Hello once again! A pretty quite week all things considered. We prepared for my son George’s thirty second birthday which of course made me feel positively ancient! It does seem strange that I have a child of thirty-two! What I find truly remarkable is that my wife can recall exactly what took place minute by minute all those years ago right down to the clothes she was wearing, and what I should have done but didn’t! Where I should have been and wasn’t and what she had for breakfast! She has the same recall ability with our two grand children a truly wonderful gift!
Fewer employers aware of DDA, says government report
Awareness of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) among employers has fallen since 2006, according to a new government report.
The report, Organisations’ Responses to the Disability Discrimination Act, says the number of employers who were aware of the recruitment and employment measures in the DDA fell from 80 to 76 per cent. And only a fifth of employers were able to “spontaneously name the DDA”.
There was also a fall in the number of employers who had made a workplace adjustment for a disabled employee or planned to do so, from 70 to 61 per cent.
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said that legislation “sends an important message to employers, but legislation alone is not enough”.
She said: “Most employers recognise that employing disabled people is the ‘right thing to do’. We need even more employers understanding that employing disabled people makes real business sense too.”
The report also found there was a fall in the proportion of providers of goods and services that had made an adjustment to their service – such as providing a ramp or accessible toilet for disabled customers – from 87 per cent to 80 per cent since the previous survey in 2006.
The survey was carried out for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by the Institute for Employment Studies and Ipsos Mori in the autumn of 2009, and coincided with the economic downturn.
Employers said the recession had not yet had an impact on their ability to make adjustments for disabled employees, but some feared it might do so in the future.
Although 16 per cent of employers said last autumn that the recession had affected their ability to employ disabled people, nearly three-quarters of this group said this was because they had stopped recruitment altogether, while just 14 per cent of them said it was because they could not afford to make workplace adjustments.
The report – based on 2,000 telephone interviews and 97 in-depth interviews – says some providers of goods and service had been badly affected by the recession, “but many thought that this would not affect their services to disabled customers”.
Only two of the service providers interviewed in-depth said the recession might alter what they saw as “reasonable” in making adjustments, while “in a few cases” the recession was “already thought to have had an impact on the adjustments being made”, particularly with more costly physical adaptations to buildings.
To view the report, visit:http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2009-2010/rrep685.pdf
Begg raises new concerns over work test pilot schemes
A disabled MP has raised doubts over whether the government has ensured the right support is in place for people set to take part in a controversial incapacity benefit (IB) pilot scheme.
Disabled people in Anne Begg’s Aberdeen South constituency will be taking part in one of two pilot projects testing the use of the work capability assessment (WCA) to reassess people claiming “old-style” IB.
Letters will be sent out in October to most people claiming IB in Aberdeen and Burnley, with reassessments likely to begin in November, before a national reassessment programme of all remaining claimants of IB that is set to start next spring and last three years.
The WCA was introduced in October 2008 for claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit, but the test has proved hugely controversial.
Only last week, a coalition of charities said the assessment must do far more to recognise the barriers faced by people with mental health and other fluctuating conditions, and those with learning difficulties.
This week, Begg used a parliamentary question to ask the Liberal Democrat care services minister Paul Burstow whether the government had warned mental health professionals in Aberdeen of the problems the pilot project was likely to cause.
Begg, who was elected chair of the Commons work and pensions committee in June, said people with mental health conditions who receive IB had come to her constituency surgery because they were “worried sick” about the reassessment pilot scheme.
She said: “They are really quite worried about the WCA, about how sensitive it is to mental health conditions and other variable conditions.”
She said they had seen reports describing how many claimants are found fit for work after taking the WCA, although she said the numbers found fit for work in the pilots should be lower because those being assessed will already be claiming IB.
Government figures published in July showed that of those new claimants who completed the WCA, two thirds (66 per cent) were found fit for work and ineligible for ESA.
Begg said: “Knowing they are going through the whole process is a huge anxiety and if the professionals are not made aware of the implications of this they are not going to be in a position to help or give advice.
“That is what worries me – It has been dropped on Aberdeen without any of that preparation being done.”
It was unclear from Burstow’s Commons answer what measures had been taken to support IB claimants with mental health conditions in Aberdeen and Burnley. A Department for Work and Pensions comment had not arrived by Disability News Service’s deadline.
Death of ‘gentle warrior’ leaves gaping hole in movement
Friends and fellow activists were this week coming to terms with the loss of Rowen Jade, a “gentle warrior” and “force for change”, whose death has drawn tributes from across the disability movement.
Jade’s career spanned direct action protests, youth work, lesbian and gay rights activism, disability equality training and research, and work at the very heart of government as chair of Equality 2025.
She was also a close friend and trusted confidant of many veterans of the movement, and fellow disabled activists were this week united in praising her personal qualities, her radical disability politics, her diplomacy and her remarkable intellect.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, had been planning to spend the weekend with Jade, one of her closest friends, and attend the Liberty disability arts festival in London together, when she heard of her sudden death on holiday on 2 September.
She described Jade as “unassuming”, “generous” and a “gentle warrior”, with “the most remarkable intellect, insight and commitment”.
She said Jade could “say the most radical things in the most gentle way” and by chairing the government’s disability equality advice body she entered the “heart of the body of the beast”, where she communicated “radical disability politics in a way that people could not only hear it but do something about it – even the most hardened politicians”.
Baroness Campbell said she did not know anyone else in the movement who would be able to fill the gap she had left.
She said Jade “never moved from her fundamental principles” and had been influencing the government’s 21st Century Welfare benefits reforms through meetings with work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and disabled people’s minister Maria Miller.
Jade told them of the importance of a disability impact assessment of their plans and warned of the risk that some reforms could “end up with disabled people losing their lives”, said Baroness Campbell, but also congratulated them when they got things right.
Fellow activist Julie Newman said Jade was “a very good friend to a lot of people”.
“She lived her life by human rights and civil liberties,” she said. “That was her, every aspect of her life.
“She was one of the most diplomatic of people: gentle, but also extraordinarily strong. She could pull diverse groups of people together and was a firm believer that we should work together for the greater good. She was extraordinarily skilful in that respect.”
Singer-songwriter Johnny Crescendo, who founded the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), said Jade was a committed campaigner, a highly effective organiser of protests, and “a very, very strong woman, a feminist, a very good trainer, very skilled, very intelligent”.
He remembers Jade’s concerns about being arrested at a DAN public transport protest in the early 1990s, when she was lying on the trolley she used in front of a bus. She was one of a number of protesters subsequently arrested by police.
He said: “She didn’t like the idea of going to jail, but she overcame her fear and she never looked back.”
Another leading activist, Rachel Hurst, had known Jade since she was a teenager, and said she had been “a very great force for change all her life”.
“She’s just a great loss. I think also that her presence sent a tremendous message to people because lying down on a trolley all the time was a very good way, without saying anything, of showing people that you can do anything, however impaired.”
Jade was part of the advisory group that helped set up Equality 2025 in 2006 and had been a member since it was established, becoming its chair in 2008.
Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, said her death was “a huge loss not just to Equality 2025 but for the disability movement as a whole. For many years Rowen has been a great advocate for disabled people and she will be sorely missed.”
Tim Cooper, director of the Office for Disability Issues, said Jade was an “inspirational leader” with a “tremendous personal style”, and that her death “leaves a great void which it will be impossible to fill in the same way”.
As well as co-editing Bigger than the Sky, an anthology of writing by disabled women on parenting, Jade was a freelance disability equality consultant for many years and had worked for the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), where she co-authored Whose Voice is it Anyway?, a hugely influential report on the experiences of young disabled people in special and mainstream schools.
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s current chief executive, said the report had been a “guiding principle” for the organisation from the moment it was published, in 1999. “It’s what our commitment to young people’s participation is based on,” she said.
Flood, who also knew Jade through her membership of Equality 2025, said: “I can’t begin to imagine the loss. She was an incredible woman. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say a bad word about her.
“Her diplomacy skills knew no bounds when it came to working with civil servants. When James Purnell got the job [as work and pensions secretary], I remember him meeting Rowen and being pretty blown away by her and hearing the message about disabled people’s lives. I think it hadn’t hit him until he had spoken to Rowen.
“I think she had the most incredible skills in being the link between the absolute frontline activism, right through to the mainstream influence with civil servants and ministers.
“She was able to manage those of us who were wanting the frontline radical stuff and getting us to understand how you build that into stuff that a civil servant will understand and listen to.”
Jade had very close links with Bristol, where she lived with her partner Jaz and daughter Olivia, and was a member of the West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL).
Jayne Carr, WECIL’s chair, chaired the interview panel that gave Jade a job as an independent living advisor on a groundbreaking project for young disabled people in 2001.
Carr said she had “enormous spirit and determination and knowledge and skills” and was “a great thinker and strategist”, and said her death was an “enormous loss” to Bristol’s disabled community, who knew her well.
She added: “Her actual physical presence was small but she had an enormous emotional impact and was an inspirational force to any disabled person who met her, and she will be greatly missed.”
Her funeral will take place at noon on Wednesday 15 September at Westerleigh Crematorium, Westerleigh Road, Bristol BS37 8QP. Those attending are asked to wear bright colours.
Debenhams showcases new wheelchair for mannequins
The designer of the world’s first wheelchair for mannequins hopes her ground-breaking new product will be a step forward for disability equality in the high street.
The Mannequal made its first appearance on 3 September in the store window of the Oxford Street branch of Debenhams in London.
Debenhams used the Mannequal for the first time as it rolled out its first national fashion advertising campaign to feature a wheelchair-using model in the windows of all its 160 UK and Republic of Ireland stores.
The campaign followed a “really good reaction” to shots of the same model – Shannon Murray – in window displays in three stores earlier this year, which came after Debenhams was approached by the Channel 4 show How to Look Good Naked.
Murray praised Debenhams for its “dedication to represent real women on the high street.”
She added: “I’m hoping that eventually other brands will follow Debenhams’ lead and recognise the diversity of their customers.”
The Mannequal was designed by disabled artist, campaigner and model Sophie Morgan – who appeared in the BBC reality show Britain’s Missing Top Model – and allows retailers to show their mannequins using a wheelchair while modelling their latest fashions.
Morgan was inspired to design the Mannequal while browsing in a branch of Top Shop and seeing mannequins of different ethnicity, but wondering why there were no disabled mannequins.
She said: “It is quite difficult to represent every different disability, so I was thinking about the most generic way to represent disabled people.
“Although I use a wheelchair, I don’t want people to think I designed it to represent just wheelchair-users. The Mannequal is a symbol that represents all disabilities.
“The idea is to make it as easy and straightforward as possible to bring disability onto the high street. The idea is to be as subtle as possible, so the focus is still on the clothing.”
A Debenhams spokeswoman said they were trialling the Mannequal at its Oxford Street store to gauge public reaction.
She added: “We had never seen anything like it before until Sophie came to us.”
As well as its Debenhams appearance, the Mannequal is also appearing in the Katie & Jo boutique at 253 New King’s Road, London.
To see pictures of the Mannequal, visit www.mannequal.com
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com