Hello once again! This posting is a little briefer than normal as I’m heading up to Scotland for the week to run a personal development programme for disabled staff. I’ve just spent half the day trying to figure out how to pack everything I need and still be able to carry it on the wheelchair! Clothes aren’t an issue it’s battery chargers and other electrical appliances that cause the problems. Things like these don’t easily fit into a crushable bag!! I always elect to go by train because at least I can guarantee my chair will arrive and be in one piece unlike many of my experiences with air travel!! The challenge with the train is more about having assistance available to get on and off! So if the next blog comes from Inverness you’ll know I couldn’t get off in Edinburgh! Have a good week.
2012 homes legacy given lukewarm welcome
Nearly 250 new wheelchair-accessible flats and houses should be available for disabled people to rent or buy on the Olympic Park after the London 2012 games, the public body responsible for building the athletes’ village has revealed.
More than a quarter of the 240 homes will be rented social housing, with most of the rest available to buy.
The homes will be converted from the athletes’ village – in Stratford, in the east London borough of Newham – after the games in the summer of 2012.
The number of wheelchair-accessible homes has been obtained by Disability News Service from the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA).
As well as the 240 wheelchair-accessible properties, all 2,818 homes in the village will meet the Lifetime Homes Standard – key features that should be included in the design of accessible and adaptable housing.
The figures mean the ODA will meet its pledge that ten per cent of all the socially rented housing will be wheelchair-accessible, along with eight per cent of all the “intermediate” housing – homes to buy or rent at levels above those of social rented housing, but below market prices or rents – and those homes sold at “market” rates.
Of the 2,818 new homes available after the games, 675 will be socially rented, of which about 68 will be wheelchair-accessible. There will also be 329 homes put aside for intermediate accommodation, of which about 27 will be wheelchair-accessible.
Of the remaining 1,814 homes – eight per cent of which will be wheelchair-accessible – most will be sold at market rates, with some possibly made available as intermediate housing.
Ellen Clifford, interim director of the user-led Newham Coalition, welcomed the Lifetime Homes commitment, but said they would like to have seen more wheelchair-accessible homes because of the shortage of accessible housing, particularly in Newham itself.
She said adaptations in the borough can take “unacceptably long” because of “bureaucracy and inefficiencies”, leaving disabled people “trapped in their own homes and unsuitable accommodation”.
She said: “What will be key will be the systems for allocating and advertising the accessible homes.”
Clifford said the new wheelchair-accessible homes could provide opportunities “to extend choice and control and non-residential options to disabled people, and we will be calling on the local authority for a planned approach in co-production with disabled people to maximise the opportunity”.
Inclusion London said it would have liked at least ten per cent of all the new housing to be wheelchair-accessible, as laid out in the London Plan.
Anne Kane, Inclusion London’s policy manager, said the housing benefit cuts announced by the coalition government would “price housing out of the reach of many lower-income people, many of whom will be disabled people”, so the provision of affordable housing for disabled people was an “absolutely key” issue.
And Peter Lainson, chair of the Stratford City Consultative Access Group, said he hoped there was enough “focused marketing” to ensure the market housing was bought by wheelchair-users and would not have to be sold on the “open market” to non-disabled people.
Diplomat loses legal fight over reasonable adjustments
A high-flying diplomat’s career is “in limbo” after she lost a disability discrimination case against the Foreign Office over the support she needed to do her job in a new posting.
Jane Cordell, who is profoundly Deaf, had been offered the job of deputy ambassador to Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan, but the offer was withdrawn because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said the cost of providing lip-speakers to support her would be too high.
Cordell, who now has a London desk job, had been praised by the FCO for her performance in her previous posting in Poland – and received awards from the Polish authorities for her disability rights work – for which the government provided lip-speakers at an annual cost of about £146,000.
But the employment tribunal heard that a new FCO reasonable adjustments policy had been introduced after Cordell started working in Poland.
She argued that funding lip-speakers for the Kazakhstan posting was a “reasonable adjustment” under the Disability Discrimination Act, and estimated the cost to be about £200,000 a year, while the FCO’s estimate was nearly £300,000.
But the tribunal found that the FCO did not discriminate against her by refusing to fund the lip-speakers, and dismissed her claims for direct disability discrimination, disability-related discrimination and a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
In its judgment, the tribunal said the likely annual cost of the adjustments was more than five times Cordell’s salary, which would not be “reasonable”.
Cordell said she was proud of her work with the FCO, but added: “I am also proud to have brought my case to tribunal. People with disabilities and long-term illnesses who want to be economically active and independent need answers to the questions the case poses.”
RADAR said it was “shocked” by the FCO’s failure to fund the adjustments Cordell needed, which is said was a “real setback” to equality in the workplace.
Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, said the decision “puts a cap on ambition” and sends the message to disabled people that “the highest level jobs will be debarred” and that some of them “are just too expensive to employ and will never achieve equality”.
She said that Cordell “could have been an incredible international role model and ambassador for Britain”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which helped fund Cordell’s case, said her career was now “in limbo” because the FCO had failed to clarify how much support she was entitled to, a decision which “directly influences whether she can be posted abroad in the future”.
An EHRC spokeswoman said: “We thought it was an interesting test case because she is such a high-flyer, a senior woman. We thought we might get some clarity around what tribunals thought was reasonable.”
She added: “It is important that reasonable adjustments are provided to allow disabled people to participate fully in the workforce and allow talented people like Jane to realise their full potential.”
Treasury ‘kept ODI in the dark’ over DLA cut
The government failed to tell its own expert disability department about its plans to cut a key mobility-based disability benefit until just hours before the measure was announced, a disabled peer has revealed.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell told fellow peers that the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) was given just a few hours’ notice of Treasury plans to remove the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from most disabled people in residential care.
The chancellor, George Osborne, announced in last month’s spending review that, from 2012-13, only those disabled people who fund their own residential care would be able to claim the benefit.
Baroness Campbell told a Lords debate on the impact of the spending review that the move would have “the most disproportionately devastating consequences” on the lives of 58,000 disabled young people and working-age adults.
She said it conflicted with government policies to promote personalisation and independent living and encourage disabled people into work, and would breach the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
She said: “Residential care homes are not intended to be prisons. We all enjoy activities outside our homes. It should be no different for those living in residential care homes.”
She told peers about a disabled couple in residential care who, without their DLA mobility component, “will no longer be able to visit the doctor, dentist, bank, church, library or shops, let alone relatives and friends”.
She said the DLA cut would make “Britain’s most severely disabled people the group who lose most” from the spending review, while it “literally removes their mobility” and “makes neither moral nor financial sense”.
And she said she was “deeply concerned” that the Treasury failed to carry out an impact assessment on the spending cut or discuss it in advance with the ODI or other disability experts.
Lord Sassoon, commercial secretary to the Treasury, told Baroness Campbell that he would “note carefully” her concerns, and that her speech, and others, illustrate“just how difficult it is to reshape the welfare system in the radical way that we intend at a time of considerable retrenchment in the public finances”.
Another disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, criticised the government’s decision to impose a “completely arbitrary” one-year time limit on disabled people who claim the contributory version of employment and support allowance (ESA).
He said there were “simply not the jobs to enable everyone on ESA to get a job within 12 months”.
Lord Low said the measure – which will affect those in the “work-related activity group” – was “sadistically harsh”, comes at “completely the wrong time”, and was “self-defeating” because it would “completely undermine” the government’s efforts to support disabled people into work.
He said the “damaging and unjust consequences” of time-limiting ESA were “just one of many reasons” why the government should “seriously rethink” its spending review.
The Department for Work and Pensions refused to comment when asked for its reaction to the Treasury’s failure to carry out an impact assessment or discuss the DLA cut in advance with the ODI.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com