Good news is still hard to find and this week’s national news clippings make yet more depressing reading! However when I look around at a local level there is real evidence that people are still out there trying to make a real difference. An example I chaired a Disability MegaQuiz for the Employer’s Forum on Disability in London, which was attended by over 75 business leaders and colleagues. It started at 6:30pm and finished after 9pm so I’m guessing no one got home much before 10:30pm and this after a long day at the office. Those attending could have easily decided not to come and spent the time with family and friends. While people continue you to use their free time to support efforts like the EFD’s then all is not lost. I feel better already!
Mayor silent as Liberty is turfed out of Trafalgar Square
Leading disabled artists and campaigners have raised concerns about the decision to move London’s annual disability arts festival from its home in Trafalgar Square.
This year’s Liberty festival will instead take place on London’s South Bank – home to the National Theatre and the Southbank Centre – on Saturday 3 September.
The eight previous Liberty festivals have all been held in Trafalgar Square, since the first event in 2003 was created by London’s then mayor Ken Livingstone and the now defunct disabled people’s organisation, Greater London Action on Disability.
Since 2003, Liberty has established itself as a vital date on the capital’s disability arts calendar, and has become a tourist attraction in its own right, playing a major part in raising awareness of disability rights and boosting the profile of some of the country’s most talented disabled artists.
But the announcement that Liberty was moving to the South Bank, still part of London’s tourist heartland but much less central than Trafalgar Square, was slipped out quietly this week.
The news was included in a press release issued by the organisers of London 2012, announcing that Bradley Hemmings, who curates and produces Liberty, had been appointed as one of two artistic directors for the 2012 Paralympics opening ceremony.
Leading disabled figures raised concerns this week about the decision to move Liberty to the South Bank.
Michael Shamash, a disability researcher and lecturer, said there were “real issues” about relocating Liberty.
He said: “The beauty of Trafalgar Square is it is so central and as such it makes such a statement about the visibility of disabled people.”
Shamash said he also felt the access at the Southbank Centre was “bitty”, although the problems were probably “manageable”.
But he said: “I think there is an issue of visibility and making a statement. Trafalgar Square on a sunny day, there is nowhere like it, with the fountains and the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, Nelson’s Column…
“It is a super setting and it gives pre-eminence to disabled people and their culture and the contribution they make to London.”
The disabled artist Ju Gosling aka ju90 said she had concerns about the accessibility of the South Bank, and raised particular concerns about parking, the availability of accessible toilets and access to the venues from nearby public transport routes.
She said: “If I was producing something there, I wouldn’t see it as a suitable place.”
The film-maker Liz Crow said parking was a “significant issue”, as was the distance between venues, but she said she thought such problems were probably “solvable”, while she believed there was “a status attached” to having the event on the South Bank.
No-one from the office of London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, was able to provide any information about why the decision had been taken to move Liberty, or about access at the new venue.
Airline no closer to solution on powered wheelchairs five years on
An airline has been unable to explain why it is still refusing to accept powered wheelchairs on its flights, at least five years after the issue was first raised publicly.
EasyJet claims health and safety rules mean it cannot ask baggage handlers to load any wheelchairs that weigh more than 60kg onto its aircraft.
The issue was highlighted this week after the mother of 12-year-old Declan Spencer, from Leicester, was told by easyJet that it would not allow his powered wheelchair into the hold of their holiday flight to Cyprus because it was too heavy.
EasyJet said it “welcomes more than a quarter of a million passengers with reduced mobility every year and we regularly carry powered wheelchairs, provided they can be collapsed into separate parts weighing less than 60kg each”.
But it has been unable to explain why it cannot pay for suitable equipment to load heavier wheelchairs onto its aircraft, or why it appears to have taken no steps to solve the problem since at least 2006.
Five years ago, Clare Gray, from Gloucestershire, raised almost identical concerns to the Spencers when easyJet told her it could not carry her wheelchair on a flight from Bristol to Newcastle because it exceeded the 60kg weight limit.
Declan’s mother Alexandra has now had to cancel their easyJet seats at short notice and book with another company, Thomson Airways.
She said easyJet’s policy was “ludicrous and discriminatory”, and added: “We have been told that they are refusing to carry Declan’s wheelchair on health and safety grounds to protect their staff, but this seems extremely hollow when you consider that every other airline in this country is prepared to accommodate us.”
European regulations, introduced in 2008, should prevent airlines discriminating against passengers with “reduced mobility”.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is supposed to enforce the regulations, but this week it said it was “still reviewing the circumstances of the complaint to identify whether easyJet acted reasonably”.
CAA said each case “should be treated on its respective merits and the airline should work to find a solution where practicable”, while it was working with UK airlines on the issue of wheelchair weight and had raised the matter with the European Commission.
The Spencers’ case was taken up by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign (MDC), whose Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners criticised easyJet in a report last August.
MDC said it was “totally unacceptable” for an airline to impose a rule that “makes it all but impossible for users of powered wheelchairs to use their service”.
An MDC spokeswoman added: “It seems to us that other budget airlines have found solutions. How is it that Thomson are finding solutions and easyJet aren’t?”
Ann Bates, a disabled transport access consultant and former deputy-chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, has flown often with easyJet and always supervises baggage handling staff as they remove two heavy batteries from her chair, taking the weight below 60kg.
But she said some wheelchairs were not so easy to dismantle, while she also would not want to risk baggage handlers dropping her chair.
Bates said it seemed “reasonable” for easyJet to invest in machinery that could load heavier powered wheelchairs onto its aircraft.
Cuts to support in UK ‘causing shock’ in Europe
The nation would be “in uproar” if the government had tried to make similar cuts in the NHS to those happening across social care, a leading disabled activist has told MPs and peers.
Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), told the joint committee on human rights that politicians’ lives would become “a nightmare” if they tried to make such cuts to the NHS.
The parliamentary committee was hearing from some of the country’s leading disabled activists as part of its inquiry into the implementation of disabled people’s right to independent living.
Lee told the committee that non-disabled people take independent living for granted, whereas disabled people “have to fight for everything – having children, having a job, living independently”.
He said: “We have to fight for the audacity of saying this is what we want when everybody we come across says, ‘You will not be able to do that, you’re not capable of doing that.’”
John Evans, the veteran activist and co-founder of the National Centre for Independent Living, who campaigns across Europe for independent living, said disabled activists on the continent had reacted with “absolute astonishment” to reports of cuts to support for disabled people in the UK.
He said the UK was seen as leading the way on independent living, but disabled people in other European countries were now saying: “If this can happen in the UK… what is going to happen in our country?”
Evans said that if – as feared – the government closes the Independent Living Fund completely in 2015, he would probably be forced to move into residential care.
He also said he was “absolutely astonished” at the “quite alarming” number of people working for local authorities who were unaware of the existence of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Doug Paulley, who lives in a residential home and campaigns on behalf of other disabled residents, said one key problem was the lack of any user-led organisation to represent people living in residential care.
He said the government had failed to realise that the big disability charities, which often ran residential homes themselves, were not “democratically representative” of disabled people.
And he said that government funding given to these charities should be handed instead to user-led organisations, which he said could “make a big difference”.
Professor Peter Beresford, chair of Shaping Our Lives, called for more to be done to provide new opportunities for the user-led sector, which he said was “one of the most exciting and emerging and radical sectors”.
He said central and local government were not offering the user-led sector “any kind of equality” in terms of opportunities to provide services, “despite the evidence we have from research of the value it can contribute as employer, as service-provider and commissioner”.
MP says CQC has failed to protect service-users
The care and health watchdog has failed in its duty to protect service-users and has become a “bureaucratic nightmare”, an MP has told its under-fire chair.
Labour MP Rosie Cooper told Dame Jo Williams, who chairs the Care Quality Commission, that her organisation needed to ensure “light years improvement” to its inspection work.
Dame Jo was giving evidence to the Commons health committee less than a month after the commission admitted failing to take action over concerns raised by a whistleblower about alleged abuse at Winterbourne View, a hospital for people with learning difficulties near Bristol.
Cooper told Dame Jo she was “seriously worried” about CQC’s “capacity to deliver”, and raised concerns about the high level of vacant posts for inspectors, after she heard that CQC had 350 job vacancies, including 121 inspectors.
The MP suggested this was “a long-term problem” and the public had been “put at risk because you have not had enough inspectors while you were busy internally reorganising yourselves”.
Dame Jo said this was “absolutely not true” and CQC had worked “entirely within the guidance we were given to make sure that we recruited people appropriately and people with the right skills to do the job”. She said CQC had offered jobs to about 70 people in the last few weeks.
Last month, CQC was forced to admit carrying out just 2,148 inspections of adult social care facilities in the six months to March 2011, compared with 6,840 from April to September 2009.
CQC said the drop – revealed in figures obtained by the magazine Community Care – was “largely” due to the need to register health and social care providers under its new regulatory system, which began to have an impact in the second half of 2009-10.
But there have been concerns that CQC’s new “risk-based” system of regulation, under which social care providers produce their own written self-assessments, while CQC gathers evidence from other sources and focuses on providers where there is evidence of concerns, could see some homes that appear good on paper avoiding inspection for up to five years.
There have also been concerns that the new system has been driven largely by the need to cut costs.
Cooper told Dame Jo that she believed CQC had become a “bureaucratic nightmare”, and added: “What we need to know is that somebody is listening… People are depending on you. You cannot fail and you have.”
Dame Jo insisted that CQC was in a “much stronger position than we were at the start of the year” and that inspections had risen to about 600 a month, which she hoped would eventually double.
She said there was a “considerable appetite” among the public and service-providers for CQC to be “more visible” and carry out more inspections.
She told the committee that CQC had asked the Department of Health for a 10 per cent increase in its budget – a rise of about £15 million a year – in order to increase the number of inspections, and to bring in more “experts by experience” (service-users who take part in inspections).
Online benefits ‘could close down opportunities’ if not accessible
The government must ensure its websites are accessible to disabled people if it wants more benefits claims dealt with online, a coalition minister has been warned.
Anne McGuire MP, Labour’s former minister for disabled people, told a joint meeting of the all party parliamentary disability group (APPDG) and other disability-themed groups that it was a “government ambition” for 80 per cent of “benefits traffic” to be dealt with online.
But McGuire, the APPDG’s co-chair, said she feared the new system could “close down opportunities for disabled people” if it was not fully accessible.
The coalition plans to simplify the system by replacing a series of benefits with a new “universal credit”, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has also proposed £50 civil fines for mistakes made on benefits claim forms.
McGuire asked Ed Vaizey, the Conservative minister for culture, communications and creative industries, if his department had ensured the new system the DWP was creating would be “fully accessible”.
Vaizey said the new benefits system was “a major undertaking”, but he promised to have a “proper sit-down with my opposite number at the DWP and talk to them about progress on this”.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, the APPDG’s other co-chair, raised concerns about the accessibility of government websites for the thousands of disabled people who use voice-activated software to operate their computers.
Vaizey said he had had meetings with Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude about the need for all government websites to be accessible.
After the meeting, Baroness Campbell said she was concerned that some disabled people who use voice-activated software might make innocent mistakes when making benefits claims, but could still be fined.
She said: “I just want the government to be more ‘voice-activated confident’. I want them to be… aware that more and more disabled people use that method of using computers and navigating the internet and to make sure that the technology is accessible… and that they understand that mistakes can be made.”
Earlier in the meeting, Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, called on Vaizey to encourage more communications companies to provide telephone relay services for deaf people.
There is currently only one widely-available national relay service, the text relay service funded and run by BT, but it uses technology that is 30 years old and has been described by campaigners as “slow and cumbersome”.
Daniels asked Vaizey how he would introduce competition into the market for relay services.
Vaizey said he wanted to find “pragmatic solutions”, and that the issue was “the headline this year in terms of my postbag”. He is hosting a “round table” discussion on relay services in September.
Meanwhile, the strength of the APPDG under Baroness Campbell and Anne McGuire has been highlighted by figures which show that its membership has been boosted by 43 new MPs. There are now about 35 peers and 85 MPs who are members of the group.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com