Coventry launches access guide to the City in time for the Games!

Coventry is the latest city to join online access guide www.disabledgo.com providing a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to know more about access to the City during the Games.

The guide to Coventry covers over 1000 venues including – The City of Coventry Stadium where they will be hosting the football during the Olympics. The guide also covers everything from cinemas, hotels, parks and leisure centres to council offices, high street stores, restaurants and tourist attractions.

The guide, which launched on Tuesday 17th July 2012 will enable residents and visitors to find out whether venues have accessible 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.

DisabledGo have been working in partnership with Coventry City Council to produce the guide and have employed local disabled people to work as part of the surveying team. The local surveyors have been trained and employed by DisabledGo especially for this project.

Speaking about the guide local surveyor Robert Wright said;

“The DisabledGo online guides help disabled people along the long and difficult journey towards optimum independence.  Optimum independence means being able to go to a shop, a restaurant, a cinema or a public building in the knowledge that you can do your business as easily as the rest of the population.  The sooner the guides cover the whole of the UK the better.

Identifying access issues is in itself a valuable service for disabled people.  Equally important is the effect of the surveys for the guides in raising awareness of the needs of disabled people.”

All of the information provided on DisabledGo-Coventry 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.

To view the guide, please go to http://www.disabledgo.com/en/org/city-of-coventry we would love to hear what you think.

If you would like more information about DisabledGo please contact Dean Eales, Partnership Administrator (E: dean.eales@disabledgo.com T: 01438 842710).

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Access to Work figures are ‘disgraceful’, says shadow minister

New figures that show how the number of disabled people receiving funding through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme has plummeted since the coalition came to power are “disgraceful”, according to a shadow minister.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show the number of people claiming funding through the employment support scheme fell by more than 5,000 to 30,690 last year, a drop of nearly 15 per cent on 2010-11.

The fall in “new customers helped” has been even more marked, with only 9,930 disabled people claiming funding for the first time in 2011-12, a fall of a quarter since 2010-11 and more than 6,500 lower than in the last year of the Labour government.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the figures were “a disgraceful indictment of the government’s commitment to using Access to Work as the primary means of support for disabled workers in employment”.

And she said they also called into question statements made to MPs by Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people.

She questioned Miller earlier this month about falling AtW figures, and was told to “check her facts” and that the government was “marketing Access to Work actively to make sure that more people can use it to get into work”.

McGuire told Disability News Service this week: “Well, the figures are now there for all to see and it is truly shocking that any minister for disabled people could take any pride in them.

“These figures highlight yet again that the government are failing disabled people in employment as well as in welfare reform.”

The latest figures follow a series of concerns about the coalition’s commitment to the AtW scheme – which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support to make workplaces more accessible – since it came to power in 2010.

A review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), called last year for the number of disabled people receiving AtW to double, so the scheme could change from being the “government’s best-kept secret” into a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.

But instead the numbers claiming AtW have plummeted since Sayce handed her report to the coalition.

DR UK declined to comment on the new AtW figures this week.

But when the government initially responded to Sayce’s report last July, it warned that her AtW recommendations could put “additional pressure on funding at a time when resources are limited”.

Concerns over the government’s willingness to increase AtW spending increased earlier this month after Miller announced a series of minor reforms that focused on marketing and awareness-raising.

Instead of implementing Sayce’s AtW proposals, Miller set up a new “expert advisory panel”, to advise the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “on the best way to take forward Liz Sayce’s recommendations”.

A DWP spokeswoman insisted this week that the government had “invested more money than ever before into the scheme” but accepted that “we need to do more to raise awareness of the scheme amongst all disabled people”.

She said: “That is why we are launching a marketing campaign and have set up an expert panel to look at how we can expand, strengthen and modernise AtW to make work and choice of work possible for many more disable people.”

She also referred to the £15 million the government was adding to the AtW budget as a result of the Remploy sheltered factory closures, which she claimed would “support 8,000 more people to get into and stay in work”.

But she refused to comment on why the number of people claiming AtW had fallen so sharply.

Meanwhile, Miller has announced that a £3 million fund set up to support the growth of disabled people’s organisations has been extended to Scotland and Wales.

The Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme will now allow grassroots organisations in Scotland and Wales to join those in England in bidding for money to fund projects that will help them become more sustainable.

So far more than half a million pounds has been paid out since the fund was launched in July 2011.

For information on AtW, visit the government’s Directgov website.

New figures that show how the number of disabled people receiving funding through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme has plummeted since the coalition came to power are “disgraceful”, according to a shadow minister.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show the number of people claiming funding through the employment support scheme fell by more than 5,000 to 30,690 last year, a drop of nearly 15 per cent on 2010-11.

The fall in “new customers helped” has been even more marked, with only 9,930 disabled people claiming funding for the first time in 2011-12, a fall of a quarter since 2010-11 and more than 6,500 lower than in the last year of the Labour government.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the figures were “a disgraceful indictment of the government’s commitment to using Access to Work as the primary means of support for disabled workers in employment”.

And she said they also called into question statements made to MPs by Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people.

She questioned Miller earlier this month about falling AtW figures, and was told to “check her facts” and that the government was “marketing Access to Work actively to make sure that more people can use it to get into work”.

McGuire told Disability News Service this week: “Well, the figures are now there for all to see and it is truly shocking that any minister for disabled people could take any pride in them.

“These figures highlight yet again that the government are failing disabled people in employment as well as in welfare reform.”

The latest figures follow a series of concerns about the coalition’s commitment to the AtW scheme – which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support to make workplaces more accessible – since it came to power in 2010.

A review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), called last year for the number of disabled people receiving AtW to double, so the scheme could change from being the “government’s best-kept secret” into a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.

But instead the numbers claiming AtW have plummeted since Sayce handed her report to the coalition.

DR UK declined to comment on the new AtW figures this week.

But when the government initially responded to Sayce’s report last July, it warned that her AtW recommendations could put “additional pressure on funding at a time when resources are limited”.

Concerns over the government’s willingness to increase AtW spending increased earlier this month after Miller announced a series of minor reforms that focused on marketing and awareness-raising.

Instead of implementing Sayce’s AtW proposals, Miller set up a new “expert advisory panel”, to advise the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “on the best way to take forward Liz Sayce’s recommendations”.

A DWP spokeswoman insisted this week that the government had “invested more money than ever before into the scheme” but accepted that “we need to do more to raise awareness of the scheme amongst all disabled people”.

She said: “That is why we are launching a marketing campaign and have set up an expert panel to look at how we can expand, strengthen and modernise AtW to make work and choice of work possible for many more disable people.”

She also referred to the £15 million the government was adding to the AtW budget as a result of the Remploy sheltered factory closures, which she claimed would “support 8,000 more people to get into and stay in work”.

But she refused to comment on why the number of people claiming AtW had fallen so sharply.

Meanwhile, Miller has announced that a £3 million fund set up to support the growth of disabled people’s organisations has been extended to Scotland and Wales.

The Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme will now allow grassroots organisations in Scotland and Wales to join those in England in bidding for money to fund projects that will help them become more sustainable.

So far more than half a million pounds has been paid out since the fund was launched in July 2011.

For information on AtW, visit the government’s Directgov website.

London 2012: Paralympian warns DLA cuts could ‘jeopardise independence’

Disabled people’s independence could be jeopardised by the government’s planned cuts to disability benefits, according to a leading Paralympian.

David Clarke, who will captain Britain’s blind football team at next month’s Paralympics in London, said he believed cuts of 20 per cent to spending on disability living allowance (DLA) could put people’s independence and equality of opportunity at risk.

And he said that the focus on forcing disabled people off incapacity benefits and back to work ignored the barriers in society and workplaces that can prevent them from finding jobs.

Asked by Disability News Service (DNS) about the cuts to disability benefits, he said: “It does seem as though disabled people’s independence is being jeopardised by the government’s proposals and I think what worries me is that it has been done with good intentions in certain areas, but it is so wide of the mark.”

Speaking at the official launch of the ParalympicsGB team for London 2012, Clarke said the push towards forcing disabled people off out-of-work disability benefits appeared to be ignoring the “wider debate” about equality and discrimination.

He said: “It is about creating opportunities through diversity programmes within businesses, it is about transport, it is about assistance in the workplace.”

He said the government appeared to have failed to understand the importance of DLA to disabled people’s independence.

Clarke said: “If a government minister found himself in the middle of a city with no-one to help and needed to get a taxi owing to mobility difficulties, he probably would appreciate his DLA. Or indeed if he needed someone to read his post.

“DLA matters. It covers some of those additional costs that we wouldn’t necessarily have the money for.

“What DLA does in my opinion is it enables you to afford all the additional support you need in all sorts of guises without impinging on the income you receive. It puts you on a par with other people in society.”

He added: “Every single penny of that DLA goes back into the economy. It is not like people are clinging onto it and creating a nest egg.

“They spend this money on funding their independence, on necessities, on assistance, on transport networks. Whatever it is doing it is going into the economy.”

A string of Paralympians have joined him in speaking out about the importance of DLA.

Powerlifter Ali Jawad told DNS: “I just hope when [the cuts] come along that the government have thought this through.

“[If they haven’t] they are going to have a lot of disabled people who are losing their independence.”

Table-tennis star Sue Gilroy said it would be “devastating” if she was to lose her DLA and would make day-to-day life “impossible”, as she uses it to help pay for things like support at home, the £20,000-worth of adaptations to her Motability vehicle, and her wheelchair.

Aaron Phipps, a key member of the ParalympicsGB wheelchair rugby team, said: “It is just completely essential. I would be completely lost without it.

“A new wheelchair costs perhaps £1,700. I would not be able to live independently without a wheelchair like this.”

His team-mate Kylie Grimes added: “DLA is really important. It’s been a massive help to me over the years.”

And Boccia world number one Nigel Murray, a two-time Paralympic gold-medallist, told DNS: “The benefits that I get are very important to me. They enable me to live and get the support I need.”

Dressage medal-hope Natasha Baker said DLA allowed disabled people to be independent.

She said: “I love my independence. I hate relying on other people to do everything for me. I drive and I probably wouldn’t be able to afford the petrol if I didn’t have DLA.”

It is not the first time Clarke has spoken out on issues around rights – the historical figure he looks up to more than anyone is Martin Luther-King – such as outdated media attitudes to disabled people, particularly the Sun’s “appalling” front page that mocked the speech difficulty of the new England football manager, Roy Hodgson.

But he believes some media attitudes are improving, while Channel 4’s presentation of Paralympic sport – as the UK’s official TV broadcaster for the games – has been “very impressive”.

He said he was now more likely to be asked sport-related questions about blind football, rather than receiving the “patronising, arm-round-the-shoulder” attitude, but he is keen that the Paralympics further highlight the elite nature of his sport.   

Away from sport and disability, he is also keen to speak out in defence of the banking industry.

A senior partner with Clydesdale Bank, running a team of corporate and private bankers, he is proud of what he does, despite the scandals and crises that have enveloped the industry.

He said: “I know what I do on a day-to-day basis. It is helping people, be it small businesses, corporate businesses, private individuals.

“My sole objective is to make them more secure and successful in life, maybe richer, and to protect what they have earned. I build positive relationships with people.

“It is a million miles away from the stuff that is going on at the moment, so far removed you can’t believe.”

He added: “Clydesdale have been absolutely amazing to give me as much time as I need to prepare properly, as well as allow me to continue with a full-time career.”

Despite his willingness to speak out in defence of disabled people’s entitlement to benefits, and his high media profile, he is focused on the competition ahead, and is looking forward most of all to “getting into the tournament and away from all the hype”.

He said: “Football is about results. There will be a lot of additional attention, but we are here to win a football tournament and fundamentally that has to come first.”

Although he hopes the games are a success, he said, the only way he will judge that success personally will be if he comes away with a medal around his neck.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disability Horizons pioneers provide an innovative 21st century approach to disability!

If you love socialising, travel or adventure; then this is definitely for you!

In November 2010, 2 disabled guys from London, on a roadtrip in California, dreamt up a huge project they wanted to bring to the world. Imagine 2 lifelong friends, 2 electric wheelchairs, 2 Personal Care Assistants, a hoist and an accessible car stirring up a big cocktail of imagination and innovation, during a dream adventure.

Disability Horizons

This idea was to start an online disability lifestyle magazine like no other…

After months of working hard to turn the vision into a reality; Martyn Sibley and Srin Madipalli launched www.disabilityhorizons.com. Disability Horizons pioneers an innovative 21st century approach to disability by empowering an aspirational community to provide and share content that informs, inspires and entertains.

The Horizons community is already 20,000 strong mostly through its social media channels, their readers write the articles, share their wealth of disability knowledge and progress towards their individual dreams together. Articles include personal stories on employment, sport, travel and relationships. The guys share many of their own daring escapades and have regular article contributions from high profile organisations, service providers, politicians, celebrities, entrepreneurs and various opinion formers that have the power to shape and change lives.

There is a page for readers to pose their own questions , an area to post unwanted disability equipment items (the classifieds section), a resources profile page for disability companies to share useful products/services, and the Horizons Travel Zone.

If you want to become part of this unique, vibrant and useful magazine; get in touch straight away!

Email: disabilityhorizons@gmail.com
Twitter: @Dhorizons
Facebook: facebook/disabilityhorizons

Victory in first stage of ‘fitness for work’ court case

Two disabled people have won the first stage of their legal bid to force the government to improve the much-criticised “fitness for work” test.

The high court this week granted permission for them to bring a claim for judicial review against Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative work and pensions secretary.

The two disabled people, both supported by the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), claim that the work capability assessment (WCA) discriminates against people with mental health conditions.

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).

Lawyers for MM and DM – who have been granted anonymity by the court – say many ESA claims are decided through assessments by healthcare professionals who are not mental health specialists.

They argue that the WCA fails to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act for people with mental health conditions, and are calling on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Atos Healthcare – the private company which carries out the tests – to seek medical evidence at the beginning of each claim.

Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart, granting permission for a judicial review, said that it was “reasonably arguable” that “early obtaining” of independent medical evidence was a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act for claimant with mental health conditions and “that this has not been done, or at least not done on a sufficiently widespread basis”.

A judicial review victory will not lead to the WCA being scrapped, but could make it fairer and less stressful for those with mental health problems, while some could be exempted from having to undergo a face-to-face assessment.

Ravi Low-Beer, MM and DM’s solicitor, from the Public Law Project, said: “The present system results in many thousands of unnecessary appeals at great public expense, with a high success rate.

“What is not counted is the cost in human misery for those people who should never have had to go through the appeals process in the first place.

“This could be avoided if doctors were involved in the assessments at the outset. The government’s policy of bypassing doctors is inefficient, unfair and inhumane.

“We gain heart from the court’s findings that as a matter of law, it is arguable that something has to change.”

He said he hoped the judicial review hearing would take place later this year.

Dave Skull, an MHRN member, also welcomed the court’s decision, and said: “A number of people have been wrongly assessed and misrepresented by the current situation. It is vital that there is some sort of review.”

He said many people with mental health conditions were in a “vulnerable position” and were experiencing “incredible anxiety” because of the WCA’s flaws, and added: “I am supporting a lot of people who are feeling suicidal about the situation with their WCA.”  

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.

Thousands of people with mental distress have been found unfairly fit for work following their WCA, and while many go on to win an appeal against this decision, some are unable to cope with an appeal, or experience a relapse in their health as a result of the process.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Government welfare reforms have a long history of being taken to judicial review so this is little surprise and we will be challenging this claim vigorously.

“We have worked hard to ensure people with mental health problems are treated fairly.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Equality watchdog ‘could be left with almost no disabled staff’

The equality watchdog could be left with almost no disabled employees if it confirms plans to cut more than 100 jobs, an open letter signed by scores of its own staff has warned.

More than 120 members of Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) staff have signed the letter to the commissioner responsible for initial approval of the proposals, Baroness [Margaret] Prosser, a former president of the TUC.

Their letter warns Baroness Prosser that the EHRC could be breaching the Equality Act – legislation it is responsible for enforcing – if the job cuts go ahead.

The letter says the job losses and the closure of regional EHRC offices would mean that “virtually all” the commission’s disabled and black and minority ethnic staff would lose their jobs.

The EHRC is planning to cut staff posts from about 250 to just 150 by the end of 2012, although it is thought that these figures do not include those working on its helpline. The commission employed as many as 525 people after its launch in 2007.

The letter also questions why the EHRC is planning for its budget to be cut to £18 million by 2014-15, when the government has said publicly that its budget will be cut to £26 million.

A budget of £18 million would be several million pounds less than the annual budget of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) when it was merged into the new “cross-strand” equality body in 2007, says the letter, while the EHRC would have 66 fewer staff than the DRC.

The letter also points out that the number of legal actions taken by the EHRC has already dropped to just 25 in the first 10 months of 2011-12, compared with 59 in the same period of 2010-11.

Mike Smith, chair of the EHRC’s disability committee and its only disabled commissioner, told Disability News Service (DNS): “I am concerned, but I cannot comment publicly until the chief executive has had the opportunity to counter the points made in the letter.”

DNS has been unable to speak directly to an EHRC press officer this week, but the commission emailed answers to a series of questions.

A spokeswoman said the government was reviewing the EHRC budget, but she refused to explain why the commission was preparing for an annual budget of £18 million, rather than £26 million.

She insisted that the commission would still be able to do its job, by being “focused in what we do, working more closely with others, and achieving further savings in our own spending in order to deliver value for tax payers”.

The EHRC’s board of commissioners will have to approve the proposals in October, following a three-month consultation with staff and unions.

The government has already threatened to scrap the EHRC entirely if the quality of its work does not improve.

It has also removed the EHRC’s funding for its grants programme, while the private sector call centre-provider Sitel is set to lead a consortium that will take over the commission’s helpline from 1 October.

The EHRC spokeswoman said: “The number of legal cases we take varies from year to year, depending on what cases come to us, if those cases are strategic, as well as whether the likely costs will be within the scope of our budget.

“We are actively seeking some new strategic cases to build on our successes and are confident that our strategic legal work will continue to make a big impact.”

She added: “We are committed to increasing the diversity of our workforce and are using all the tools we have to ensure that the diversity of the workforce is not just maintained but improved.”

And she said the commission would “continue to carefully consider the equality impact of proposed changes, and are mindful of the way in which they might affect different people”.     

She added: “All public sector organisations are having to manage with reduced budgets and there will be continuing pressure in the future.

“The staffing level proposed in the new organisation design reflects the fact that we are working to a significantly lower budget overall.

“These are difficult times for our staff. We recognise that some of them are unsettled and may be worried about their future.

“We are doing all we can to avoid compulsory redundancies, as well as assisting those staff whose future is outside the organisation.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Double suicide draws further tragic attention to ‘fit for work’ test

The death of a young woman who killed herself after being found “fit for work” is the latest proof of the catastrophic consequences of the government’s cuts to disability benefits and services, say campaigners.

The mother of the young woman – from London – also killed herself, just 24 hours after hearing of her daughter’s death earlier this month.

Paula, a disabled activist from south London and a friend of the young woman, took part in a protest and lobby of parliament this week that had been organised by the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

DPAC held a “paupers’ picnic” in the central lobby of the Houses of Parliament, to draw MPs’ attention to cuts that are leaving many disabled people without enough money to feed themselves properly.

Paula told Disability News Service that she had seen a letter left by the young woman, who was in her 20s and had learning difficulties and a mental health condition.

In the letter, the young woman said she had been found “fit for work”, and could not face a future without any money.

Her devastated family have stressed to Paula that they do not want their names passed to the media.

Paula said: “There are so many people now who have no money at all to live on. They have no way to pay their bills.”

Paula is due to be tested for her own “fitness for work” as part of the national programme to reassess about 1.5 million people claiming incapacity benefit, by checking their eligibility for the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

Disabled activists have repeatedly pointed to links between the fitness for work test and relapses, episodes of self-harm and even suicides and other deaths among those being assessed.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com