So Easter is over, a nice break but the weather could have been kinder. We had all of our family over on Monday and enjoyed a good soaking whilst hunting for eggs that were hidden all around our garden. I’m not sure who takes it more seriously the grandchildren or their parents! It seems they’ve inherited our competitive instincts; even a game of Ludo can get pretty interesting in our house.
My competitive younger son Jack plays semi professional football and I enjoy going to watch him play. Unfortunately very few of the lower league grounds have really developed an understanding of what accessibility actually means. Jack recently played for Waltham Abbey; the place was awful from a wheelchair spectator’s point of view. Car parking on thick grass which in winter turns to mud. No access to any toilets, the clubhouse and bar are up steps with a narrow door that is difficult to access for those who can walk. Despite raising these issues and pointing out that FA rules state that grounds should take account of the needs of disabled people nothing changed. Jack no longer plays for them. I’d liked to suggest that it was all down to his Dad not being catered for. Not really true all though it didn’t help when he was reviewing whether to stay or not.
When are people going to grasp the simple idea that if you provide good accessibility, and I don’t just mean ramps and wide doors etc. you open things up for everyone? I don’t think Waltham Abbey will really miss us but there are two less people spending money there and in this day and age that doesn’t help their cause.
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Phillips to leave equality watchdog
The head of the equality watchdog, Trevor Phillips, is to leave his post after six years, it has been confirmed.
Phillips has faced repeated criticism during his two three-year terms as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
His decision not to seek a third term was revealed in a foreword to the commission’s new strategic plan.
The plan also reveals that – due to drastic cuts in its budget – staffing levels at the EHRC are set to fall from 420 to between 150 and 180.
Two years ago, the parliamentary joint committee on human rights said “major questions” remained over Phillips’ leadership, following a series of resignations by commissioners.
Two disabled commissioners, Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Sir Bert Massie, had been among those who resigned in 2009 over concerns at his leadership.
Phillips also faced criticism in a report by the public accounts committee in March 2010.
More recently, he had appeared on a collision course with the coalition, after arguing last year that its plans for reform risked turning the EHRC into an “anonymous, cowed, nit-picking compliance factory, remote from the everyday challenges that face ordinary people”.
The Government Equalities Office had laid out plans to slash the commission’s budget and reduce its powers, remove funding for its grants programme, and ask the private or voluntary sector to take over its national helpline.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Trevor Phillips’ appointment as the chair of the EHRC ends in September 2012. The government are looking for an appropriate successor. It was Mr Phillips’ decision to leave.” She declined to comment further.
An EHRC spokeswoman said: “As I understand it, he is not seeking another term.” She also declined to comment further.
The EHRC’s budget is set to fall to £26.8 million by the end of 2015, compared with £70 million when it launched in 2007, and it warns in the plan that this will mean “significant” changes. The strategic plan lays out the EHRC’s three “strategic priorities” for the next three years.
The first is to promote fairness and equality of opportunity in the economy, such as tackling the causes of the “pay gap” between the salaries of disabled and non-disabled people, and ensuring decisions by the government and the public and private sector “take full account of equality and human rights”.
It also wants to promote fair access to public services, including “dignity and autonomy” in social care.
Its third priority will be “promoting dignity and respect and ensuring people’s safety”, including a programme to reduce disability-related bullying in schools and workplaces, and tracking the implementation of recommendations from its well-received inquiry into disability-related harassment.
The plan says legal action will continue to be the EHRC’s “last resort, when nudge, persuasion and advice have not proved effective”, and that it will have to move from providing direct services such as a helpline and grants to being “a catalyst for change and improvement”.
Special school to close after teenager’s padded room ordeal
The mother of a teenager with autism who was repeatedly confined to a padded room at his residential special school has spoken of the “remarkable” progress he has made since a court ruled his treatment was unlawful.
The 19-year-old was often prevented from leaving the so-called “Blue Room” at Beech Tree School, near Preston, which is run by the disability charity Scope.
The mother of the young man – known only as C – has only now been able to speak out publicly after a judge lifted an anonymity order which had prevented any naming of the school or the local authority involved, Wigan Council.
C’s mother took the council to the Court of Protection, which ruled 12 months ago that it was a breach of her son’s rights to confine him to the padded room to control his “challenging behaviour” – at one stage on 192 occasions in just one month – without seeking a court order under the Mental Capacity Act authorising the school to deprive him of his liberty.
In delivering his ruling last year, Mr Justice Ryder concluded that the failure to provide C with the “specialist, qualified care and treatment” he clearly needed was “unacceptable”.
C’s mother said the improvement her son had made in the last year had vindicated the family’s battle.
Her son now enjoys walks in the country and trips to a swimming pool, while his attention span and vocabulary have “dramatically increased”.
She said: “The ‘professionals’ within the named organisations each had the authority to halt the tragic existence of my son’s incarceration within the Blue Room but failed in their duty to do so over a considerable period of time.
“His elder brother and I have witnessed the practice of seclusion enough to know that it is unnatural, particularly cruel to someone with the diagnosis of C and serves only to dehumanize, and there should be no place for its use in 21st century ‘care’.”
C’s brother added: “He has gained weight, grown taller and shows affection to those around him. I can now enjoy a relationship with him where we laugh and have fun, which is something I hadn’t seen my brother do for some time.”
Mathieu Culverhouse, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, which helped the family win the case, said: “This shocking case is one in which the responsible authorities failed to obtain the legal authorisation needed to deprive someone of their liberty.
“It’s clear from the progress C has made over the past nine months that the unlawful treatment he was receiving was not working.”
As a result of the case, and falling pupil numbers, Scope has decided to close the school.
Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: “On the one hand it is good to see a special school closing but it is terrible it took such an appalling breach of human rights for the decision to be made.”
Richard Hawkes, Scope’s chief executive, said the charity was “very sorry” that C “didn’t get the support he needed”.
He said: “It took us too long to realise that we had become over-reliant on an approach that wasn’t working.”
He said it had been a “really challenging case” and that the charity had acted with “nothing but the best intentions”.
He added: “We tried too hard and for too long, to manage a very difficult situation without securing the right combination of external expertise and support.” Wigan Council declined to comment.
MP hints at Labour bias towards inclusive education
The MP leading a review of Labour’s special educational needs (SEN) policy has suggested it will recommend a far more inclusive approach than the coalition government’s anti-inclusion stance.
Sharon Hodgson, the shadow minister for children and families, was taking evidence from campaigners at an event organised by the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE).
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said the Labour party was now in a “fantastic” position to “do something innovative, to do something creative and brave” on inclusion, but must first realise that the “current system isn’t working”.
She said: “This is the chance when the current government are so determined in terms of inclusion to turn the clock back 30 years. Those of us who succeed do that despite the current system.”
Nicholas Russell, co-chair of Labour’s disabled members group, said the review needed to address the bullying of disabled pupils.
He said: “If you deal with bullying in schools then hopefully you will have a lot less disability hate crime.”
He also called for the review to recommend that more disabled people become school governors, and are given the support they need to do that.
Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, told Hodgson that disabled people must have “complete human and civil rights to access mainstream education”, while there must be a focus on the barriers that need to be removed to enable disabled people to learn.
Hodgson, whose son is disabled, said she believed that including disabled children in mainstream schools would help other children grow up without prejudice, which was “why we really have to fight for this”.
She said she disagreed with David Cameron’s view that there was a “bias towards inclusion” in the education system.
And she suggested that her review would recommend mandatory SEN training for all student teachers, with schools also forced to use one of their five annual “inset” training days to improve their teachers’ SEN knowledge.
Sarifa Patel, ALLFIE’s co-chair, told Hodgson that disability history should be taught in schools, while teachers should be taught about the social model of disability during their training.
She also pointed out that parents of disabled children from black and minority ethnic communities faced the additional barrier of institutional racism in the education system.
Miro Griffiths, a disability equality consultant, said schools must understand how disabled young people can be supported into employment through schemes such as Access to Work.
Lucy Bartley, whose husband Jonathan challenged David Cameron in front of TV cameras during the 2010 election campaign on the Conservative leader’s pledge to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”, said the resistance they had faced in trying to ensure their disabled son Samuel attended a mainstream school had been “all about attitudes”.
She said his eventual inclusion had changed the culture of the school, and added: “Enabling our children to be within mainstream provision changes that provision.
Disabled MPs warn of danger of legalising assisted suicide
Two disabled MPs have spoken out strongly against any moves towards legalising assisted suicide.
The two Conservative MPs, Paul Maynard and Robert Halfon, spoke during a Commons debate this week, the first time MPs have discussed the issue in depth for more than 40 years.
They were debating a motion that welcomed the guidelines published in 2010 by the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer.
The guidance, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, lists the factors to be considered in deciding whether to charge someone with assisted suicide.
An analysis of the speeches made during the debate suggests that 27 of the MPs were opposed to legalising assisted suicide, while 19 were in favour.
Maynard told MPs that he “fundamentally” rejected any moves towards legalisation.
He said: “If we decide that our own lives are no longer ‘worth living’, we make it harder for a person with an identical condition, disability or prognosis to take a brave decision, to strike out and say, ‘Actually, I want to keep on living. I do not want to succumb to the group-think that says I am now a burden on society.’
“It is not for society to decide the value of human life. It is not even for one single individual to decide that their life is no longer worth living, because by doing so they diminish the right of every other human being to decide that their life is worth living.”
Halfon said he believed society should “put everything into helping people to live, not helping people to die”.
He argued that influential research in early 1920s Germany that “argued strenuously that doctors should be protected against prosecution for assisted dying” helped create the “intellectual climate” that allowed the removal of support for terminally-ill and disabled people, and later led to Hitler’s programme of targeted mass killing of disabled people.
The Conservative MP Fiona Bruce quoted the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who believes that legalisation would “alter the mindset of the medical and social care professions, persuading more and more people that actually the prospect of an ‘easy’ way out is what people such as me really want”.
The Labour MP Jim Dobbin, who has two disabled grandsons, said: “I do not want them, or any other person living with a disability, to experience pressure in a system whose law suggests that their lives might not be worth living.”
Edward Garnier, the Conservative solicitor-general, also spoke out against any change in the law, and calls from some MPs to place the DPP’s guidance on a statutory basis.
He said: “I want to emphasise the importance of the independence of prosecutors and the undesirability of statutory guidelines for prosecutors in any area of law, not least this one.”
Another Conservative MP, Nadine Dorries, said there were many disabled people who – if the law was changed – would “suddenly feel very vulnerable, because they could imagine a point in time when they are aware of what they cost the NHS, the state or wherever they are being cared for”.
The Labour MP Frank Field said he did not share the view that the country was “populated exclusively by husbands who love their wives, and wives who love their husbands”.
He said: “I know perfectly well that in certain circumstances some individuals would have no hesitation in trying to persuade a person that the decent thing to do is to end their life – and especially where money is involved.”
Many MPs also spoke out in favour of an amendment that called for further development of palliative care and hospice provision.
But some MPs did back moves towards legalising assisted suicide.
The Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, who proposed the original motion welcoming the guidelines, said: “Even if we can provide universal access to good-quality end-of-life care, some Britons will still seek to end their lives. The law must be equipped to deal with such cases and to help the vulnerable.”
The Labour MP Paul Blomfield told how his 87-year-old father had committed suicide last year after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.He said: “If the law had made it possible, he could, and I am sure he would, have shared his plans.
“He would have been able to say goodbye and to die with his family around him and not alone in a carbon monoxide-filled garage. He and many more like him deserved better.”
Another Labour MP, Paul Flynn, read out a letter from a constituent whose terminally-ill wife had deliberately starved herself to death.
He accused MPs of “cowardice” for not acting to legalise assisted suicide, and said: “Some 80 per cent of people in this country want us to change things.
“It is up to us, as their representatives, to bring in reforms that will give people the peace of mind that they can die with dignity.”
The Labour MP Dame Joan Ruddock, who also backs legalisation, had proposed an amendment calling for the DPP’s guidance to be placed on a statutory footing, but she did not ask for it to be put to a vote.
Campaigns will highlight transport barriers in lead-up to London 2012
Two new high-profile campaigns are set to highlight the barriers that disabled people face when trying to use public transport.
The A2BForAll campaign, which has been backed by several leading disabled people’s organisations, published research this week showing that more than half of disabled users have felt discriminated against when trying to access public transport.
More than half of the 200 disabled people questioned said they had been forced to find other ways to travel because of the treatment they received on public transport.
The campaign, headed by Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, wants the government to appoint a regulator – funded by the transport industry – to improve staff training, and keep a central register of complaints that would play a key part in awarding public transport franchises.
The campaign has grown out of legal action being taken by 16 disabled people in Darlington against the bus company Arriva North East (ANE).
Gordon Pybus, chair of Darlington Association on Disability, which has supported them in their legal action and backs the campaign, said accessible public transport was vital with the government reforming the benefits system and calling for more disabled people to find work, particularly with many likely to lose their Motability vehicles because of disability living allowance reform.
He said: “To allow us to do that, we must have a transport infrastructure that is really accessible for all disabled people.”
The Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker said: “While a regulator might look superficially attractive, it could cause duplication with work already being done by Passenger Focus [the rail watchdog] and Bus Users UK [the bus passengers’ organisation], and it will almost certainly add to costs.”
A2BForAll is also being backed by user-led charities Transport For All, Trafford Centre for Independent Living, and Derbyshire Coalition for Inclusive Living, and is funded by legal firm Unity Law.
They hope to secure more than 100,000 signatures on a petition backing the demands, so the issue can be debated by MPs.
Channel 4 News has also launched its own campaign, to investigate the state of accessible public transport in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
Channel 4 News wants its No Go Britain campaign to build up a comprehensive picture by asking disabled viewers for their experiences.
Alison Walsh, Channel 4’s disability advisor, said: “The stories that the Channel 4 News team reveal, and the picture they build across the country, should form the basis for serious discussion about how we can improve the system for disabled users.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson told Channel 4 News that she had been forced to crawl off a train earlier this year because there were no staff on the platform to receive her late-night train.
She said: “I think as a disabled person travelling, you always have an element of fear or just feeling very uncomfortable, of panic, of wondering whether you’re going to get off.”
She said she wanted to see many more disabled people using public transport, but “unless there are some massive changes – not only to the equipment but to staff training – we’re not going to get more disabled people using public transport”.
Baker said his department was “working hard to ensure that all transport staff have the appropriate disability awareness training”, and has supported a disability awareness training module for the bus industry. About two-thirds of bus drivers have now had awareness training, he said.
He added: “We recommend that transport operators involve disabled people themselves in developing the training, and that both front line and management staff are trained and their skills regularly updated.”
Scottish GPs call for ‘fitness for work’ tests to be scrapped
Disabled activists have hailed as a major victory a decision by Scottish GPs to call on the government to abandon its controversial “fitness for work” tests.
Doctors at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) annual Scottish conference of GPs voted for a motion that called for the “inadequate, computer-based assessments” to be abandoned in favour of a “rigorous and safe” system that does not cause “avoidable harm” to disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.
The motion said the work capability assessment (WCA), the test introduced by the Labour government in 2008 to assess people’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits, has “little regard to the nature or complexity” of disabled people’s needs.
The Scottish-based campaign group Black Triangle played a key role in having the motion tabled at last week’s conference.
There are hopes that a similar motion could now be proposed at the UK national conference – which will include GPs from England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland – to be held in May in Liverpool.
Dr Stephen Carty, an Edinburgh GP and Black Triangle member, said the Scottish conference’s support sent “a ray of hope” to many sick and disabled people.
He said the WCA was “not an effective or safe method of determining ‘fitness to work’”, and he called on the General Medical Council (GMC) to speak out on the issue.
He said: “All doctors are duty bound by the General Medical Council to report any system or process that may be harmful to patients. The WCA is a harmful process. Scottish GPs have spoken: the GMC cannot remain silent on this matter any longer.”
BMA Scotland said it did not keep a record of how many of the 100 or so doctors who attended the conference had voted for the motion.
But Dr Dean Marshall, who chairs the BMA’s Scottish general practitioners committee, said the BMA agreed with the need for welfare reform and to “provide more opportunities for those people who are able to work”.
But he said patients were “very concerned and confused with regards to these assessments. Many are in fear of how they will cope with the removal of, or cuts to, their benefits.
“Evidence appears to suggest that people with serious health conditions are frequently declared fit for work.”
John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, called for the assessments to be halted while the GMC carried out a “thorough investigation”.
He said: “The scandal of these assessments has gone on far too long. As a grassroots disabled people’s organisation we are over the moon that Scotland’s GPs have spoken out so clearly and unequivocally in their condemnation.
“Our GPs recognise the severe and avoidable damage that is being done to sick and disabled people through this brutal, draconian and profoundly unjust testing regime as they see it every single day.”
The GMC declined to comment.
Government hears suggestions for fulfilling potential
Tackling the bureaucratic barriers faced by disabled people, a list of the top disability-friendly employers, and recruiting more disabled teachers, are just some of the suggestions for how the government can improve disabled people’s lives.
The ideas were among more than 500 responses to Fulfilling Potential, a discussion document issued by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) in December, which will feed into the new cross-government disability strategy that is due to be published in late spring.
ODI says it wants the strategy to “tackle barriers to realising aspirations and individual control, as well as change attitudes and behaviour towards disabled people”.
And it says it will build on the Labour government’s work, including the Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People report, the Independent Living Strategy, andRoadmap 2025, as well as the UK government’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Nearly half of the responses to the discussion document came from individual disabled people.
Among the suggestions in the “realising aspirations” category were for ODI to have its own “red tape challenge”, asking disabled people to identify wasteful and bureaucratic barriers; to spend more of the special educational needs budget on supporting disabled children in mainstream education; and to fund a list of the top disability-friendly employers, similar to the annual league table of gay-friendly workplaces produced by the charity Stonewall.
Among comments in the “individual control” section were calls for stronger advocacy programmes and support for disabled people’s user-led organisations; a warning that some support services were being restricted to disabled people with “critical” needs; and calls for a focus on barriers to buildings, transport and information to ensure people enjoy choice and control of their support.
In the changing attitudes and awareness category, suggestions included a call for more disabled teachers, healthcare professionals and local councillors; a greater focus on implementing and enforcing the Equality Act; and fresh claims that Department for Work and Pensions press releases on benefit fraud have increased disability hate crime.
Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, told an event held to discuss the feedback last week: “I want to make clear that from the very top of government we are absolutely committed to achieving a step change in supporting disabled people to fulfil their potential in every area of life.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com