Inclusion fears over SEN pilot projects

Campaigners will try to convince local authorities testing out new government policies on special educational needs (SEN) to take an inclusive approach, despite the coalition’s “hostile” stance on including disabled children in mainstream schools.

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat children’s minister, this week announced 20 “pathfinder” schemes across England that will test out proposals in the special educational needs and disability green paper, which was published in March.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) has warned that measures in the green paper would set the fight for inclusive education back 20 years.

ALLFIE believes the green paper proposals would “dismantle” the framework of support for disabled learners, and cut the number of children identified as needing that support.

It also believes the proposals would create “many more hurdles” for parents to overcome in finding a school and securing an assessment of their children’s needs and funding for support, and would provide fewer opportunities for challenging the system.

The new pathfinder areas cover 31 local authority areas and the councils’ primary care trust partners.

Among the proposals to be tested are plans for disabled children to have their own education, health and care plan, lasting from birth to the age of 25.

Another is for disabled children and those with SEN to have their support delivered through personal budgets.

Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said she and other campaigners felt they were confronting a “hostile situation”, with the coalition having pledged to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”.

Flood said: “The worry for us is the lack of aspiration in the green paper. It is starting from a negative position.

“There are 20 [pathfinders] and we are going to do all that we can to try and push them to include inclusive practice and inclusive thinking as their pilots roll out, but I think it is going to be very difficult because they are working within parameters set by the Department for Education.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Figures raise fresh concerns over work of Atos

New research by disabled activists has produced fresh evidence of poor performance by the company paid to test disabled people’s “fitness for work”.

The results come from an online survey form hosted by the campaigning website AfterAtos, and cover responses from the last six months.

Although the results are not based on a random sample of disabled people who have undergone the work capability assessment (WCA) as part of their claim for employment and support allowance (ESA), they still provide further evidence of the anger felt by many of those tested by Atos Healthcare.

The AfterAtos website was set up in March by a disabled activist who uses the pseudonym “Aunty”, and provides a database of disabled people’s anonymous experiences of Atos and the WCA.

Her site is one of the internet forums and websites that have received legal threats from Atos over information posted on their sites.

She plans to send the report to Atos, and said it was the company’s failure to enable customer feedback about the assessments that was “bringing them into disrepute”.

She said the findings of the survey were “horrendous and very telling”, and she highlighted figures that showed the financial impact of the assessments, with 91 of the 140 respondents saying their finances had “greatly worsened” as a result of the test.

She also pointed to the findings about the Atos “healthcare professionals” employed to carry out the tests, with 65 of the respondents describing the attitude and behaviour of their assessor as “bad” or “very bad”, compared with 14 who found them “good” or “very good”.

Meanwhile, 92 of the 140 respondents said the assessor’s knowledge and understanding of their conditions were “bad” or “very bad”.

And 86 claimants said their experience of an Atos assessment and the subsequent decision on their ESA claim had “greatly worsened” their mental health.

One described how being found fit for work – and the subsequent lack of support and money – had led to a “mental breakdown”, and eventually to becoming suicidal, followed by admission to an acute psychiatric ward.

There was also evidence of continuing problems with the accessibility of the Atos assessment centres.

When asked how accessible the centre was for parking, 26 people said it was “bad” or “very bad”, while 33 said the accessibility of the building’s entrance was “bad” or “very bad”.

Only two of the 140 said access inside the building was “excellent”, while 36 described it as “bad” and 19 said it was “very bad”.

One claimant described arriving at the centre and finding they were to be interviewed in an upstairs room. “A stairlift is there but was broken awaiting repair on my visit which meant I had to shuffle my way upstairs. Even though it took me ten minutes to get up them the interviewer put that I could walk upstairs with no difficulty!”

Not one of the 140 respondents said the Atos assessment and subsequent support received from the government had improved their employment situation.

Of the 140 who took part in the survey, 110 have already lodged an appeal against the result of their ESA application. Of those who have had their appeal heard, 51 were successful and 35 have had the appeal turned down.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Business Women on a mission to change attitudes and improve deaf awareness

Profoundly deaf since birth, Ruth Fletcher has spent years working to raise awareness of the issues facing people with impaired hearing. She has held roles as Secretary and Chairperson of the Bolton Deaf Society and recently qualified as an accredited CACDP Deaf Awareness Tutor.

On a professional level, Ruth held a number of office-based jobs before being made redundant in October 2010. In pursuit of a new challenge, she felt it was time to put her personal experience to good use and tackle what she sees as an endemic lack of support for the deaf community.

She explains: “I felt frustrated and wanted to do something proactive to highlight the needs of deaf people across a broad spectrum of settings, such as the workplace or in a leisure environment like hotels.”  I want to show employers or clients what to be aware of when they first meet deaf/hard of hearing people because there has been lots of criticism.

Ruth decided that the best way to instigate positive change was to set up her own business helping organisations to recognise and respond to the needs of deaf people, whether employees or customers. With plenty of valuable insights and guidance to share, what she lacked was the knowledge required to set up and run a company, so she decided to find a course that would teach her these fundamentals.

“When I first left school, I went into my local college for RSA Stage 1 typing. A few years later, I decided to gain more qualifications as Secretarial field at Doncaster College of Higher Education for the Deaf, South Yorkshire for three years”.  Ruth initially investigated options at her local college but her deafness presented an obstacle to learning in a traditional classroom. While researching other routes on the internet she came across Home Learning College’s Certificate in Business Management. 

The course is accredited by EDI – one of the UK’s largest awarding bodies – and covers a wide range of topics including the legal aspects of employment and performance management.

“One of the biggest factors in my decision was the fact that I would get one to one tutorial support, which could be delivered by email or via the Virtual Learning Community,” explains Ruth. “This proved invaluable and my tutor was incredibly supportive and understanding. I was able to discuss all manner of topics and never felt awkward about asking any question. The fact that the course was done by distance learning also meant that I could work at my own pace without any pressure or stress.”

 Since finishing her course, Ruth has been successful in attracting start-up funding and is currently in the process of developing her brand and company website “How To Support the Deaf People within your workplace”.

If you would like more information please contact ruthy@supportthedeafpeople.co.uk

DisabledGo looks ahead to Naidex South 2011 – Celebrating independent living in London and the South East

Naidex South, 19 – 20 October
See the best products and services promoting independent living and get free advice at Naidex South (19-20 October, ExCeL London).
 
The show is FREE to attend and provides a unique opportunity for people in London and the southeast to touch, test and compare all the latest products, services and equipment that can make a real difference to everyday lives.
 
For the second year running DisabledGo will have a stand at Naidex South. The DisabledGo team will be on stand E35. To ensure you don’t miss out! Register for free entry at www.naidex.co.uk/south
For two days you can –
 
  • View the newest wheelchair adapted vehicles in the Car Zone
  • See the latest wheelchairs, mobility scooters, communication and daily living aids
  • Get free help and advice from an OT, Physio, SLT, equality and human rights advisor  and counsellor at Meet the Expert 
  • Visit the Independent Living Show Home and see the best in inclusive design, new technology and telecare products

 Register for free tickets here

The Equality Act – What’s it all about? DisabledGo answers your questions!

The Equality Act came into force in October 2010. At DisabledGo we often get asked for more information about the Act and the protection it provides disabled people from discrimination. Here are some of the most common questions and our answers.

Has the Equality Act replaced the Disability Discrimination Act?Yes.

The new Act has generally incorporated and strengthened previous legislation, which means in the majority of cases your rights as a disabled person have remained the same or have increased from those outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act.

Why is it the Equality Act not a new Disability Discrimination Act?

The Equality Act brings together a range of previous laws about different areas e.g. Age, Sex, Race, Disability. The idea is to make the law around equality issues consistent, clear and easy to follow. As well as covering disability the Act outlines the rights people have on the grounds of –

  • Age

    DisabledGo

  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

These 9 areas are referred to as Protected Characteristics.

Who does the Equality Act apply to?

The Act applies to –

  • Government departments
  • Service providers
  • Employers
  • Education providers (Schools, FHE colleges and Universities)
  • Providers of public functions
  • Associations and membership bodies
  • Transport providers

 What rights do I have as a disabled person under the Act?

The Equality Act has introduced a number of positive changes regarding the protection and rights of disabled people. Our next column will cover this in more detail. However, here is a brief introduction.

  • The Act provides protection for anyone who has, or has had, a disability.
  • It protects people from being discriminated against who are mistakenly perceived to be disabled and it protects a person from being treated less favourably because they are linked or associated with a disabled person.
  • The Act provides protection for people who are discriminated against because of something connected with their disability and introduces protection from indirect discrimination and disability related harassment in accessing services.
  • The law has changed slightly in relation to an organisation’s responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to premises and to policies, practices and procedures. Previously they had to be made by service providers only where it would otherwise be ‘impossible or unreasonably difficult’ for a disabled person to use the service. Now, adjustments must be made where disabled people experience a ‘substantial disadvantage’.
  • Lastly, there is now no need for a person believing they have been victimised to show that they have been treated less favourably than someone who has not made or supported a complaint under the Act. They only need to show that they have been treated badly.

Does the new law protect me as a carer?

Yes. If you’re looking after a disabled person, the law will protect you against direct discrimination or harassment because of your caring responsibilities. This is because you’re counted as being ‘associated’ with someone who is protected by the law because of their disability. If you are a carer you would have previously been protected from discrimination and harassment if they happened at work, but the Equality Act has now extended protection to not only cover work but –

  • when you shop for goods
  • when you ask for services
  • when you get services
  • when you use facilities like public transport.

Where can I go for advice about my rights?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides advice to individuals and organisations around the Equality Act and cases of discrimination. The commission also has powers that enable them to enforce the law. These powers include helping individual people with their legal cases; and taking legal action against organisations that appear to have broken the law.

If you have a question or topic you would like to see featured in this column in future please contact anna.borthwick@disabledgo.com

Research questions improvements to ‘fitness for work’ tests

New research has raised doubts over whether changes to the government’s “fitness for work” tests have made the assessments any fairer for disabled people.

The survey of welfare advisers by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) comes nearly 10 months after the publication of an independent review of the work capability assessment (WCA) called on the government to improve “every stage” of the much-criticised tests.

A report based on the DBC results has been sent to Professor Malcolm Harrington, who is now preparing his second annual review of the WCA, this time examining the need for further improvements and how the recommendations in his first review have been implemented.

Although the DBC said it welcomed Harrington’s recommendations, it said it was “clear that the reforms are taking time to translate into improvements for claimants”.

It says the key recommendation emerging from its members and the welfare advisers who took part in the survey was that greater efforts should be made to collect “additional medical evidence” about each benefit applicant, and that this should be “given more weight” by assessors and the civil servants who make the final decisions on the applications.

The consortium also calls for greater transparency in the assessment process, and improved training for assessors – employed by the private company Atos Healthcare – particularly on mental health and fluctuating conditions.

And it calls for changes to the “descriptors” – which describe the tasks or activities the claimant is asked if they can perform – to ensure they “more closely reflect someone’s ability to work”.

The consortium said it was “extremely disappointed” that applicants in only one part of the country – Wrexham, where a pilot scheme is taking place – are receiving a summary of their assessment that they can discuss afterwards with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

More than 90 per cent of the welfare advisers who took part in the survey said they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” that major changes to the “descriptors” – introduced by the government in March after an internal review – had made the test fairer and more accurate.

These changes were criticised by the government’s own benefits advice body, the social security advisory committee, as well as disability organisations, peers and MPs.

One respondent to the survey said: “I’ve been completely astonished at the severity of disability that some clients have and are still being scored ‘zero’ points.”

The DBC called for the descriptors to be revised, particularly to improve assessments of those with mental health and fluctuating conditions.

It also noted that there continued to be a “high degree of mistrust” of Atos, while more than 87 per cent of those surveyed said the accuracy of reports by Atos assessors had not improved since the start of 2011.

Meanwhile, new research for the DWP has shown how few successful ESA claimants are eventually finding jobs, even if placed in the “work-related activity group” for those disabled people found able to return to employment in the future.

The report says just nine per cent of those who were not in employment before their successful ESA application were in work a year to 18 months after their initial claim.

For those who had been in work before their claim, about a quarter had returned to work by the time of the follow-up survey.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Liberal Democrat conference: New scheme should see more disabled MPs

A new programme aims to help the Liberal Democrats increase the number of disabled people – and other under-represented groups – elected to represent their party as MPs.

The Liberal Democrat leadership programme was launched by the party’s leader, Nick Clegg. The first eight candidates have already been selected.

The programme is designed to support about 50 future parliamentary candidates through training, mentoring, and shadowing existing elected officials.

At least two candidates from the programme will be shortlisted to fight each priority seat, if enough of them apply. Ten per cent of the places on the scheme will be reserved for disabled people.

Greg Judge, a disabled activist from Coventry, was among the first eight party members selected for the leadership programme.

Judge, an executive member of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, said he believed the programme would lead eventually to more disabled Liberal Democrat MPs.

And he said that other parties could be watching the success of the new programme closely.

He said: “It gives us the assured knowledge that we will at least be put in front of a panel and have a consideration of what we have to offer local parties.

“It gives us the leg-up we need in order to overcome the limited representation that diverse demographics currently have in the UK.”

Last week, the government announced that – following a consultation – it had decided to go ahead with five of six proposals aimed at supporting more disabled people to become local councillors and MPs.

Most of the £1 million-a-year package will go towards setting up a fund to help disabled people with the impairment-related costs of running for office, and providing them with training and development opportunities.

But the government will also work with political parties, the Local Government Association and disability organisations to raise awareness, and work with parties to promote their legal obligations under the Equality Act and analyse their existing access policies.

The government said that the sixth proposal – to set up a network of disabled MPs and councillors to act as role models –would not go ahead, because of the comparative lack of support for it during the consultation and the level of funding required.

The Government Equalities Office is to work with other organisations to develop the five proposals.

The announcement came more than 18 months after the cross-party speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation reported on ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com