Government suggests long delay to disability strategy

The coalition appears to have ordered a lengthy delay to the publication of its cross-government disability strategy.

A consultation on the strategy ended in early March, and the government had promised that it would be published in the spring.

But a progress report on the government’s wider equality strategy, published this week, says the disability strategy will now be published “later this year”.

A discussion document published last December, Fulfilling Potential, provided few clues on the government’s direction, and asked disabled people to suggest “practical ways of making a real difference” to their lives.

Fulfilling Potential outlined three key areas: ensuring appropriate support, increasing individual choice and control, and changing attitudes and behaviour towards disabled people.

But Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, warned in its introduction that there was “a challenging economic climate so we have to think about what our priorities should be”.

More than 5,000 people attended events during the disability strategy consultation or submitted written feedback.

There are likely to be concerns that the delay is due to the steady and angry criticism Miller has faced from disabled people over her government’s cuts and reforms to services and disability benefits, and its approach to the equality agenda.

The Office for Disability Issues, which is responsible for the disability strategy, has so far refused to comment.

Meanwhile, in a policy u-turn, Miller announced this week that employers who recruit young disabled people – aged between 18 and 24 – through the specialist Work Choice employment programme will be paid up to £2,275 per recruit.

The scheme could support more than 1,000 disabled young people every year.

Miller told MPs: “This is at a time when they might be overlooked because of a lack of skills or experience and the scheme can therefore help reduce the scarring that young people face as a result of a recession.”

Earlier this month, the government was criticised for not including young disabled people on Work Choice as part of its new Youth Contract, a youth unemployment scheme which will see subsidies of up to £2,275 paid to employers who recruit 18-to-24-year-olds claiming benefits on the Work Programme.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Disabled people could already access the wage incentive through the Work Programme, the same as everyone else.

“However, we never ruled out extending this to cover other specialist employment programmes such as Work Choice.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Mobility Roadshow – it’s all about Mobility and DisabledGo will be there!

With a host of new products being announced, along with hundreds of popular tried and tested classics, the organisers of this year’s event are promising an exciting fresh look to the show.

The Mobility Roadshow returns to the East of England Showground, Peterborough on Thursday 21st, Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd June. Julie Fernandez, the disabled actress and lively campaigner, will declare the event open at 10 am on Thursday. As we do every year, DisabledGo will be at the event and you can find us on stand P6B.

Mobility Roadshow 2012

Other high-profile visitors include former Paralympian and presenter Ade Adepitan, that afternoon and motorsport marshal Steve Tarrant who begins his quest to achieve a 24-hour mobility scooter record at 2pm on the same day. Steve famously survived a near-fatal crash at Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2000.

As always at the heart of this popular event is the opportunity to and test drive a wide range of adapted vehicles and specialist conversions, including Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) and drive-from-wheelchair options. You can register for test drives now at www.mobilityroadshow.co.uk Don’t forget your licence on the day.

In Cyclone Technologies’ new Focus on Fitness Zone you can try all the latest kit to keep you fit and healthy, from gentle activity to full cardiovascular workouts and including the latest innovations in functional electrical stimulation technology. Here you will also see in action, the ReWalk ‘bionic’ walking system that famously enabled paraplegic Claire Lomas to walk the Marathon.

The Design Zone proved hugely popular last year and has now become a permanent feature, with support from the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art. This is your chance to meet designers and innovators in the new Café area to have your say and vote on looks and functionality of current and future independent living products.

For those seeking to expand their skills and knowledge, whether for leisure or career, there will be a wealth of course information and advice at the Open University Access Bus and AskJules helps young disabled adults through the transition from living with their families studying at college or sixth form into university.

The Roadshow Meet the Experts sessions return – check out www.mobilityroadshow.co.uk for subjects being covered.

Interactive Crafting is another new feature – taking place on the Saturday. You’ll find out how therapeutic it can be and learn new skills when Julie Fernandez returns to share her passion.

Mobility Roadshow 2012

Celebrating the 2012 London Olympics, visitors of all ages and sporting prowess can take part in a daily programme of mini-tournaments and events at the ‘Mobility Roadshow Olympics’ in the Sports Arena/Activity Zone, hosted by RGK Wheelchairs.

Cruise through the clouds in the Aerobility Flight Simulator, back by popular demand; get wheeling with Cyclefest all-ability cycling; test your reaction time on the roads at Autoadapt’s Driver Test Station rigs, and young disabled visitors can hone their wheelchair skills with Whizz Kidz.

As always the Mobility Roadshow is a lively interactive event for disabled people of all ages, so be prepared for a busy day exploring, vehicles, adaptations and conversions, motoring accessories, scooters and bikes, products for the home and children, clothing, gadgets and gizmos. Plus charities, information services, and organisations offering advice and products that include insurance, accessible holidays and accommodation, fitness and therapies.

Register for your free tickets now at www.mobilityroadshow.co.uk or call 0845 241 0390 and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Winners of the VisitEngland Access For All Award 2012 announced!

The Great North Museum: Hancock and The Leicester Theatre Trust scoop Gold.

The Great North Museum: Hancock and The Leicester Theatre Trust have both won Gold in the Access for All category of the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence 2012.  The coveted accolade was one of 19 presented at a glittering ceremony hosted by the national tourist board at the art-deco Athena in Leicester, on 22 May. These prestigious awards, currently in their 23rd year, promote excellence in England’s tourism industry and celebrate the very best the country has to offer.

Leicester Theatre Trust

A key category in the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence, The Access For All Tourism Award, recognises businesses that provide exceptional access for all visitors and was sponsored by DisabledGo. Presenting the awards was DisabledGo’s Head of Business Development, Anna Borthwick.

Gold winner, The Leicester Theatre Trust demonstrates a strong and on-going commitment to accessibility.  The spring/summer diary sees 7 assisted performances at The Curve theatre, where touch tours, care for assistance dogs and audio guides are just some of the services provided. The Great North Museum: Hancock equally impressed the judges with a ‘never finished’ attitude towards providing exceptional accessibility through regular input from disabled groups. The museum’s redevelopment has allowed for excellent physical access and a strong commitment to the needs of hearing and visually impaired visitors was evident.

The University of Leeds, which provides accommodation to guests during the summer vacation, was awarded Bronze.  Storm Jameson Court has recently been awarded ‘Access Exceptional’ under the National Accessible Scheme, and is also hosting the Canadian Paralympic Rugby Team. It has 23 new fully accessible rooms, and provides an ideal base to explore the buzzing city of Leeds or the surrounding countryside.

Three businesses were Highly Commended on the night. The UK’s largest indoor waterpark, Sandcastle Waterpark, created a splash with excellent testimonials and facilities including a new wet changing room with sensory equipment & hoist tracking system and pool accessible wheelchairs. The Beacon Museum impressed judges with comprehensive disability awareness training, strong information provision with various alternative formats and a good website.  The homely Abbey Guest House in Oxfordshire provides an impressive range of accessibility equipment and an excellent website including a detailed Accessibility section.

Great North Museum: Hancock

Other awards announced at the ceremony in Leicester included the best bed and breakfast in England, best small hotel, best tourism experience, Taste of England, sustainable tourism award and caravan holiday park of the year.  The 34 Gold and Silver winners were selected from a shortlist of 69 finalists, judged by a panel of tourism industry experts including VisitEngland Board Member David Orr and travel broadcaster Alison Rice.

VisitEngland’s Chief Executive, James Berresford, commented:
“The VisitEngland Awards for Excellence represent the highest accolade in English tourism. They champion the very best quality, and continue to help to raise standards across the industry, establishing England’s place as a world-class destination and a thoroughly fantastic place to visit. This year’s awards were the biggest ever, with a record number of almost 400 entrants from across the country. All our finalists are to be warmly congratulated for their success – particularly our Gold Award winners, whose passion and commitment to excellence is outstanding.”

DisabledGo’s commitment to its local community continues to grow

DisabledGo has been based in Stevenage for over six years and we wanted to give disabled people, their families, carers and friends the sort of opportunities to enjoy their local area that other people have in the 85 areas we already work. In 2010 we launched an access guide which covers everything, from leisure facilities, restaurants and hotels to retail outlets and transport interchanges. We continue to keep this up to date each year for free. http://www.disabledgo.com/en/org/stevenage-1

In 2011 DisabledGo’s founder and Chief Executive, Dr Gregory Burke took time out to visit and talk to a group of students from Lonsdale School in Stevenage. Lonsdale is a purpose built school for students with physical and neurological impairments. The aim of the visit was to inspire students and to make them realise that having impairment doesn’t stop you from excelling.

Lonsdale School

Our relationship with Lonsdale School has continued to grow and in 2012 DisabledGo staff took part in an activity morning where they talked to students about what DisabledGo does and why it’s important. Students then had the opportunity to be a ‘surveyor’ for the morning and produced an access guide to their school.

The aim of the event was to give young disabled people the confidence to recognise they can go on to access higher education or contribute to their local community.

Speaking after the event Janet Bucknell who organised the event for her students at Lonsdale said;

Lonsdale School

“Rachel Felton delivered an excellent workshop about DisabledGo. We started with a presentation and discussion, and then carried out some surveys within school. It was an extremely well received activity, and we look forward to more collaboration in the future.”

If you would like more information about the DisabledGo-Stevenage guide or Lonsdale School please contact Rachel Felton, External Relations Manager, DisabledGo. T: 01438 842710 E: rachel.felton@disabledgo.com

Three-year cruelty campaign was not hate crime, says judge

A judge has sparked concern after refusing to treat a three-year campaign of cruelty in which a disabled man was repeatedly beaten by relatives as a disability hate crime.

Preston Crown Court heard last week that Ghalib Hussain, who has epilepsy and learning difficulties, was beaten with a stick, had a jump-lead clamped to his nose, and was headbutted and whipped.

Hussain had come to Britain from Pakistan for an arranged marriage with the daughter of Nek Alam, 72, from Accrington.

But he was rejected by his new wife, and subjected to a three-year campaign of harassment and emotional abuse at the hands of Alam and his three sons, Zahir, 33, Zahoor, 32, and Janghir, 29.

All four pleaded guilty to putting Hussain in fear of violence by harassment, over a three-and-a-half year period between 2007 and 2010.

Nek, Zahir and Zahoor Alam were each jailed for 15 months, while Janghir Alam was jailed for 10 months.

The court had heard that one of the Alams described Hussain as “mentally sick”, another said he was “a burden”, while one of the sons said he had a “childish mind” and was referred to as “the clown or the mental case”.

But although Lancashire police and the Crown Prosecution Service both treated the offences against Hussain as disability hate crimes, the judge, Jonathan Gibson, refused to increase their sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for harsher sentences for hate crimes.

The judge told the court that he was “satisfied that this is a case where your frustrated reactions to his poor behaviour (as you saw it) overflowed and the poor behaviour was as a result of his disability”.

He added that Hussain had “displayed some difficult behaviour whilst in the care home [where he is now living] and, it seems to me, (and I sentence you on this basis) that he clearly displayed difficult behaviour whilst in your family home”.

A spokesman for the Judicial Office said the judge had told the court that he was sentencing the defendants “on the basis that they had not properly understood the nature of the victim’s disability and that they had reacted wrongly and criminally to what was, in their eyes, the victim’s difficult behaviour”.

But Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “It is going to frustrate us and the CPS when we are trying to drive the process of getting section 146 recognised if the courts are turning round and not applying what the CPS and the community feel is appropriate.

“I think it emphasises the fact that judges and magistrates do need to be brought into the real world in terms of training for the application of section 146.”

A CPS spokesman said: “The CPS explained the facts of the case to the court and suggested the court consider section 146… which sets out the basis for an increase in sentence where the circumstances of the offence show the offender demonstrated hostility towards the victim based on the victim’s disability or sexual orientation.

“We felt that was appropriate in these circumstances. The court did not agree with us that the specific circumstances of this offence fitted the criteria set out in section 146.”

He said the CPS was unable to comment further on the judge’s decision.

A Lancashire police spokeswoman said: “We did deal with it as a disability hate crime because that is how we perceived it to be.”

Asked how the force felt about the judge’s refusal to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, she said: “It would not be appropriate for us to be commenting any further.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

‘Fitness for work’ test under fire: Campaigners seek judicial review

Campaigners are to ask a judge to declare that the government’s controversial “fitness for work” test is unlawful because it discriminates against people with mental health conditions.

Two people with mental health conditions, both supported by the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), will be seeking permission for a judicial review at a hearing on 29 June at the high court in London.

Their lawyers will be arguing that the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) fails to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act for people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.

They want the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to agree to routinely seek medical evidence for such claimants in order to make an accurate assessment of their ability to work.

Currently, many claims are decided on the basis of assessments by healthcare professionals who are not specialists in mental health and have no medical evidence from the claimants’ GPs or consultants in front of them.

A legal victory – if a judicial review is granted and they succeed in their case – will not lead to the WCA being scrapped, but it is hoped that it will make it fairer and less stressful for those with mental health problems and learning difficulties.

Thousands of people with mental distress have been found unfairly fit for work after an assessment, since 2008.

Many go on to win an appeal against this decision, but some are unable to cope with an appeal, or experience a relapse in their health as a result of the appeal process.

The WCA was introduced by the Labour government in 2008 but is now a centrepiece of the coalition’s welfare reforms, and is used to determine eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit (IB).

The WCA has been the focus of a string of protests by disabled activists, who argue that the test is inaccurate, inflexible and damages the health or even contributes to or causes the deaths of some disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.

The MHRN was formed in 2010 by people claiming IB on mental health grounds, who were concerned about the proposed programme to reassess all those on the benefit for their eligibility for ESA.

Many of the network’s members have had relapses, episodes of self-harm and suicide attempts, and have needed higher levels of medication and even hospitalisation in the lead-up to their reassessment.

A DWP spokeswoman confirmed that the government would contest the case, but was unable to say anything further.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

‘Fitness for work’ test under fire: GPs say assessment must be scrapped

GPs have piled new pressure on the government after unanimously calling for it to scrap its controversial “fitness for work” tests.

The British Medical Association’s (BMA’s) annual conference of local medical committees, which represent GPs, passed a motion this week calling for the work capability assessment (WCA) to “end with immediate effect”.

They agreed that the assessment – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – should be replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to their patients.

The motion – which was also approved by Scottish GPs in March – says that the computer-based assessments “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long term sick and disabled persons”.

It was passed as the GP who submitted the motion to the conference of Scottish GPs, Dr Stephen Carty, told Disability News Service how one of his patients had tried to kill himself following a WCA.

Dr Carty, who is medical adviser to the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, is urging the government to create a mechanism to allow doctors to report similar cases in which a patient has been harmed as a result of the WCA process.

In the wake of this week’s vote, which means the motion is now official policy of the BMA’s GPs committee, a BMA spokeswoman said: “We have said that the government needs to look at it again and come up with a better solution.

“It is something the committee will push in discussions with the government over the next year.”

The assessment has caused mounting anger among disabled activists since its introduction by the Labour government in 2008.

They believe it fails to test accurately disabled people’s ability to work, particularly those with mental health and other fluctuating conditions, and has even contributed to or caused the deaths of some of those who have been inaccurately assessed.

Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA’s GPs committee, said: “When 40 per cent of appeals against the assessments are successful at tribunal hearings, something is clearly very wrong with the system.

“Being in work is good for people’s overall health and well-being, but GPs are seeing too many patients who genuinely need to be on incapacity benefit coming in very concerned and confused by the system.

“It’s not fair on these patients but it could also have a wider impact as well – having a lower income may lead to people having a poorer quality of health and could therefore increase health inequalities for our nation as a whole.

“The government needs to look again at the whole assessment process and replace it with one that is fit for purpose.”

John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, said that despite changes to the WCA implemented following reviews by Professor Malcolm Harrington, “nobody working with sick and disabled people, or disabled people themselves, have seen any improvements to the system”.

He said: “In fact, the system has gotten far, far worse for us and we expect exactly the same thing to happen with the abolition of disability living allowance and the introduction of personal independence payment.”

He added: “This is just the beginning. We fight on until all professional bodies and indeed all of civil society, join with us and the medical profession in refusing to be complicit in policies and systems that are killing sick and disabled people and driving a great many more into penury and destitution.”

The DWP has so far refused to comment on this week’s conference vote.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com