cleaning up their affairs and being more accountable but as is the norm, these comments were just words with no real intentions.
This latest announcement means that MPs have been given a green light for legalised theft and they can steal from the taxpayers without any recourse as there is nothing we can do.
As the Director of a small business, I can assure you that none of my employees can claim expenses without a receipt for two reasons:- 1. It’s not viable for the business to hand over money that is not justified; and 2. The company accountants and the taxman just won’t let me.
Every disabled person in this country who claims a benefit or funding has to prove time and time again what monies they have access to, expenses they have, monies that are in savings etc and I can see no plausible reason why our elected MPs who preach to us on a daily basis can’t do the same.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Is it simple to get money for straightforward disability related items?

Today I had cause to complete an online form for a referral through my Local Authority for funding for replacement automatic door openers at my home. First impressions were good – a simple form that needed to be completed and hey presto with the push of one button my referral would be winging its way to the appropriate person!
My of my how naive could I be?
It was true I could submit the form online but it was the way this form was written that really got my blood boiling.
One of the very first questions it asked me was whether I already had contact with the local social services and whether any past funding had been received. A clever little tick in the “yes” box then. Still straight forward enough I hear you cry.
No, No, No – The pesky form then went on to ask me all about my disability, needs and living arrangements! Surely this is already on their records and therefore as soon as I placed the relevant tick in their relevant form it should have bypassed all this form filling but no, yet again, I have to tell them my life story.
Definitely a case of bureaucracy at its worse.
Over the years I have come to believe that navigating the maze of disability benefit or funding is worse than completing my tax returns and I could probably read War & Peace quicker.

For many years the need for an easing of bureaucracy was being debated. The Disability Challenge – The Conservative Party’s disability website - ( in June 2007 states:-

“Councils throughout the country would like to reduce the bureaucracy of the assessment process but legislation requires much of the assessing, thus making reduction difficult. The third layer of bureaucracy is perhaps the worst because it is hidden. It is the bureaucracy that providers of social care must tolerate. It comprises: reports to get star ratings from the Commission for Social Care Inspection; 26 performance assessment frameworks, including key thresholds; delivery and improvement standards reports for the Audit Commission; best value performance indicator reports; comprehensive performance assessment reports, and, for the Department of Health, the referrals, assessments and packages of care reports. All that bureaucracy comes at a huge price of £2 billion. That money is used in the assessment and commissioning process, not in delivering the services that carers and disabled people need.”

The Labour party states:-

“Work through the Office for Disability Issues, established by Labour, to ensure cross Government action to achieve substantive equality for disabled people by 2025 is imperative” (

Well to my mind, no major party is doing anything to assist the disabled in gaining access to the funding that is so desperately needed and before you all begin to shout at your computer screens, I do appreciate that this can be applied to many groups of society. However, the difference that can be gained to independence by this vital funding is immense and therefore the red tape and bureaucracy should be cut with very large scissors as quickly as possible.