Welcome! I sense that we are now heading back to something like normal as the snow thaws and temperatures return to the seasonal average!
I’ve just spent two weeks without my car! What really annoys me about this is the fact that today’s reliance on technology, seems to remove good old common sense! Whenever the technician (!) plugged the car into the all knowing computer it returned a fault that nobody had seen before! I say bring back mechanics in blue overalls with grease under their fingernails and Biro stains above their top pocket? It turned out that the problem was a blocked exhaust system which I suspect could have been rectified inside a couple of hours had the diagnosis been right. Here comes the good news! I had to take my car to a specialist exhaust fitter called Top Gear (no relation to the BBC) based in Aylesbury. On arrival I was pleasantly surprised to see a wheelchair accessible ramp and wide door and on entering was greeted by the owner, who like me was a wheelchair user! Sadly this was an extraordinary moment as I’ve only been served by wheelchair user once before! Anyway enough of this motoring mumble there have been a number of more important and interesting stories in the last week the best of which I’ve posted below. I hope you find them useful.
Government faces criticism over mental health jury ban
The government has refused to explain its failure to fulfil a long-standing promise to reconsider the ban on people with mental health conditions serving on juries.
Under the Juries Act, anyone receiving treatment for a mental health condition from a medical practitioner cannot sit on a jury.
The government promised in 2004 to launch a consultation on removing the ban, but has so far failed to act.
Since the pledge, an estimated 50,000 people have been barred from jury service.
The mental health charity Rethink this week launched a campaign to pressure the government to keep its promise. It wants the blanket ban replaced by a simple test of a person’s capacity.
It comes only weeks after the government launched its New Horizons mental health strategy, with a major focus on tackling the stigma around mental illness, including plans for a ministerial summit meeting on the issue.
Paul Jenkins, Rethink’s chief executive, said: “People with mental health problems should be judged on their capacity, not according to their diagnostic label.”
In a letter to justice secretary Jack Straw, Jenkins says the law “blatantly discriminates against people affected by mental illness”.
He says the quality of justice would be improved if juries included people with direct experience of mental illness, as mental health awareness in the court system is often poor.
Writer and broadcaster Stephen Fry, who has bipolar disorder, backed the campaign, and said such exclusion was “unfair and discriminatory, and eliminates a whole tranche of law-abiding, competent individuals who should be entitled to play their part in the justice system”. The Criminal Bar Association also backed the campaign. Paul Mendelle, chair of the association, said juries should “represent a cross-section of society” and that a blanket ban “seems inappropriate”.
But a Ministry of Justice spokesman said that “any change would need to strengthen our jury system” and “there can be no question of changing the law to allow people to serve as jurors where their ability to do so is in doubt”.
He said about two per cent of people are excluded from jury service because they are receiving mental health treatment, and the government continued to “keep the position under review”.
But he declined to explain why there should not be a capacity test rather than a ban, or how the government justified a ban in the wake of its New Horizons strategy.
Peers call for legal duty on accessible information
A new, explicit legal duty to provide accessible information should be included in the government’s equality bill, according to peers.
The amendments to the bill were proposed by the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low during its committee stage in the Lords.
Lord Low, a vice-president of the charity RNIB, told fellow peers his amendments would impose a duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to avoid “substantial disadvantage” caused by providing inaccessible information.
He said the ability to handle information was “critical to being able to participate effectively in society”, but was largely denied to blind and partially-sighted people and others who are “print disabled”.
He said removing barriers created by inaccessible information was “as important to the inclusion of those with print disabilities as the removal of the barriers created by physical features is to those with physical disabilities”.
And he said a Department for Work and Pensions survey of public bodies found only a quarter of them offered information in large print, eight per cent on disk or CD, and just four per cent advertised the availability of Braille.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell said accessible information was “as important to blind and deaf people as a ramp is to me, a wheelchair-user” and that blind friends “still have to ask, and at times beg, for information in a suitable, accessible format”.
There was also wide backing for Lord Low’s amendments from other peers.
Baroness Thornton, for the government, said she felt “humbled” and “ashamed” that the government and other public bodies were still struggling to provide accessible information, but suggested the emphasis should be on compliance with existing implied legal duties. But she said the government would examine Lord Low’s amendments to see if it could come up with a way of improving access to information through the bill.
The government also introduced a new amendment to the bill – backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – which makes it clear that disabled people should not be charged for the cost of introducing reasonable adjustments.
Baroness Thornton said concerns had been raised by disability organisations, and in a speech during the bill’s second reading by Baroness Campbell.
Baroness Campbell said she was “thrilled” by the new amendment, and Lord Low said he welcomed “the government’s change of heart and their habit of listening and reflecting”.
New scheme will help businesses with their growing pains
A new scheme will help disabled entrepreneurs expand their businesses, and challenge potential investors to see past negative stereotypes.
Enabled4Growth (E4G) hopes to offer free business support to 700 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across London, helping many of them to secure the funding they need from investors.
The programme, being run by Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, aims to help disabled entrepreneurs bring in more than £1.6 million in investment funding over the next three years.
Disabled-led businesses in the capital will be given the support they need to become ready for investment, and then brought together with investors at “brokerage” events to pitch for finance.
LCD will also use these brokerage events to provide disability awareness training for investors, with the long-term aim of trying to level the playing field for other disabled entrepreneurs seeking business finance from banks, private investors and grant-making bodies.
Disabled entrepreneur Amar Latif, who runs Traveleyes, which provides holidays for visually-impaired travellers, said: “It was a real hurdle to get people to take me seriously. I was this blind guy who runs a travel business asking for a loan to expand.
“It is very tough to secure potential investment and from listening to fellow entrepreneurs I hear the same story time and time again.”
Kevin Davey, E4G’s senior business advisor, said much of the investment sector finds it difficult to spot good opportunities when confronted with businesses led by disabled entrepreneurs.
He said he hoped the training for investors would help them to “spot a disabled winner”, and he added: “Over the last decade there are many examples of high growth SMEs led by disabled entrepreneurs.
“Many of them have been able to secure credit lines and various forms of financial support to assist them in their growth, but they have really had to work extremely hard to secure them.”
He said the recession had made the market even more difficult for disabled entrepreneurs. “It is very crowded at the moment and there is a huge queue for credit and we will have to work very hard.”
For more information, visit www.enabled4growth.com
Disabled women take over makeover show
Three disabled women who want to feel better about their bodies and how they look and dress are set to feature in a Channel 4 makeover show.
The three-part “special”, How to Look Good Naked…With a Difference, also takes aim at the failure of high street retailers to use disabled people in fashion and advertising.
The three shows feature a wheelchair-user, a mum-of-three with a prosthetic leg and a blind magistrate, who all have problems with their own “body confidence”.
Presenter Gok Wan also brings 11 disabled volunteers together for a naked group photograph.
He said: “I was very nervous before going in and making these shows because I hadn’t worked with women with disabilities before.
“I didn’t know the language; I didn’t know the approach; so what I did is I said, ‘right, as far as I’m concerned, you’re like any other woman on How to Look Good Naked. I’m here to help you, I’m here to sort out your fashion, I’m here to make you feel better about yourself,’ and then they taught me about their disabilities and I tried to marry those two together.”
He described the group photo shoot – themed as a feast in a castle – as “very debauched, dark, lovely and beautiful”.
The first episode features Tracy Warren, from Leicestershire, who says she hates parts of her body and thinks she can never look sexy in her wheelchair.
As well as the trio of subjects, the three-part special also features journalist Nikki Fox and actress and writer Natasha Wood, both of whom want to see more disabled people represented on the high street, disabled Hollyoaks actress Kelly-Marie Stewart and Paralympic athlete John McFall.
The first episode is on Tuesday, 19 January, at 8pm on Channel 4.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com