Friday, 27 February 2009

Artwork by Disabled Artists

The next in our series of artwork by disabled artists is "A Representation of Disability" by Linda Marshall.

Linda is a member of the local arts group run by Sutton Centre for Independent Living and Learning.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Disabled People and Television

Official statistics show that 98% of British homes have a television and the average adult spends approximately 24¾ hours per week watching - be it the soaps, quiz shows or current affairs.

But how are disabled people represented on our screens?

There is a general lack of representation of disabled people from mainstream programming and when they are, it is usually in the role of a disabling stereotype. Many current affair programmes concentrate on issues related to the traditional medical treatment or look at stories under the banner of “triumph over adversity”. Many of our fictional programmes portray disabled characters as being powerless and victims further reinforcing the misconceptions of disabled people.

I strongly believe that better representation of disabled people in all forms of the media would provide an instant educational tool and provide an ideal opportunity for people to learn more about disability. Genuine portrayal of disabled people would remove the many myths and stereo-typing associated with disability.

In the 21st century it is hard to comprehend the small-mindedness that still exists in our society and I was shocked to learn that the introduction of a disabled television presenter could cause the floodgates of complaint to open.

Cerrie Burnell is a children’s television presenter who recently joined the CBeebies channel. The important questions here should be “can she do her job?” and “does she entertain the children?” Unfortunately, these seem to have taken a sideline to “but she is disabled” and a vicious campaign has begun.

Parents across the country are complaining about her role and claim their children are traumatised by her disability. The BBC has been accused of “political correctness” and “trying to meet employment quotas”. Both statements are extremely wrong on all counts. How can a disability be classed as “political correctness” and there is no such thing as “employment quotas” any more.

There are many things in our world today that can and do cause worry to children but disability should not be one of them. Parents must have a duty to educate their children and instead of using Cerrie Burnell as someone to be vilified they should be using this opportunity to remove the “stigma” of disabled people. Children are now introduced to all manner of information from an early age and why shouldn’t disability be one of them?

I do hope that the BBC treats this matter with the sensitivity it deserves and continues to support not only Cerrie Burnell but many other disabled people. On many occasions, disabled people are introduced not because they are ordinary but precisely the opposite and for this reason we need to change our mindset.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Artwork by Disabled Artists

Continuing our series of artwork by disabled artists from a local arts group run by Sutton Centre for Independent Living and Learning, I give to you "A Representation of a Tea Lady" by Julie Killick.

I do hope you are enjoying this series of work and would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Local Authority and Services for Disabled People

At this time of year, we see local authorities and companies alike start to announce their budgets for the forthcoming year. Whilst sometimes any reduction in spending can be quite minimal, it is in times of recession where these cuts make a real impact particularly on services.

It would seem that the standard for local authorities is to slash services whilst upping our council tax revenue. We often hear them bleating on about the demand on their revenue and how services need to be reviewed or cut to balance their books. Invariably the services affected are those for the most vulnerable within our society and therefore, disability services are always hit the hardest.

My own local authority, London Borough of Sutton, have already begun to enforce cuts. The most recent being to reduce transport services for disabled children. They stress that there is a need for costs to be re-assessed as the spend value for this service in 2005/2006 was £2.8 million but in 2008/2009 this will have increased to £4.3 million.

When looking at these figures, it is easy to say “wow that cost has increased” but we all need to look at the historical facts on local authority spending. Every year, we see huge reductions in services for the disabled and elderly. Do the local authorities see these groups as easy targets or do they look at their spending objectively?

Sorry to say but I feel it is the former.

Past spending by London Borough of Sutton include:-

£600,000 on a bus stop
£20,000 on two totem poles in a public park
• £4 million on building a “Sutton Life Centre” when no funds are available to run it

It would seem that objectivity does not come into it.

It is estimated that London Borough of Sutton has £5.5 million frozen in Icelandic accounts and an additional £11 million sitting in its purse for a rainy day. May I suggest they take a look out the window – the rain is torrential!

Instead of cutting services for disabled people, it may be the case that better money management is needed.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Artwork By Disabled Artists

Our series of artwork continues today with “A Representation of a Man Crossing the Road” which was produced by Michelle Pollard.

I do hope you enjoy this, and indeed, all our artwork that was produced by a local arts group run by Sutton Centre for Independent Living and Learning (SCILL). All artwork in our series were produced by disabled artists.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

You have all heard the word “accessible” but what does it truly mean?

In my day-to-day life, I often come into contact with businesses, organisations, societies etc that state that they are “accessible” without them really understanding this term. So what does “accessible” actually mean and does the understanding of non-disabled people comprehend the need for increased accessibility?

In its simplest term, “accessible” means that a service is useable but does this cover it?

As an example, I regularly see guides, be it a hotel guide or maybe even a restaurant guide that list wheelchair accessibility but in practice this is, in fact, at a minimum and rarely looks beyond the obvious.

As a wheelchair user myself, I have visited many a place where I can't get in – yes they have a ramp but no door widening has taken place. If I do manage to enter, can I be certain that there is an accessible toilet or more importantly, is there a sufficient turning circle.

Take the term “accessible” away from restaurants to your average high street shop. Am I able to browse or are the racks too tightly packed together that even a size zero would struggle to negotiate their way through. How about paying? – are the tills lowered and, as recently highlighted on a previous blog, are the chip and pin machines available?

And what about the staff and their attitude? Are they aware of the needs of disabled people or will they try everything to avoid speaking to you?

How different the term “accessible” would be if a more prominent role in such matters was taken by disabled people. It is increasingly more obvious that the true meaning of “accessible” is not understood by most people and certainly not in the context that I use it.

What use is there for a ramp to an entrance if at the doorway there is a step?

What use is there for an accessible parking bay if there are no dropped kerbs?

A step, no turning circle or even an ignorant member of staff only equates to “inaccessible”

Monday, 9 February 2009

What Price Would You Put On A Life?

Have you ever thought about what value you would put on the life of a loved one?

Not a particularly pleasant topic to consider is it?

On Monday of last week (2nd February 2009) a meeting was scheduled to discuss this very topic but unfortunately nature interrupted proceedings and the meeting was cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions. As of today, no re-scheduled date is available.

So who was it that was going to decide what price a life is worth?

Quite simply it was the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).
If you haven’t heard of them, NICE work with the NHS to decide what expenditure there can be for all drugs including those for life-threatening conditions.

I am sure you have read or heard numerous stories of patients being denied drugs that could prolong and indeed improve their lives. So how do we put a value on life?

NICE currently use a system called “Quality Adjusted Life Year” or “QALY” for short. Under this system, the values are currently set at between £20,000 and £30,000. Disturbingly, these figures have been in place for over a decade and take no account of inflation or increases in NHS spending.

Patient groups have long argued that the current system is totally inadequate and needs a complete overhaul. Research would indicate that the general public feel the same as they indicate the values to be between £35,000 and £70,000. In addition, the public are confused by how living in one region affects these vital decisions. As an example, late last year, Carol Rummels won the right to have South Glocestershire Primary Care provide Tarceva, a cancer drug which will cost £1,500 per month. This was originally denied by NICE. The stupidity of it all was that if Carol had lived in Scotland, this drug was and still is, available free!

Helen Mason, lead author of a Newcastle University report, has said: "For the first time we have some estimates of what the public values most. While the methods need to be refined, it is important to get the public involved because, after all, it is their money. Quite soon there will be a body of evidence which will influence the way NICE and similar bodies across Europe make decisions."

Let’s hope NICE make the right decisions as it can only be seen as morally wrong of them to deny life-extending drugs to anyone who needs them and systematically impose a death sentence on those most vulnerable within our society.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Disabled Artists

During the course of last year, my company – DP Consulting (Disability Equality Services) Ltd - revamped its company brochure.

In keeping with my company ethos of the inclusion and promotion of disabled people in mainstream activities, I contacted a local arts group run by Sutton Centre for Independent Living and Learning (SCILL).

After an initial consultation, the artists were given a free rein to produce artwork in whichever medium they preferred for use within our corporate marketing strategies.

I was delighted with the work produced and therefore felt I would share these with you. Over the next five weeks I will publish each of the finished artworks for you to enjoy.

To get the ball rolling, I have chosen “A Representation of a Lady Ski-ing” which was created by Violet Donavon.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Online Travel Companies

As you may see from my previous posts, I travel quite a bit for both work and leisure. One of the main sticking points when arranging my travel is the vast differences experienced with peoples' knowledge of access requirements. Most people readily understand that ramped access is a must but they do not look further than this. Reservation departments regularly say they have an accessible room but do not realise that wider doorways and handrails is not the be all and end all of access. On more than one occasion, I have had to explain the concept of a “roll-in” shower to then be met with a comment like “but we have handrails will they not do?” No they won’t do!

Added to the lack of access knowledge, there has also been the issue of finding hotels that are fully adapted for disabled travellers. Sourcing this information has always been encased in difficulties and many disabled people either choose not to travel or only use specific disability travel companies.

Bearing past issues, you can imagine my pleasure in learning that steps are being taken to improve things. In late January 2009, and announced a settlement in a case filed at the California Superior Court for Alameda County. As they are two of the world’s leading online travel companies, it is hoped that changes will be global and therefore benefit many here in the UK.

The settlement means that both companies will add features to their online travel reservation systems so that disabled travellers can use their online services to search for and reserve hotel rooms that have suitable accommodation.

“This settlement ushers in a new era in the online travel industry. A wheelchair user who reserves a hotel room online will no longer have to worry that she or he literally might not be able to enter the room after they arrive,” said Kevin Knestrick, an attorney with DRA, a non-profit law centre based in Berkeley, California that specializes in high-impact lawsuits on behalf of people with disabilities.

We can only hope that others operating within the Leisure and Tourism industry take note of this and imnplement the necessary action to improve their services in a likewise fashion.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Profit Over Profitability

Some time ago a colleague of mine was in a Tesco Express situated at an Esso Garage. Whilst waiting to pay, she witnessed a customer struggling with the chip and pin machine because it was secured to the base with a cable tie and could not be removed. The gentleman became quite frustrated and yet the staff did nothing to assist. Eventually, he said he would pay by cash.

When my colleague’s turn came, she pointed out to the cashier that she was somewhat shocked by this incident and that it may be deemed unreasonable under the Disability Discrimanation Act 1995.

When discussing this incident with me, her reaction was one of disbelief. Firstly, the cashier appeared to have no idea what the DDA was and therefore expressed the belief that it didn’t matter as most people would not find it an issue. She pointed out that this was not what was important but the paramount concern should have been that this may be a barrier to disabled customers. Upon asking to speak to the Manager, she was told he was unavailable and it became clear that the cashier did not think her concern was warranted.

Over the following weeks, she regularly used the same Tesco Express and on every occasion asked to speak to the Manager who always appeared to be unavailable.

At the week-end, she again saw another customer struggling with the equipment whilst the cashiers looked on unconcerned.

Deciding she had had enough, my colleague was determined to speak to the Manager to make him aware of this unreasonable barrier. After a wait, the Manager was located and she presented her concerns to him.

The Manager listened patiently and responded that they had experienced a number of thefts of the machines and therefore the need to secure the chip and pin machines in this manner was necessary and they could not keep wasting profits on replacing them. Pointing out that these were a barrier to disabled customers particularly those with a visual impairment, my colleague was shocked to hear him say that there were not enough customers with issues to be a worry. He also stated that if the customer told the cashier that they had an impairment the cable tie could be cut so that they could use them.

What...... Are you as shocked as I am?

There are many issues surrounding this on-going issue that cause concern, so lets look at them all individually:-

1. The original cashier did not know what the DDA was and therefore could see
no reason why he should even consider the access needs of disabled customers.
This attitude must surely show that providing Disability Equality Training is
clearly not being implemented within the store’s training programme and should
be addressed immediately.

2. If the Manager of any service provider has scant concern for access needs than
this will be reflected through the whole organisation. Managers must set the
correct tone and implementation to ensure that their staff have a strong role
model and the necessary guidelines in place.

3. The Manager clearly puts the profit of his store before his access
requirements and did not see the need to change as, in his opinion, it
affected so few of his customers. Under the DDA, the number of customers
affected is irrelevant. A service provider must provide their service in such
a manner that no customer is treated less favourably than others.

4. The statement that any customer experiencing a problem should make the cashier
aware of their disability or impairment is, in itself, outrageous. The Social
Model of Disability
determines that any disability or impairment is personal
to the individual and is not a matter for idle chit-chat or gossip. As such, a
disabled person should never be put in a position whereby they have to
discuss their disability or impairment unless they wish to.

At the end of her discussion with the Manager, my colleague felt that he had no real incentive to deal with the matter. She pointed out to him that he could be heading towards a claim under the DDA and yet still he seemed unconcerned. Asking if he had even considered other options, he stated that he did not feel he had to.

In total disbelief, she left the matter but she informed him that she would take the matter further by contacting his head office. His response was purely to do that if she felt it necessary.

This level of dismissal of the DDA is shocking but not uncommon. For many, making access changes are second to profits and therefore something that can be pushed to the sidelines – an out of sight, out of mind attitude is still prevalent along our high streets and until strong action is taken, like that against the Royal Bank of Scotland, many will continue to dismiss the need for change.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Snow Chaos

What a wonderful sight from my windows yesterday. Snow everywhere and the whole place looking like a winter wonderland. An eerie silence lay around as cars, buses and lorries avoided our roads. As the morning started I was able to hear the laughter and chatter as complete families braved the outside world to enjoy this spectacular. Snowball fights aplenty and an increase in our city population as snowmen appeared from no-where. Children who had never experienced this before delighted in their escapades with no thought to their wet-through gloves and scarves. Dogs scampered around, tails wagging delightedly as their romped through this unknown weather condition.

An ideal world indeed – people cheerfully interacted with neighbours they had never spoken to before and a peaceful outlook spread across our city.

But reality has to rear its ugly head. Our city is grounded to a halt by the extreme conditions. Trains, buses and airplanes are stranded as chaos descends on over 6 million commuters who have to decide to take a duvet day or struggle to find any possible means of getting to their workplaces. Skis would definitely have been the order of the day but many just took to their feet. It is estimated that this breakdown in our vital infrastructures will cost the economy £3 billion

Could our local authorities have done more? Possibly.

Should our Government provide better infrastructure systems to ensure that a complete melt-down does not occur? Definitely.

I, unfortunately, do not have the answers to solve the problems but I am sure over the coming days and months there will be much discussion as to who is to blame. Maybe we should put it down to Mr Frost and his merriment and laugh at ourselves but in our culture of blame someone will be held accountable.

As a wheelchair user weather conditions leave me frustrated and I am currently unable to leave my home. I am completely snowed in. The immediate pavements around my home are still completely frozen and the very idea of venturing out would be madness. A simple trip to the shops to get bread and milk are an impossibility and like many disabled people I am reliant on the kindness of family and friends to keep me stocked up.

Please do not think I am whinging about the weather just merely pointing out that inconveniences to some are far more apparent to disabled people all over the country and the hidden barriers that many do not consider the whole year through come to light at times like this.