Jack Ashley: Tributes paid to ‘trailblazing’ MP and peer

Tributes have been paid across the disability movement to Lord [Jack] Ashley, the UK’s first deaf MP and a hugely committed campaigner for disability rights for more than 40 years, who died on Friday (20 April).

Many spoke of his fearsome campaigning skills, his commitment to the rights of disabled people, and his personal charm, while he was once described by Labour’s Gordon Brown as “a shining beacon for honour and decency”.

Others highlighted his vital contribution to breaking down the barriers to disabled people’s participation in public life.

Jack Ashley lost his hearing in 1967, soon after being elected as a Labour MP, and would have resigned but was urged to stay on by the Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson.

Ashley learned to lip-read, and rebuilt what had been a promising political career – with the support of his wife, Pauline – working as a profoundly deaf MP for 25 years, before partially regaining his hearing through a cochlear implant after he had retired as an MP and been made a Labour peer.

Jack Ashley was prominent in a string of high-profile campaigns on behalf of disabled people over four decades, both as an MP and later as a member of the Lords.

One of the most successful was his parliamentary and public work to fight for compensation for people born with impairments caused by their mothers taking the drug thalidomide while pregnant in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Guy Tweedy, a thalidomide survivor and a leading disabled activist himself, said: “He was a great inspiration for disabled people and for thalidomide victims in the UK. He was one of my heroes.

“Jack Ashley has a special place in our hearts because he brought it to the attention of the nation. He put pressure on the government and on Distillers [the company which marketed the drug thalidomide in the UK]. His contribution was massive.”

Tweedy points to a parliamentary debate in November 1972, which opened with Ashley describing Distillers’ efforts to avoid paying decent levels of compensation for 10 years as “a shocking example of man’s inhumanity to man, not to mention this firm’s inhumanity to the children”.

The MP went on to describe the company’s behaviour as “a grave national scandal, a display of moral irresponsibility which has seldom if ever been surpassed”.

As a result of working on Alf Morris’s ground-breaking chronically sick and disabled persons bill, Ashley had set up the all-party parliamentary disability group (APPDG) in 1969, which he continued to chair until 2009, then becoming its president.

He was the first MP to raise the issue of domestic violence in parliament, and campaigned for subtitling of television programmes, and for winter fuel payments for disabled people under 60 with high support needs.

He also played a leading role in pushing for disability discrimination legislation, introducing his own private members’ bill in 1983, paving the way more than 10 years later for the first Disability Discrimination Act.

More recently, he twice introduced another private members’ bill in the House of Lords, this time to try to guarantee disabled people a legal right to independent living. The bill won support in the Lords, but failed in the Commons because of government opposition.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, which provides administrative support for the APPDG, and supported the independent living bill, said Lord Ashley had “transformed politics and placed disabled people’s right to choice and control at the very heart of the political debate”.

Lord Ashley’s fellow disabled peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, said she was “deeply saddened” to learn of his death and would “miss him very much”.

She worked with him for more than 25 years on numerous disability rights campaigns, and took over from him as co-chair of the APPDG in 2009.

She said: “He always understood what we were trying to achieve and did everything in his power to push our agenda hard in parliament.

“He was the most effective MP – and then Lord – I have ever met. I suspect this was due to his combination of personal experience of disability, political astuteness and wonderfully persuasive manner.

“He inspired me to take my knowledge and experience into the belly of the beast to fight alongside him and supported me every step of the way.”

She and Labour MP Anne McGuire, her APPDG co-chair, said later in a statement: “By speaking out powerfully against discrimination and neglect and campaigning for an equal society, Jack changed the lives of many disabled people and enabled them to lead fulfilling lives.

“Thanks to his efforts, human rights and non-discrimination legislation and measures to end disability poverty were introduced, whilst he raised a greater awareness of disability equality across the whole spectrum of government policy.

“As a deaf parliamentarian he paved the way for disabled people to become leaders and spokespersons in our democracy. He demonstrated that it is often a matter of attitude to break down barriers to political participation.”

Disabled activist Nick Danagher first met Ashley when he was visiting one of the first “integrated” schools – at which Danagher was a pupil – and said he made a “huge impression” on him and remained a “massive influence”.

He said: “We were used to having the great and the good visiting the unit but he would talk to people on an equal basis, telling us that our school was really important because of its modern approach.”

In later years, Danagher met Ashley several times as a disabled activist and found him “really charming and a really good communicator”.

“He could talk to disabled people with great credibility but he also got listened to by ministers. He was a great orator and sometimes great orators will appear very insincere, but you believed that he really truly believed what he was saying.”

He added: “He was on the inside of the establishment but still very much one of us. I think he was part of the movement. He brought that sort of statesmanlike authority to our messages about the need for legal rights, and not just for people to be nice to us.”

The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg said it was the example of Jack Ashley that convinced her that she could become an MP herself.

Ashley, she said, was “a trailblazer” who had convinced the Commons authorities that he needed things done differently and that “there was not just one way of doing things”.

“I thought that if he and David Blunkett could do it, I could do it.”

She said that Ashley “would not take no for an answer”, but was also “a lovely, lovely man”, and someone who managed to build a cross-party consensus on the need for disability rights legislation.

She said it was his personal experience of disability that gave him the “edge” over other MPs who campaigned on disability rights, such as Alf Morris and Tom Clarke.

Lord Ashley was also vice-president of the National Deaf Children’s Society. The charity’s chief executive Susan Daniels said he was “a passionate advocate for deaf and disabled people” and an “inspirational figure”, and had left behind a “truly great legacy”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DisabledGo’s new IPhone app gets over 1000 downloads in just 4 weeks!

Our new IPhone App, ‘My DisabledGo London’ has received a fantastic response since it was released last month.  In just under 4 weeks it was downloaded by over 1000 people.

The App, which has been designed for anyone wanting to find out more about disabled access across the Capital, reached the top 40 of the UK navigation charts.

The App, which is based on feedback from over 100 involvement events held in 2011, has been developed in partnership with 20 London Boroughs.

We have been thrilled with the feedback we have received and the great suggestions of how we can improve and develop the App in the future.

Here is just a taste of the reviews received so far –

“Awesome, best app I have seen. It has pictures of bathroom layouts and details galore. I am a wheelchair user so I would use this app all the time in London. I want all cities to have an app like this one.”

“I wish I had this sooner! An amazing app giving you all the information you need to plan a trip! I feel so much more confident about going out. It’s so easy to use and looks great too!”

“Great App, really detailed information and miles away from the usual ‘disabled access’ one liners. Very impressed.”

So, if you haven’t downloaded the App yet why not give it a try and let us know what you think.  It’s totally free and available on App Store or you can visit DisabledGo’s website www.disabledgo.com for further information.

Please help us spread the word!

Naidex looks ahead to 2012

Naidex National takes place 1st-3rd May at the Birmingham NEC and is set to be an excellent show for healthcare professionals, trade, members of the public, and exhibitors alike. Registration for free tickets and more information on the event can be found at www.naidex.co.uk where you can also find details on all the products and services that will be on show along with details of the various features and activities available at Naidex 2012.

Event Director Liz Logan commented: “2012 is going to be a fantastic year in the history of Naidex and the excitement of the Paralympic Games is certainly giving the show a fresh buzz. We aim to provide visitors with an experience that will inspire and engage them, and with enhanced features and innovative new products on display a visit to Naidex National this year is a must for anyone affected by disability or long term illness. ”

Visitors to the 2012 event can expect to see all of the Naidex favourites that make visiting so worthwhile, such as the Car Zone, KideQuip and Meet the Expert, not forgetting the 1000s of independent living solutions being showcased by the Naidex exhibitors. There will also be a wealth of free help and advice provided by OTs, counsellors, speech & language therapists, physiotherapists and paediatric experts on a wide range of topics and issues, so start preparing your questions for the experts now. Among these features, healthcare professionals will benefit from attending the new Naidex Conference that will offer free CPD knowledge building and career enhancing seminars and workshops.

You can count on the Naidex team to bring you exciting new features and zones each year, ensuring that the show provides something for everyone, and 2012 is no exception. New features of Naidex National 2012 include the Sports and Rehab Zone, an area of the show dedicated to sports products and the latest specialist exercise equipment for home rehabilitation to help improve quality of life and productivity of users, and a Sensory Room displaying the latest in sensory toys and equipment.The Independent Living Show Home will be inviting visitors to see how the latest products work realistically within the home to improve independence, and with new product trails marked through the show floor it will be easier than ever to find what you are looking for.

Mark Butterworth has a profoundly disabled son who needs highly specialist equipment. He says that by visiting Naidex he and his family get all the help and advice they need: “We can get these products on the internet, but you can’t really compare or touch them, so it’s great to see everything together under one roof and get advice there and then. Naidex has everything we need and more; it really opens your eyes to what’s out there and we just wouldn’t know what’s available without coming.”

So if like Mark you are looking for the latest equipment and advice on what products are best suited to your budget and needs, put 1st-3rd May in your diary and make the most of visiting the UK’s largest disability, homecare and rehabilitation exhibition. Make it a fun day out and visit www.naidex.co.uk to register you, your friends and family for free tickets by quoting priority code EP1.

New access guide to Cheshire West and Chester goes live!

Cheshire West and Chester Council have joined our online access guide www.disabledgo.com providing a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to know more about access to the area.

The guide to Cheshire West and Chester covers over 1000 venues across the area including – cinemas, hotels, parks, leisure centres, state offices, high street stores, restaurants, tourist attractions – the list goes on and on.

The guide, which launched on Thursday 26th April at the Cheshire West and Chester HQ building will enable residents and visitors to find out whether venues have adapted toilets or parking close by but also specific details such as whether there are tactile or Braille markings in lifts or on doors, the dimensions of toilets, the positioning of fixtures and fittings and whether you can request large print or Braille information.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Councillor Brenda Dowding, Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Health said:

“Independence is an important part of everyone’s life. Cheshire West and Chester Council recognises this and is committed to continually improving services to make them more accessible for everyone within the community.”

“I am sure that the launch of this guide will have a wide-ranging, positive impact on disabled people living in, and visiting, our Borough. It will enable disabled people and their families and carers to make informed choices about which premises to visit.

“I am particularly impressed that the information contained in the guide has been researched by disabled people, for disabled people.”

DisabledGo have been working in Cheshire West and Chester with the support of the Council, as well as with the help of three local surveyors who have been trained and employed by DisabledGo especially for this project.

All of the information provided on DisabledGo-Cheshire West and Chester will also be available on the ‘Looking Local’ service on the red button on your TV, so if you don’t have access to a computer at home you can still get the information you need.

If you would like more information please contact Rachel Felton, External Relations Manager (E: rachel.felton@disabledgo.com T: 01438 842710).

Government forces legal aid cuts back into bill

Coalition MPs have overturned changes to government legislation that would have made it easier for many disabled people to apply for legal aid.

They backed a government amendment to the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which reinstated plans for all those seeking legal aid to be forced to use a telephone helpline as their first point of contact.

The government wants to cut about £350 million a year from the £2 billion legal aid budget for England and Wales by 2014-15, but the telephone helpline measure would save less than £2 million a year.

Last month, the disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson spearheaded a successful amendment to the bill, which meant disabled people would have been able to access the system in the most accessible way for their own needs, such as a face-to-face meeting.

But Conservative justice minister Jonathan Djanogly told MPs, when the bill returned to the Commons this week, that using a telephone helpline as the first point of contact would “modernise the system and bring it up to date”.

He said that phone-based advice had often been shown “to be more convenient and accessible than face-to-face advice, particularly benefiting those living in remote areas or those who have a physical disability”.

But the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes criticised his own government’s plans and said he was “not persuaded” that a telephone route was “right for everybody”, such as those with mental health conditions or learning difficulties.

And Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the problems of many people with learning difficulties, mental health conditions or communication impairments could be “compounded” by having to explain their problems over the telephone.

There was a partial government concession on another area of the bill that had concerned disabled campaigners.

Last month, peers passed an amendment which would have ensured legal aid was retained to cover the initial appeals of people with complex benefits problems.

But justice secretary Kenneth Clarke told MPs this week that the government could not afford the £25 million a year cost in what was a “relatively low priority area”, as welfare benefits problems “should not generally require specialist advice”.

He did though offer a concession that would allow legal aid for benefits decisions that were being challenged “on a point of law” if those appeals reached the upper tribunal, court of appeal and Supreme Court.

He said the Ministry of Justice was discussing with the Department for Work and Pensions how this could also be extended to initial “first-tier” tribunal hearings for benefits appeals, again only for cases involving legal issues.

But Labour MP Jenny Chapman said social welfare law advice was vital to correct cases in which disabled people had been “blatantly wrongly assessed”.

She said Freedom of Information Act requests showed 32 claimants of employment and support allowance a week were dying after being found “fit for work” by the government’s much-criticised contractor, Atos Healthcare.

Chapman said: “Once internal reviews and first-tier tribunals are exhausted, further appeals can only be on points of law and not on the facts of a case.

“The government’s acceptance of higher courts and not tribunals is like saying, ‘Here’s a penthouse, but we’ve locked the staircase and lifts.’ Far too many disabled people will not get the help they need.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Banks must do more on access, says charity

A disability charity is calling on the banking industry to do more to make its services accessible to blind and partially-sighted people.

RNIB issued the call as it published a new guide offering advice to the financial industry on how to improve services for almost two million people living with sight loss in the UK.

RNIB research from 2009 found less than a third of blind and partially-sighted people could manage their finances independently, while nine in ten told a survey last year that they found it difficult or impossible to use a cash machine on their own.

The new guide, The Banking Experience, also says that more than a third of blind and partially-sighted people still do not receive their bank statements in their preferred format.

Lesley-Anne Alexander, RNIB’s chief executive, said: “Being able to manage your money is an essential component to leading an independent life.

“It is shocking that the majority of blind and partially-sighted people aren’t able to independently use ATMs [cash machines], and that a significant number still do not receive financial information in accessible formats.

“We hope this new guide will help banks to better meet the needs of their blind and partially-sighted customers.”

The new guide – due to be launched next week in the City of London – points out that clearer signage, better support from staff, and improved online services would also benefit older people and disabled people with other impairments.

It offers advice on areas such as customer service and disability awareness training; physical access within bank branches; the accessibility of over-the-counter services; online and telephone banking; and access to information.

The guide also calls for more banks to introduce talking cash machines, an issue RNIB has been campaigning on since last September.

One of the blind and partially-sighted people RNIB talked to for the guide said: “I’m desperate for ATMs [cash machines] to be made more accessible to blind and partially-sighted people.

“It would make such a difference to be able to draw out money in this way without having to reply on my fiancé and would enable me to feel so much more independent.”

The guide has been endorsed by the British Bankers’ Association and Martin Lewis, founder of the website MoneySavingExpert.com.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Websites suffer in comparison with decent access standards

Leading price comparison websites are ignoring their legal obligations to make their sites accessible to disabled people, according to a new report.

The disability charity AbilityNet, which analysed the accessibility of five sites for its report, said disabled people should be a significant market for any retail website, because they “often have less cash and less opportunity to shop around the physical high street”.

The charity tested the accessibility of Compare the Market, Go Compare, mySupermarket, Kelkoo and Confused.com.

Not one of the five achieved the three-star rating that indicates a basic level of accessibility for disabled people.

It found four of them – with one star each – were potentially breaching the Equality Act, while Kelkoo – the only site to gain two stars – only satisfied some legal accessibility requirements.

One blind user of screen-reading software who tested the mySupermarket site said they would rather “starve” than use it to buy groceries.

Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion, said: “Like everyone else in these hard times, the country’s 12 million disabled people want to get the best deal when they’re shopping, whether that’s for insurance, groceries or anything else.

“But these cash-strapped shoppers are losing out due to badly-designed web pages that prevent them from shopping around and accessing the online bargains they need to make ends meet.”

He added: “It is just as illegal to bar disabled visitors from accessing your goods and services online as it would be to keep them out of your shop in the ‘real world’.”

A Compare the Market spokeswoman said: “We are always looking at ways to improve what we do and we have taken AbilityNet’s report very seriously.

“We are reviewing the report and looking at their findings and after that process has concluded we will see what changes we can make.”

Chris Simpson, chief marketing officer for Kelkoo, said his company would “look carefully at the findings of this research and, where possible, review our practices to improve this experience for disabled people”.

He said: “We are certainly open to further talks with AbilityNet to understand more about the study and how we can improve our score going forward.”

A Gocompare.com spokeswoman said: “We’re keen that Gocompare.com should be easily accessible to as many users as possible.

“We welcome this report and will be looking carefully at the findings to see where improvements can be made.”

No-one from Confused.com was able to comment, and mySupermarket did not reply to requests for a response to the report.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com