It’s all about finding your way around says R​ick Williams

Rick Williams runs his own business based in Brighton. The company have been around for about 20 years and supply consultancy and training services to organisations that want to improve their employment and services provided for disabled people.

Rick went blind in his mid-40s as a result of retinitis pigmentosa and this explains his lifelong commitment and passion for ensuring that disabled people, particularly those with sight impairments, lead as independent and inclusive a life as possible.

In this edition of Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos Rick discusses a variety of things which enable him to have a very full and active life.

Freeney Williams

iPhone and Ipad has a Text to Speech Function

Free Navigation support

Jaws Screen Reader

Apple Vis

Talking Microwave

Tactile Measuring Jug

Dymo Tape

Planes and Boats and the search for winter sun

I’ve just returned from a lovely break in the Carribean. Winter in the UK or somewhere nice and warm? Not a difficult decision! Two weeks cruising on a luxury liner being spoilt rotten sounds like a good idea. Well like everything there is another side.

First you have to get to the Carribean. This usually involves a long haul flight of around eight hours on an aircraft that lacks accessible toilets. One of the fundamental rules of flying long distances is to drink plenty of water. Not advisable if you can’t visit the bathroom. Our flight out to Barbados was nine and half hour long, the seats lacked and any form of adjustment and were extremely uncomfortable. Once we landed I had to wait an hour to be off-loaded from the plane. We were then taken straight to the ship, bypassing customs and the airport terminal toilets; the journey lasted another forty-five minutes. Embarkation took around half an hour, so I went eleven and three quarter hours without using the loo! Much self-control and crossing of legs is the name of the game

Cruise liners are brilliant from an access point of view, and P&O’s ship the Azura is no exception. She has spacious wheelchair accessible cabins with roll in showers,  lift access to all decks, swimming pool hoists making swimming possible for the most severely disabled passenger.

Picture of cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic
Cruise ships berthed in the Dominican Republic

The trouble begins when you go ashore. Our ship was able to berth in all the places we visited, so there was no need to use tender boats. To appreciate the Caribbean islands you need to venture inland, unfortunately, very few tour buses are wheelchair accessible. The result is that mobility impaired people are forced to stay close to the port to while away their time in endless identical shopping malls. P & O do provide a list of available tours but on our cruise, the accessible buses that were available only had one wheelchair space. I saw, at least, a dozen wheelchair users so this provision was wholly inadequate. In one location they had provided a shuttle bus to get passengers from the ship to the town. Unfortunately, those people using wheelchairs, but who could walk a little, were refused access because there was nowhere to store the wheelchair. It seemed a little ironic that the very people the shuttle was designed to help were excluded from using it.

I do understand some of the places we visited do not have the resources to provide the kind of accessibility we have come to expect in the UK but what I find puzzling is why P & O won’t do more to cater for the increasing number of mobility impaired passengers. The last straw was we

Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours
Sign in St Maarten advertising accessible tours

left the ship in St Maarten to see a kiosk a hundred yards from the port entrance advertising wheelchair accessible tours.

Many disabled people find cruising one of the best ways of taking a holiday, it is possible to see places that you might not otherwise be able to visit. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences so please send me your comments and I will do my best to see they are passed on.

To end on a more positive note the sun shone beautifully, my tan has improved, my waistline has expanded as a result of the food being plentiful and excellent, and we met some fascinating people.

Here are some links to this week’s other news. I hope you find them of interest.

Government agrees four more years of ILF transition cash for councils

Maximus ‘has falsified results of fitness for work tests’, says MP

Anger at Osborne’s working-age benefits freeze

Police duo jailed over failure to protect disabled murder victim

News provided by John Pring at



Should we campaign to make snow wheelchair accessible!!

Let me begin by wishing you a very Happy New Year. I hope you had a really relaxing time over the Christmas holiday and are now revitalised and refreshed. That is of course if you have been able to get back to work at all!! Snow maybe picturesque, visually stunning and all that kind of thing but it’s a total nightmare to push through if you use a wheelchair, even worse if you use sticks! I think we require amendments to the DDA to either have all snow ramped or provide snow chains for wheelchairs as a reasonable adjustment!!Any supporters?

On a more serious note this very cold weather has clearly caused major problems for severely disabled people particularly those who are older. What is often overlooked, of course is the additional stress this places on those people who provide care or support to family members or neighbours etc. Where would we be without them! The knock on effect for some employers, of course, is that some of their staff are unable to come into work not because they can’t but because they have additional caring responsibilities which may be unknown to the employer. The recent press coverage of the impact on employers caused by the closure of schools has not picked up on this issue.

I’ve posted a couple of stories that I think might be of interest to you but as always do drop me a note if you want to know more or if you have an issue you think I might help with.

Government launches ‘urgent review’ of Pathways to Work

The government has admitted that its Pathways to Work programme to help disabled people into work is “less effective” than it first thought, and has launched an urgent review.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the programme – first piloted in 2003 – had not helped as many disabled people into work as it had hoped.

An independent study into Pathways to Work pilots had found that disabled people in Pathways areas were about 25 per cent more likely to be in work after 18 months than those in non-Pathways areas.

But a report published last October found that when Pathways – which can offer work-focused interviews, help applying for jobs and managing a health condition, and financial assistance – was rolled out to other Jobcentre Plus areas it had no effect on employment rates, compared with non-Pathways areas.

Now the government has launched an “evidence-gathering review” of the back-to-work support provided by Pathways to people on incapacity benefit and the new employment and support allowance.

It aims to publish proposals on the future of Pathways this spring, but says it wants to move to a “simpler, stronger, more personalised model of support”, with a focus on “rights and responsibilities” and value for money.

Adrian Whyatt, chair of the user group Neurodiversity International, said the government had awarded Pathways contracts to large organisations which failed to involve or understand disabled people, while disabled people’s organisations were too small to bid for contracts.

The contracts failed to ensure providers set up boards of disabled people to control the programmes, so there was a “lack of expertise” at “every stage of the process”, he added.

A DWP spokesman said Pathways had helped more than 173,000 people into work, and helped to “significantly” narrow the gap between the overall employment rate and that of disabled people.

But he said more needed to be done, which was why the government was reviewing Pathways “to explore how we can further support those who can work fulfil that goal”.

He said the government believed that “organisations of all sizes, small and large, from the public, private and voluntary sectors, have an important role to play in helping people back to work”.

He added: “We work continuously with providers to help them find ways to improve and enhance the service they provide to this customer group, actively encouraging prime contractors to engage with niche providers who have the specialist knowledge necessary.”
Seminars will help disabled people become NHS leaders

Disabled people who would like to take up senior roles within their local NHS are being urged to sign up for a seminar to help them make successful applications.

The seminars in Manchester and London are being run by the disability charity RADAR and the Appointments Commission, the independent body that helps government departments and NHS trusts appoint their board members.

Those who attend will be told how to apply for roles as non-executive directors in primary care trusts, ambulance service trusts, acute or foundation NHS trusts, or strategic health authorities, and what their duties would involve if successful.

Government figures show that only one in 20 appointees to the boards of the UK’s 1,200 public bodies is disabled or has a long-term health condition.

The government aims to increase this to nearly one in seven new appointments (14 per cent) by March 2011.

Those who attend the free seminars will meet recruitment consultants and disabled people who have secured senior NHS positions, as well as the chief executives of RADAR and the Appointments Commission.

There are up to 20 places available at each seminar, all for people living with ill-health, injury or disability.

Mark Shrimpton, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, said: “These free of charge events are fantastic opportunities for people affected by ill health, injury or disability to prime themselves to make successful applications to help run their local NHS services in a paid capacity.

“Delegates will get a whole day’s access to the CEOs of both RADAR and the Appointments Commission, as well as other key movers and shakers.”

The Appointments Commission will also provide support in pursuing an appointment after the event for delegates with the right skills and experience.

The all-day seminars take place in London on 11 February and in Manchester on 1 March.

For more information, contact Nisha Patel at ortel: 020 7503 6177.

News provided by John Pring

In which RBS loses and the EHRC is under fire yet again!

Disabled people’s access needs received a boost this week when RBS lost the argument over whether it should or should not improve access for a wheelchair using customer. Also in the news the EHRC is under fire yet again this time because of an apparent u-turn by the government.
RBS loses loses appeal over ‘landmark’ access ruling

A bank will have to install a lift at a city centre branch after a disabled customer won an appeal court victory in a landmark discrimination case.

The Royal Bank of Scotland will have to carry out the building work – at an estimated cost of £200,000 – in order to make its Sheffield city centre branch accessible to wheelchair-users.

The case was brought by teenager David Allen, an electric wheelchair-user, who could not access the branch because the entrance was at the top of four steps.

Allen was forced to discuss personal details about his account in the street outside the branch.

Lord Justice Wall, one of the three court of appeal judges, said there were “reasonable steps” the bank could have taken to make the branch accessible.

He added: “The bank did not take those steps, giving as its reason, not the disproportionate cost of carrying out the work, but simply the fact that it would lose the use of an interview room.”

The bank had appealed against a decision by Sheffield county court in January that it had breached the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – the first time an injunction had been granted ordering work to be carried out to make business premises accessible.

The county court had rejected the argument that Allen should use internet banking instead, ruling that it was not the same service.

Sheffield Law Centre, which helped Allen bring the case, with funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the appeal court judgement stressed that services for disabled people must be as close as possible to those provided to the general public.

Allen’s compensation of £6,500 was the highest awarded for a failure to make reasonable adjustments under part three of the DDA, which relates to goods and services.

Allen was awarded an extra £3,000 compensation for ongoing discrimination, as the lift will not be installed until August 2010 – the total award of £9,500 is now the largest by a court under part three of the DDA.

After the judgement, Allen said: “I’m glad the bank finally had to apologise in court and acknowledge they treated me badly.”

But he added: “They just failed to understand anything about the need for privacy and dignity.”

Douglas Johnson, of Sheffield Law Centre, said the judgement would “make it easier and simpler” for courts to deal with complaints of disability discrimination.

He added: “The real access issue is about people and attitudes, not ramps and steps.”
Mystery over appointment of equality watchdog commissioners

The government has been unable to explain why it has performed a U-turn on cutting the number of commissioners appointed to the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Last week, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) announced the names of eight new commissioners, and two reappointed commissioners.

They will join five other EHRC board members who did not have to seek re-appointment, including the chair, Trevor Phillips.

But in July, the GEO said the number of commissioners would be cut from 15 to a maximum of 10 to “reflect a more streamlined and cost-effective board focused on delivering the equality bill”.

This week, a GEO spokesman insisted the U-turn was due to the “strong and impressive” field of more than 600 applicants.

He said: “In the summer we said that the board would be restructured with a new focus on delivery, and to ensure the commission has the right mix of skills for the next phase.

“Our priority was to ensure the recruitment of the best possible field of commissioners, bearing in mind our stated need for the board to be more tightly focused on delivery, with the right mix of skills, covering all the equality strands and more business expertise.”

But he said the strength of applicants allowed the GEO to appoint a “very strong board” who would “join the existing commissioners to create a stronger team to take forward the EHRC and help put the flesh on the bones of the equality bill”.

Meanwhile, the EHRC has announced the names of 61 community and voluntary organisations that will receive nearly £10 million in grants, as part of its strategic funding programme.

Several disabled people’s organisations secured large grants to develop advice, guidance and advocacy services.

They include Breakthrough UK, which secured £140,000; Darlington Association on Disability, which will receive £210,000; £150,000 for Disability Action Waltham Forest; and £300,000 for Disability Hackney.

Other recipients include Glasgow Disability Alliance, which secured £225,565 to develop the “next generation of disabled leaders”, in conjunction with Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living; and Living Options Devon, which has been given £351,306 to test a new, Deaf-led, rural advocacy, information and peer support service.

News provided by John Pring at