So the party is finally over and the real world is beginning to intrude once again. Just before the bubble burst completely Andy Murray capped off a fantastic summer by winning his first Grand Slam. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a variety of emotions, one minute tearful, the next euphoric. The Olympics and Paralympics seemed to bring out the best in all of us and for a few short weeks we witnessed the triumph of the human spirit. We saw hard work and dedication turned into medals. We were in awe of those who had given up their time to look after us, we cheered to the stadium roof the Paralympic runner who was lapped twice but carried on going. We wept alongside Ellie as she triumphed in the pool and we marvelled at an Australian archer who used his feet to loose his arrows.
So what happens now? Disabled people across the world have real role models to help motivate them but how does this work for those who are poor or live in areas where facilities are limited? As a first step they should get hold of a publication from Disability Rights (UK) called Doing Sport Differently, it has great case studies and lots of ideas about how to participate in sport at whatever level.
Now it pains me to say this but here is this week’s news not a gold medal in sight!
London 2012: US govt advisor says Paralympics can help on DLA fight and inclusive schools
A senior US government advisor has suggested that the London 2012 Paralympics could help disabled people in their fight against the UK government’s cuts to disability benefits and its opposition to inclusive education.
The comments by Judith Heumann, the US Department of State’s special advisor on international disability rights, provides fresh support for campaigners fighting government cuts of 20 per cent to spending on disability living allowance (DLA), and opponents of the coalition’s position on inclusive education.
Heumann, an internationally-renowned disability rights activist, served for eight years in a senior role in President Clinton’s administration, as an assistant secretary in the Department of Education, and is a former co-director of the ground-breaking Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California.
She told Disability News Service that there was a need to listen to the views of disabled people about the extra costs they faced and the need for state support to meet those costs.
Heumann, a wheelchair-user, said: “People like myself have additional costs. There should be a greater willingness to listen to that level of discussion.”
She said people had “begun to learn” about the importance of such support from watching the Paralympics, and pointed to events in which disabled athletes need support from non-disabled assistants, such as the guides used in blind football.
And she said that “personal story-telling”, for example by convincing Paralympians to describe in the media why DLA was so important to them, was crucial in putting across the message that many disabled people do need such support.
She told Disability News Service: “The people who are being adversely affected [by possible DLA cuts], who the country has honoured because they are Paralympians… the benefit may in effect have enabled them to rise to that ability and be competitive.
“I think the media telling these stories is very important. Governments around the world are looking at ways of cutting budgets. An issue that certainly needs to be addressed is when certain cuts have the opposite impact than they should have.”
She said that disabled people who have “gained a level of respect and are believable people” – such as Paralympians – can help to spread this message, including how, particularly for disabled people in relative poverty, benefits can “enable you to participate in social activities”.
Heumann was in London to meet with government leaders and civil society representatives to discuss international development and the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Heumann said she hoped that the media, the business and disability communities and wider society would look at what London 2012 had demonstrated about the importance of inclusion.
“For me, the message is that it can be done. The inclusion of disability into a broad agenda can be done in a seamless way.”
But she said a key question was why inclusion was often not happening in sectors such as schools “and other areas where there are still major barriers”.
Heumann spoke out strongly on inclusive education, another key area in which the Conservative-led coalition has placed itself in direct opposition with the disability movement.
The government’s pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in disabled children’s education has sparked anger and protests by disabled activists since the coalition came to power.
Heumann said London 2012 could help convince those previously opposed to inclusive education “to rethink what their previous views might have been on inclusion”.
She said she believed inclusive education was “not just important to enable disabled children to academically learn more” but also because “disabled and non-disabled children going to school together” was one of the “lynchpins of what makes England and the US great democracies”.
She said: “Inclusion improves performance for all children and there are many ways that you demonstrate that.
“In the States we have data that [shows that] including disabled children in regular classrooms improves the learning outcomes for all learners in the classroom.”
And she said it was vital to “export the good things we are doing”, by ensuring that schools are accessible and education is inclusive in developing countries that receive aid from the US and Britain.
Heumann said that London 2012 had driven home the message that “disabled and non-disabled athletes are equivalent and deserve the same level of recognition”, and that the success of the Paralympics would mean that the issue of equality could be “more easily discussed”.
She said: “People have really watched and learned about how people can accomplish the same objective and the same goal by doing it differently.”
And she said it was “very important” that the close links now established between the Olympic and Paralympic Games meant that all future hosts – such as Sochi, in Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics – would have to demonstrate “how they will accommodate disabled Paralympians and visitors”, which would show what was possible in terms of inclusion.
Heumann also said the lack of TV coverage of the Paralympics in the US – compared with the Olympics – was “really embarrassing”, so “the first thing I did when I got here was turn on Channel 4” to watch its coverage of the Paralympics.
But she said that “what was really impressive” was the amount of mainstream news coverage the games has secured on other television channels.
She also praised Channel 4’s commitment to using so many disabled presenters in its coverage.
She said: “The games are not going to end discrimination against disabled people in England or round the world or reform everything overnight.”
Instead, she said, it was vital to look at London 2012 and ask “what have we learned? What changes went on that enabled this to happen?”
She said: “My personal feeling is there is something very different that has happened here and I believe it can have an impact in many areas that people are trying to get addressed, such as education, employment, community inclusion, and that people with more significant disabilities need assistance, and that benefits can help make things more equitable.”
Disabled people’s organisations wary over ministerial reshuffle
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have responded warily to a string of new appointments to key posts in the coalition’s first ministerial reshuffle.
Maria Miller, the much-criticised minister for disabled people, who has become the new culture secretary, will be replaced by her fellow Conservative Esther McVey.
McVey, a former television presenter, founded an organisation that helps women set up businesses, and was previously parliamentary private secretary to Chris Grayling in his role as employment minister.
McVey said that “supporting disabled people to live fulfilling lives and restoring fairness to the welfare system” was “vital” and that she was joining the Department for Work and Pensions at a “crucial time”.
Grayling, who was responsible for the issue that has enraged many disabled activists – the controversial “fitness for work” assessment and the government’s contract with Paralympic sponsor Atos Healthcare – becomes justice secretary, and is replaced by fellow Conservative Mark Hoban.
The care services minister, Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow, who led work on the coalition’s crucial care and support white paper and draft bill, both published in July, also lost his post, to be replaced by another Liberal Democrat, Norman Lamb, a close ally of the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.
And Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat children and families minister – responsible for the government’s special educational needs (SEN) reform programme – has also lost her job.
She has been replaced by her party colleague David Laws – who resigned two years ago as chief secretary to the treasury after breaking rules on MPs’ expenses – although it has not yet been decided whether he will take on the SEN brief.
DPOs have so far reacted cautiously to the reshuffle.
Richard Currie, an executive member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said he was concerned about the apparent shift to the right in the Department of Health, with former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt replacing Andrew Lansley as health secretary.
Currie said he feared McVey’s appointment would see a continuation of the government’s focus on the individual disabled person as the “problem” rather than on addressing the barriers in society and the economy.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said she had become “frustrated” with how Miller constantly referred to working closely with DPOs “in such a way that it implied that we agreed with government policy and plans when the overwhelming majority of DPOs passionately disagree with the government’s approach”.
She said: “We hope the opportunity for a new minister will produce an opportunity to create a more balanced relationship.
“Any new minister is an opportunity to try and make contact and establish and communicate our concerns.”
Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said she was “really looking forward to working with David Laws [if he is given the SEN brief] and very much looking forward to meeting him next month”, an engagement previously set up with Teather.
Flood said: “I hope to persuade him about the merits and lasting benefits of inclusive education.”
Following Miller’s appointment, the government refused to say if she would present any medals to Paralympic athletes over the final days of London 2012.
She has presided over massively unpopular cuts and reforms to disability living allowance (DLA), announced the closure of the Independent Living Fund, and failed to ensure an assessment of the cumulative impact of a raft of welfare reforms and cuts to services on disabled people.
After the chancellor, George Osborne, was loudly booed when presenting medals in the Olympic Stadium, there were likely to be fears in Miller’s new department of a similar reaction – particularly from disabled people – if she was asked to present any medals.
As the new secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Miller would have been an obvious choice to hand out medals for a high-profile event in the last few days of the games.
But she has become a deeply divisive figure for many activists and has several times been the victim of angry heckling when speaking at events attended by disabled people.
A spokeswoman for the Government Olympic Communication office said: “As has been the case over the last days, ministerial involvement in the medal ceremonies is fairly fluid so we are not publishing or giving advance notice of who is giving out medals when and where.”
Inspectorate and watchdog could intervene in disabled prisoner’s health ordeal
Health experts from the prisons inspectorate are set to visit a disabled man whose life is at risk after being denied – his family say – the 24-hour care he needs for a serious health condition.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has also agreed to investigate the case of Daniel Roque Hall, who was sentenced to three years in prison in June.
Roque Hall was sent to Wormwood Scrubs prison, but his family and supporters believe he received nothing there but basic care. He is a full-time wheelchair-user and at home has a 24-hour care package.
He experiences pain and muscle spasms, fatigue, heart problems, diabetes, and difficulty with speech and swallowing, as a result of the life-limiting condition Friedreich’s ataxia (FA).
He usually carries out exercises – with the aid of a support worker – that help him maintain muscle strength, ease his pain, and prevent further deterioration to his health.
But he has apparently been denied access to any exercise equipment in the prison hospital wing, where he was being kept.
Two weeks ago, his condition deteriorated, and after lengthy delays, say his family, he was admitted to London’s University College Hospital with heart problems (tachycardia, a heart rate disorder).
When his mother, Anne Hall, was finally told of his transfer to hospital, she found him “emaciated, barely able to speak and barely able to recognise me”.
This week she said: “He did not nearly die because of an unavoidable deterioration in his condition… but because his signs and symptoms were ignored and denied by Wormwood Scrubs to him, to me and to others, over a considerable period time of time.
“The damage done to him physically and mentally is enormous and the consequences for the shortening of his already shortened life expectancy and quality of life are undeniable.”
Now HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) has agreed to send its own health inspectors to check on Roque Hall’s health if and when he returns to prison, as long as he gives his permission.
An HMIP spokeswoman said: “We have no powers to intervene or investigate individual cases.
“However, we have been made aware of the concerns about Mr Roque Hall and have asked for information about his situation.
“The prison have said that with his consent they are happy to provide information. If he is returned to the prison we will ask his permission for healthcare inspectors to visit him.”
Mark Hammond, chief executive of the EHRC, has also responded to concerns about the case, which were raised by the disabled campaigner John Knight.
Hammond told Knight in a letter on 29 August that the EHRC’s human rights review earlier this year “noted… that some prisons did not meet the health needs of certain prisoners through the lack of identification of their disabilities, lack of or delay in treatment and poorly coordinated care plans”, which he said “raises concerns about breaches of human rights obligations”.
He added: “Due to the seriousness of the issues you have raised I have referred your emails to the Commission’s Legal Directorate.”
He said EHRC lawyers would be writing to the prison to “make enquiries about the steps it is taking to meet Mr Hall’s needs, and any other prisoners in a similar situation, and what it is doing to ensure that all disabled prisoners will receive the necessary care in the future”.
An EHRC spokeswoman told Disability News Service that its legal team was “still considering the issues raised” but that it would “not be making any comments at this stage”.
Roque Hall, from north London, was stopped by UK Border Force officers at Heathrow airport last November with almost three kilogrammes of cocaine hidden in his wheelchair.
The charity Ataxia UK has said that the symptoms of his condition “require round-the-clock support to sustain safety and quality of life”, and that “without these services in place, health and wellbeing – both physical and emotional – will be considerably compromised as time passes”.
The Prison Service has refused to comment on the case, even if Roque Hall gives permission for his details to be shared with the media.
Disabled claimants feel ‘persecuted’ by WCA system, say MPs
A disabled Labour MP has delivered a passionate appeal for the government to fix the “fundamental” problems with its “fitness for work” assessment.
Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee, was speaking in a Commons debate for the first time since a serious injury in February that left her hospitalised.
She said that disabled people felt “persecuted” by the system that assesses their eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit.
Dame Anne told MPs in a debate on the performance of Atos Healthcare, the company that carries out these work capability assessments (WCAs) for the government, that there was “something fundamentally wrong” with the system, and the contract that had been awarded to Atos.
She said: “It is not enough for government to say that the genuine claimant has nothing to fear. In too many cases, genuine claimants are not scoring any points in their initial assessment.”
She pointed to the British Medical Association’s vote to scrap the WCA, and to the increased workload of GPs due to treating patients whose health has deteriorated because of their experience with their WCA.
Dame Anne said: “When my constituent, who has lost his job because he has motor neurone disease, scores zero on his WCA and is found fully fit for work, there is something wrong with the system.
“When some people would rather do without the money to which they are absolutely entitled rather than submit to the stress of a WCA, there is something wrong with the system.”
She added: “When someone with a severe illness has to fight for a year through an appeal to get the correct benefit, only to be called in almost immediately for another assessment, there is something wrong with the system.
“When people feel so persecuted, there is something wrong with the system.”
Dame Anne also pointed to the high percentage rate of successful appeals against being found fit for work, and the lack of an incentive for Atos assessors to “get the assessment correct first time”.
She said: “It is time for the government to act, because there is something fundamentally wrong with the whole system.”
The debate was secured by her fellow Scottish Labour MP Tom Greatrex, who has asked scores of questions about the WCA and the performance of Atos over the last year.
Greatrex was deeply critical of the government’s management of the Atos contract and its failure to fine the company for the large number of successful appeals.
He said there was a need for a process that “works in the interests of taxpayers, and of individual claimants and applicants”, and that “helps people who can work and does not hound those who cannot”.
Several MPs – in a debate dominated by Labour members – gave examples of disabled constituents who had been found unfairly fit for work, and had been forced to appeal to claim the ESA they were entitled to and needed.
The Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams said there “can hardly be an MP who has not had a constituency case involving Atos and the work capability assessment”.
He said there were “persistent complaints that Atos is working to targets to fail people”, and that disabled people were facing “continual reassessments”.
Another Labour MP, John McDonnell, said that his early day motion calling for Atos’s contract to be withdrawn, and for the WCA to be replaced by a new system, had secured the signatures of 103 MPS.
He said: “Surely after that, and following debate after debate and the protests on the streets, the government must reassess the role of Atos, and establish a new system based… on reputable, fair and equitable criteria.”
He said he shared the “disgust” of many disabled people’s groups that Atos had been allowed to sponsor the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and supported the week of protests against Atos – organised by the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts – that took place last week.
In one of his final actions as employment minister, before his promotion to justice secretary, the Conservative MP Chris Grayling told MPs that the WCA system had been “created by Labour four years ago when they were in government, and it is a system that we have consistently tried to improve”.
He added: “It is really important to emphasise that the reassessment of people on incapacity benefit is not a financial exercise and that there are no financial targets attached to it.
“It is about finding the right number of people who can make a return to work. It is not an exact science – it never was and never could be – but it is all about trying to help people back into the workplace if they can possibly return to it.”
London 2012: LOCOG has ‘let disabled people down’ on accessible info
London 2012 organisers have repeatedly refused to provide information for disabled visitors to the Olympic Park in accessible formats, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.
Ron Newman, co-ordinator of the London 2012 disability advocate group (DAG) – set up to support and engage disabled people in the games – spoke out in a final bid to force the organising committee LOCOG into action.
He and other disabled members of the group have been warning LOCOG for years that they must provide information in “easy read” and Braille versions to visitors on the Olympic Park, but their pleas have been ignored.
His call came only a day after the prominent disabled activist Ruth Bashall criticised London 2012 after helpline staff were unable to tell her if there was a charging point for her powerchair on the Olympic Park, or even if she could bring her charger with her through the security checkpoint.
Newman told DNS he was appalled by LOCOG’s failure on accessible information, and added: “They have let us down. LOCOG have let disabled people down.”
Newman worked for two years as a volunteer “trailblazer” for LOCOG and is now working as a “games-maker” on the Olympic Park, although he made it clear that he was speaking in his capacity as DAG coordinator.
He is working as a games-maker on a visitor information kiosk just outside the main Olympic Stadium but has no easy-read or Braille versions of information such as the daily athletics schedule, how the classification system works, and an explanation of each of the Paralympic athletics classifications.
During a typical evening athletics session, Newman says he has to turn down about 10 requests for easy read or Braille versions of information.
He said he and DAG repeatedly raised the need for information to be available on the Olympic Park in accessible formats and for games-makers to be trained on the accessibility needs of disabled visitors.
He said: “We were told by the diversity and inclusion team, ‘yes, guys, don’t worry, come the opening day of the Olympic Games everything will be sorted.’ So we believed them. They are the professionals.”
But Newman came onto to the Olympic Park on the second day of the Olympics as a spectator and was shocked to find that games-makers did not know what an induction loop was, or where the nearest accessible “Changing Places” toilet was.
Although the training for games-makers was improved in time for the start of the Paralympics, LOCOG is still refusing to supply information to visitors in accessible formats at its information points.
The only accessible format games-makers can offer on the information points is a large print version they can print out if requested by a visitor.
Newman said: “The Braille and easy read is still not here and we are in the Paralympic Games. I don’t know the reason behind it. I have given up asking. I just do my job as a games-maker.
“I offered to help them in the two-week break between the Olympics and the Paralympics but never got the call.”
Newman, a powerchair-user himself, also spoke out about the failure of the London 2012 ticketing team to send out information with tickets about the positioning of power-points on the Olympic Park available to recharge powerchairs.
He said DAG members had repeatedly raised this issue with the ticketing team but were told “we know what we are doing”.
Newman also criticised LOCOG’s failure to include information about charging points on the London 2012 website.
And he said power-points should have been available beside the wheelchair-accessible spaces inside all of the venues – rather than outside at information kiosks – so powerchair-users could recharge their chairs while they watched their events.
DNS understands that Chris Holmes, the multi-gold medal-winning Paralympian who is now director of Paralympic integration for LOCOG, has been informed about the problems with accessible information.
A LOCOG spokesman said the only “official publications” available at the information points were maps of the Olympic Park.
He said: “We endeavour to create all of our publications with accessible formats in mind.
“We have only ever produced publications in other formats on a request basis and the spectator guides which come with tickets are available in other formats on request. Information is also available online in a range of accessible formats.
“Sport schedules can and do change, therefore are not available in publication form. However, staff at the information points will print them off on the day.”
He added: “They do print off schedules but that is not an official publication. The fact that the information is available is because those people in the help points have made that information available.”
He has so far been unable to explain why Braille and easy-read versions of athlete classifications cannot be made available at the information points.
And he said he could not yet explain why information on charging points was not sent out with tickets to powerchair-users.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com