Court bid seeks independent probes into detention deaths

A mental health trust was guilty of discrimination by failing to ensure there was an independent investigation into the death of a leading disabled campaigner, the high court heard this week.

Janey Antoniou killed herself in October 2010 while in the care of Central and Northwest London NHS Trust, and a subsequent inquest was highly critical of the trust’s risk management.

A judicial review taken against the trust, health secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England by her husband, Michael, and funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), began today (Thursday) and was expected to finish tomorrow.

Wendy Hewitt, EHRC’s deputy director of legal, said: “Anyone detained against their will in an institution is in a very vulnerable situation. If they die, it is essential that there is an independent investigation.

“The risks of an institution investigating its own actions, as in this case, are obvious and it also means that lessons that could reduce the chances of other people dying may be overlooked.

“Deaths in prisons or in police cells are automatically subject to an investigation by an independent body. Deaths of persons detained in psychiatric hospitals, who may be even more vulnerable, are not.

“We are backing this review to ensure that a proper investigation happens in all such cases.”

The commission believes that the failure to refer such deaths automatically to an independent body for investigation is discriminatory under the Equality Act, and violates the right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

It also believes that the state should have “proper systems” to prevent self-harm and suicide by all detained patients, guidance to make sure those systems are followed, and “an effective independent judicial system so the cause of death can be established”.

A spokeswoman for Central and Northwest London NHS Trust said it was “not appropriate” to comment until the judicial review had finished.

Antoniou fought to improve the care of people with mental heath conditions and to battle the stigma they faced. Rethink, the mental health charity she worked with, said she spoke to tens of thousands of people about the realities of living with mental illness.

She was also the service-user representative on the panel that developed the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s schizophrenia guidelines.

Last month, Rethink launched an award in her name – funded by her family – to recognise those who are continuing her work educating people about mental illness and bringing about change in the mental health sector.

Meanwhile, new figures from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) show that seven of the 15 people who died in police custody in 2012-13 had mental health conditions. Four of those who died had been restrained by police officers.

Dame Anne Owers, chair of the IPCC, said it was “of continuing concern” that almost half of those who died in police custody had mental health conditions, as did nearly two-thirds of those who killed themselves within two days of release from custody.

She said it was “clearly important” that the police received better training in dealing with people with mental ill-health.

And she said the figures “also point to gaps and failings in the services that ought to support those with mental illness – before, instead of and after contact with the criminal justice system”.

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Manifesto could provide ‘rallying point’ for disability movement

Four leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are hoping a new manifesto will provide a “rallying point” for the disability movement in the lead-up to the next general election.

A draft version of the Reclaiming Our Futures manifesto has been produced by Inclusion London, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the Alliance for Inclusive Education and Equal Lives (formerly Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People).

They hope as many disabled people and DPOs as possible will put their names to the manifesto, and use it to lobby politicians and campaign in the run-up to 2015.

And they hope the final version of the manifesto will allow the movement to develop a united voice, and fight back against the “systematic and unprecedented level of attack” disabled people have faced under the coalition’s austerity measures.

But they also see their manifesto as an action plan for the government to “live up to its responsibilities” to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The draft manifesto stakes out policies in six key areas: inclusive education; independent living; access, inclusion and participation; work; welfare support and housing; and achieving “real” co-production.

Among the policies, it calls for all disabled learners to have the right to attend courses in mainstream education; independent living legislation that fully implements the UNCRPD; and true portability of support.

It also calls for the Independent Living Fund to be saved from closure, and for the government to set up an independent living taskforce, as well as a co-produced review of care and support to flesh out the need for a new national care service.

The manifesto says social care should be free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, and with that funding ring-fenced, like the NHS.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the manifesto recognised the need for a “fundamental shift” in social care, which “should have the same priority as the health service”.

She said: “By no means do we have all the answers but we think there is enough to point us in the direction that we should be going.

“The detailed mechanisms? That’s why we are calling for a review. But we know that social care cannot carry on being the poor relative of health.”

Other policies include a fully-accessible public transport system; a disability employment task force to review the provision of employment support; and user-led disability equality training for employers.

The manifesto also says there should be adequate and long-term core funding of DPOs to ensure “meaningful, resourced and accessible co-production with disabled people and their organisations at a local, regional and national level on all issues affecting us”.

The four DPOs are also suggesting that both the hated “fitness for work” test – the work capability assessment (WCA) – and the coalition’s new personal independence payment (PIP), should be scrapped.

They want to see PIP replaced with a new disability living benefit, co-produced with disabled people, and fitness for work determined instead by GPs and other health workers.

The draft version of the manifesto has now been put out for a short, three-week consultation that ends on 12 August.

The hope is that disabled people and DPOs will see the “achievable, realistic” manifesto as an attempt to reclaim their rights.

The final version will be launched on 29 August, to coincide with the start of DPAC’s UK-wide Reclaiming Our Futures week of action.

Both the manifesto and the week of action came out of last September’s national conference, Rethinking Disability Equality Policy and Practice in a Hostile Climate, which was organised by the four DPOs.

Lazard said it would be a “tough challenge” to unite the disability movement around a single manifesto.

But she said: “We hope it is going to be a tool for the movement and DPOs and individuals to use with campaigning and lobbying in the lead-up to the next general election.

“It is an attempt to reclaim our rights and to start to look at the kind of life and society that we think is needed and wanted.”

She added: “It is exciting and we hope it will be a kind of rallying point for the movement to gather around and to use, and we are very excited that it is being linked in with DPAC’s Reclaiming Our Futures week.”

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British Paralympic Association admits it has just one disabled director

Shocked activists have criticised the British Paralympic Association (BPA) after its “astonishing” and “appalling” admission that only one of its nine directors is disabled.

The organisation – which prepares and manages the British team at every Paralympic Games, and is responsible for promoting the Paralympic movement in Britain – made the admission after announcing the appointment of three new non-executive directors to its board.

None of the three new directors – civil servant Emma Boggis, who manages the Cabinet Office’s Olympic and Paralympic legacy unit; Norman Brodie, who headed Cadbury’s London 2012 marketing operation; and Greg Nugent, who was director of brand, marketing and culture at the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG – are disabled people.

Jaspal Dhani, a disability consultant and former chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), said the lack of disabled directors on the BPA board was “appalling” and “astonishing”.

He said: “They may talk of legacy [from London 2012] but how is that legacy reflected in their own internal structure?

“When you look at how far we have come in ensuring that disabled people’s voices are heard in all areas of life it shows how backward-looking BPA’s philosophy is.

“They are an organisation for disabled people and not of disabled people, which is highly disappointing when it is disabled people who have made BPA what it is.

“What they are saying here is that they do not consider disabled people to have the right kind of skills, professionalism and background that can help them to develop as an organisation.”

Dhani, who plays and coaches with the London Raiders wheelchair basketball club in east London, added: “It is very sad and disappointing that BPA have not given due regard to looking at the talents and skills of disabled people and particularly disabled athletes as suitable candidates for joining their board.

“When you look at the success of the Paralympics and Olympics, it was disabled athletes who made the games what they were.”

Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, said BPA was guilty of a “missed opportunity to lead by example”.

She said: “It is very disappointing when there has been so much dialogue and discussion around the legacy [from London 2012].

“It is very undermining of the level of expertise that the elite athletes have built up. For disabled sportspeople the career progression [within disability sports administration] is very, very limited. The opportunities are minimal.”

Newman, a keen sailor, said UKDPC had tried to promote change in disability sport by talking to governing bodies, but added: “It is very difficult when you have a governing body that doesn’t allow the benefit of lived experience to influence decisions.”

BPA said the new appointments followed a “thorough recruitment process”, and that the trio would provide “leadership”, “strategic direction” and “governance oversight”, focusing on “vision, core values and objectives”.

Asked whether it was acceptable to have just one disabled director, a BPA spokeswoman said: “The BPA is a sports organisation, and the appointment of our board members is made based on their knowledge, experience and passion for Paralympic sport.”

When asked if this suggested that BPA believed there were no retired Paralympians with the requisite “knowledge, experience and passion for Paralympic sport”, she declined to comment further.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport declined to comment.

The Cabinet Office’s Olympic and Paralympic legacy unit also declined to comment, saying: “It is not for the government to tell anyone about the composition of its board.”

Tim Reddish, BPA’s chair and its only disabled director, said earlier that he was confident the appointments would help the organisation “make further progress on our ambition to make the UK the leading nation in Paralympic sport and, through this, to inspire a better world for disabled people”.

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‘Let councils take the strain on employment’

Local authorities in London have questioned why the government’s Work Programme is finding jobs for so few disabled people, when council-run schemes are much more successful.

London Councils pointed to an analysis of government figures, which showed that fewer than five per cent of disabled people who claim employment and support allowance (ESA) are finding a job after being referred to the Work Programme in London.

The figures, from April 2012 to March 2013, show only 370 ESA claimants across London found at least three months’ paid work through the Work Programme in the entire year.

But some council-run employment schemes have reported far higher success rates than the Work Programme, which launched in June 2011.

Conservative-run Wandsworth council, in south London, has found sustained employment for 37.5 per cent of the disabled people who enter its employment scheme Workright.

The new report calls for “devolution” of the Work Programme, and other employment support programmes, so there is a single pot of money managed by groups of boroughs, which can then link that support with other services provided by councils, such as childcare, support services for drug or alcohol problems, and information and advice services.

Cllr Peter John, London Councils’ executive member for Employment and Skills, said: “The Work Programme is failing those most in need.

“For welfare-to-work schemes to support the most vulnerable successfully, there needs to be exceptionally strong links between the scheme, the people and the services on which they depend.

“By devolving the scheme to councils the government would radically improve employment support and offer real hope to those who need it most, reversing years of low-expectations of what can be achieved.”

Last September, almost half of London’s local authorities said they had “no influence” over the Work Programme in their local area.

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DWP makes progress on opening up Access to Work

The government has opened up its Access to Work (AtW) scheme to new groups of young disabled people, just days before it is due to release statistics on how many people used the programme last year.

The changes were recommended by an expert panel chaired by Mike Adams, chief executive of the user-led organisation ecdp, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepting nine of his 11 recommendations.

He said: “We were very clear we wanted a system that was much more personalised around the needs of disabled people, and I think we have got a commitment from Esther [McVey, the minister for disabled people] to do that.”

He was particularly pleased that McVey agreed with his recommendation that there should be more flexibility with AtW payments.

Claimants will now be able to apply for up-front payments to allow them to take up or remain in a job, and it will also be possible for them to vary the amount of support they use on a weekly basis – for instance if their working hours vary every week – without having to check every time with their AtW adviser.

But Adams said he was disappointed that the government had not yet accepted his recommendation that claimants should be able to manage their AtW payments online, which he said would have a “huge positive impact on disabled people”.

And he said more needed to be done to help people with fluctuating conditions.

He also said he would have liked the government to do more to reduce the share of AtW payments met by employers.

The government also agreed that disabled people on traineeships, supported internships and work academies will now all be eligible for support through AtW, with the DWP putting aside £2 million a year for such schemes.

Disabled people on work trials arranged through Jobcentre Plus can already apply for AtW, but eligibility is now being extended to disabled people who arrange their own work trial with an employer, if there is a “realistic prospect” of a job at the end of it.

Work trials allow a jobseeker to continue receiving benefits while working for a potential employer for up to 30 days, to test whether a potential job is suitable.

Traineeships will be introduced from August and will offer young people a work placement and work skills training, as well as support to improve their English and maths.

Supported internships – which were launched this week following a trial in 15 further education colleges – offer a structured study programme, based with an employer, which includes on-the-job training, support from job coaches, and the chance to study for relevant qualifications if appropriate.

And work academies provide pre-employment training, a work experience placement and a guaranteed job interview.

The most recent AtW figures, released in April, showed that the number of people using the scheme – which provides funding towards the extra costs disabled people face in work, such as travel costs, adapted equipment or support workers – had started to rise again, after a sustained period when numbers had been falling.

Liz Sayce welcomed the government’s decision to make AtW available for all traineeships and work experience, a recommendation of her review of supported employment, and which she said could “overcome terrible discrimination, especially for young disabled people who couldn’t get a job without experience and couldn’t get any experience for lack of funds for adjustments – a catch 22”.

She said the changes were the results of campaigning by disabled people.

But she added: “We have a crisis of young disabled people’s unemployment. Next, government needs to remove barriers to apprenticeships like unnecessary qualifications; and stop the scrounger rhetoric that gives a disastrous message to employers and damages disabled people’s employment opportunities.”

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said: “Young disabled people tell me how difficult it can be to get a job without experience – and they want the same choice of training opportunities as everyone else to help them into work.

“We’re opening up Access to Work to do just that – so that more young disabled people can get a foothold in the jobs market, get their careers on track and achieve their full potential.”

McVey admitted last October that AtW spending had plummeted from £107 million in 2010-2011 to just £93 million in 2011-12, while the number of disabled people claiming funding had fallen from 37,000 in 2009-10 to just over 30,000 in 2011-12.

To find out more about Access to Work, visit:

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End of the road for Equality 2025

The government has decided to scrap its high-level advice body of disabled people, Equality 2025, following an independent review.

It is the second disabled-led advice body to be told this week that it faces abolition, following the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to over-rule an independent reviewer and recommend that its statutory disability committee should be disbanded.

Announcing the decision to abolish Equality 2025 in only two months’ time, the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) launched a three-month consultation to find a new way of providing that advice.

Although its nine members will end their terms in September, the chair, Rachel Perkins, will continue to advise the government on policy, strategy and arrangements for replacing Equality 2025, until her contract ends in March 2014.

ODI has made it clear that the replacement for Equality 2025 will not consist solely of disabled people, and will include input from people with “particular expertise on disability issues”.

This would mirror its earlier decision to sideline the Network of Networks, a collection of 12 disabled people’s organisations, and replace it with the Disability Action Alliance, which includes user-led and non-user-led members.

ODI said it wanted to replace Equality 2025 with a list of “expert advisors” to inform policy development across government, as well as a “forum” of 30-40 members, which will provide “engagement on priorities and strategic direction”.

The forum’s work will include “horizon scanning for important future issues which are likely to affect disabled people”, progress on the government’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy, and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Despite this huge increase in the number of people involved in giving advice, ODI said the annual budget would remain at about £80,000.

This suggests that none of those on the forum or the list of advisors will be paid anything more than expenses.

In its consultation document, ODI said it wanted to hear from a broader range of disabled people, including hard-to-reach groups; to “expand co-production and partnership working in all areas of strategy and policy”; and for Equality 2025’s replacement to be more open, transparent and flexible.

In the last year, Equality 2025 has given confidential advice to government departments across 47 policy areas.

But in his review of Equality 2025, Rich Watts recommended that it should be scrapped and replaced.

He said Equality 2025 was not able to provide strategic expert advice in all subject areas, while there was “a need to incorporate more lived experience expertise in policy development which is currently not being delivered”.

Watts, programme lead for mental health at the National Development Team for inclusion, said that engagement with government departments had been “patchy” and that any engagement there had been had often come as because of Perkins’ impressive reputation.

But he said there were “clear instances” in which Equality 2025 had provided “valuable confidential insight and advice”, although the “general view was that there isn’t sufficient strategic expertise across Equality 2025 to fulfil this role in all policy areas”.

He concluded: “Equality 2025 has an important function, but could have been more effective in delivering its functions.

“The role of chair of Equality 2025 has been effective and valued by all who had direct engagement with her, but engagement with the group as a whole has been patchy.”

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Bosses refuse to order review of Solar Centre abuse

The public bodies responsible for a series of serious failures and a six-year delay in securing justice for disabled people abused at a Doncaster day centre, have refused to order an independent review into the scandal.

The successful prosecution of two former Solar Centre nursing assistants for ill-treatment only came about after Disability News Service (DNS) brought the scandal to the attention of the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, following two failed investigations by South Yorkshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Following the trial, which ended in May, families of those abused at the Solar Centre had assumed that Doncaster Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board (DSAPB) – which includes representatives from Doncaster council, South Yorkshire police, local health trusts and other agencies – would order a serious case review (SCR).

They hoped this review would be as wide-ranging and hard-hitting as the SCR into the Winterbourne View private hospital – which again involved appalling ill-treatment of people with learning difficulties in a health setting – which was published last August.

Among the questions they and DNS wanted answered were how at least one of the former nursing assistants was able to continue working in the care sector after she was suspended over the abuse allegations, and why it took six years and two failed police prosecutions to secure convictions.

They also wanted to know why an internal report compiled by RDaSH (Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the day centre) into the alleged abuse appeared to have been watered-down before being handed to the families of the service-users in 2008.

And they have asked why earlier warnings by members of staff to RDaSH appear to have been ignored.

Roger Thompson, chair of DSAPB’s board, told DNS this week that a serious case review was “not needed”. He has so far refused to comment further or explain that decision.

His statement came in the week that the government announced that Doncaster council would become the first local authority to have control of its children’s services taken away and handed to an independent trust.

Adrian Milnes, whose step-son Richie was abused at the Solar Centre and who attended much of the trial, said: “It doesn’t surprise me, it saddens me. We have had this for six years and there is still an extreme reluctance to be transparent and accountable.”

He said it was even more necessary for there to be an SCR for the Solar Centre than at Winterbourne View, because of the length of time it took to secure convictions.

He said: “Nothing really has changed. They say they have learned lessons but what has happened has proved they have not.

“They are still conducting a policy of ‘we will not tell them anything unless we absolutely must,’ rather than a policy of, ‘we will tell people everything to establish confidence and trust.’”

And he suggested the failure to hold an SCR meant that public bodies in Doncaster had something to hide.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on individual cases.”

But she added: “Serious case reviews are commissioned locally by safeguarding boards to establish whether there are lessons to be learnt about the way in which staff and agencies work together to safeguard vulnerable people.”

Susan Murphy, aged 44, and James Hinds, aged 59, were found guilty in May of a total of 25 charges of ill-treating people with learning difficulties, physical impairments and high support needs at the Solar Centre.

The service-users had suffered more than two years of abuse from Hinds and Murphy, who intimidated other staff into silence.

The men and women were slapped and hit, while Hinds dragged one man across the floor and stabbed another of the male service-users repeatedly with a needle on the arm and hand because he wouldn’t sit down, while Murphy locked a female service-user in a cupboard.

The jury had also heard that one of the service-users had scars caused by suffering severe burns as a child, and how Hinds and Murphy would hit her, and then Hinds “would laugh and say the marks could not be seen because of the scarring to her face”.

The abuse was finally halted in March 2007 when a member of staff reported her concerns to RDaSH.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat MP and former care services minister, who raised concerns about the case with civil servants in 2011 after it was brought to his attention by DNS, backed calls for an SCR last month.

But the Labour MP Rosie Winterton, whose Doncaster Central constituency includes the Solar Centre, again refused to comment on the case this week.

DNS has now asked Winterton on at least four occasions over the last 30 months to speak out and put her weight behind efforts to secure justice for the survivors of the abuse, and to find answers to the many questions raised about the conduct of the public bodies involved in the scandal.

She has yet to explain why she will not comment on the case.

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Maynard retreats from ‘extremists’ comments

The disabled MP who caused outrage across the disability movement by branding anti-cuts activists and campaigners “extremists” has privately apologised to some of those he insulted.

Despite promising to meet with some of the groups he referred to in a speech in the House of Commons last week, Paul Maynard has still failed to apologise publicly.

Maynard even tried unsuccessfully to convince Hansard, which provides the official record of what is said on the floor of the House, to remove the word “extremist” from his speech.

He had been speaking during a debate on the need for the government to assess the combined impact on disabled people of all of its cuts to disability support and services.

Liam Byrne, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, had paid tribute to Pat Onions, the author of Pat’s Petition, which is campaigning for the government to “stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families”.

A petition around the campaign secured nearly 63,000 signatures before it closed last November.

Byrne also praised the WOW petition, which is similarly seeking a cumulative impact assessment of the cuts, and is open until December 2013.

But Maynard accused Labour of being “dragged to this chamber by Pat’s Petition, We Are Spartacus [an online network of disabled campaigners] and other extremist disability groups that do not speak for the overall majority”.

He then launched an attack on another “extreme” campaigning organisation, the Campaign for a Fair Society, most of whose members are organisations providing services for people with learning difficulties.

Onions was in the gallery of the Commons to watch the debate, and was shocked and dismayed when she heard herself and colleagues being called “extremists”.

Maynard was told this week by Pat’s Petition that his words had caused “enormous offence”.

In response, he said he regretted if his use of the word “extremist” had caused any “personal offence”.

He said: “It was not something I had intended to say when preparing my contribution, and whilst that is no excuse, I acknowledge why so many do feel offended.”

He told Pat’s Petition this week: “Whilst I do not agree with the petition you support, I entirely recognise that in a free society, you should be able to campaign on any issue.”

Maynard was planning to meet this week with members of We Are Spartacus, and said he would be happy to meet with Pat’s Petition at a later date.

Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOW petition, said he was “pretty angry” with Maynard’s comments. Friends who know of his involvement with WOW are now asking him if he really is an extremist, he said.

He said: “I am not happy that we are being hounded in a way that is not defensible. It has gone back to the language of the playground.”

He said that Maynard should be “held to account” for his comments.

Disabled People Against Cuts, which believes it was one of the organisations Maynard was referring to, told the MP in an open letter that its members “only ever use peaceful methods of protest, to call for what we see as fair and decent treatment for sick and disabled people”.

Black Triangle, an organisation of disabled people fighting cuts to disability benefits and services, which has been at the centre of many direct action protests, thanked Maynard for trying to withdraw his “extremists” comments, but called on him to apologise.

John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, said: “You associate extremists with bombings. What are extreme are the policies being carried out by this government, with 600,000 losing their [right to] disability living allowance, and half a million people relying on food banks.”

A member of Maynard’s Commons staff, who refused to give his name, said Maynard had received a request last week from Disability News Service to discuss the issue.

He said: “The message was passed on to Paul. I can only conclude that if you haven’t heard back from him that he is not keen to discuss anything further. I am happy to pass the message on again.”

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Panel Accentuate the negative in wake of London 2012

Disabled artists and academics have spoken of the “missed opportunity” to create a real legacy for disabled people from last year’s Paralympic Games.

The panel of leading disabled figures had been gathered together by Accentuate, which aims to create a “cultural shift” in attitudes towards disability in the wake of London 2012.

But asked to examine the cultural legacy of the London 2012 Paralympics – one year on – speakers struggled to look forward with any optimism.

Professor Nick Watson, director of the Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research at the University of Glasgow, pointed to comments made by the Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, in last week’s foreword to her new Fulfilling Potential disability strategy documents.

McVey described how she was building on the “inspiring” Paralympic Games by working with “inspirational role models” to “show that high aspirations can be achieved for every aspect of life, including employment”.

Watson told the audience: “Here we are seeing the idea, re-emerging through the Paralympics, that it is the disabled person who is at fault for not trying hard enough to get a job.

“All we need to do to get disabled people into work is to show them a few Paralympians pushing a wheelchair very fast and they’ll come out and get jobs. This for me is a real danger of the Paralympics and the representation of it.”

He also warned of the “marking out of disabled people as a new folk devil who are responsible for much of the economic malaise that we are now experiencing”, and said discussion in the mainstream media of disability as an equality issue was now “yesterday’s news”.

Watson told the symposium: “I talked to a young man last week with a learning disability. I said, ‘What do you want most?’ and he said: ‘I want to be able to get on a bus at least once without somebody making fun of me.’”

The writer, director and performer Jamie Beddard described how “depressing” it was to look back to the Paralympics and the optimism that had surrounded London 2012.

He remembered how his seven-year-old son had taken him to his playground last summer and showed him off to all his non-disabled friends.

He said: “It was really cool to be disabled. I was a big deal in the playground. Seven-year-olds wanted to know me. It was amazing.”

But he said that while he and other members of the “disabled elite” had benefited from the Paralympics, he now believed that other disabled people had not, and he felt a responsibility towards “the vast majority of silent voices” who “haven’t done as well as we have in the last year”.

The artist and activist Liz Crow, speaking at the symposium via Skype, spoke of her disappointment that athletes and artists had missed the opportunity to put their work into context last summer by acknowledging that many disabled people taking part in the big London 2012 cultural productions or watching the sport on television at home were “at the sharp end of benefits changes”, government policies and offensive newspaper reporting.

Hannah Morgan, a lecturer in disability studies at Lancaster University, said that London 2012 had “raised the profile of disability sport and of disability more generally”, and had shown “disabled people” being “exceptional”, while disability had also become “everyday”.

But she said it was necessary to ensure that the legacy of the games was about social justice “as well as a celebration of diversity and success”, and warned that it was impossible to separate any discussion about the positive aspects of the London 2012 legacy from the “devastating impact of austerity on the lives of so many disabled people and their families”.

Alison Wilde, another leading disabled academic and a lecturer in education at Bangor University, said: “I am not convinced that disabled people are not inspired and motivated in the first place.

“In fact, I firmly believe that many disabled and ill people are being forced into such untenable circumstances that getting through the day can and should be seen as an achievement against insurmountable odds.”

She said that despite record-breaking television audience figures for the Paralympics, the idea of raising people’s aspirations to be “super human” was “ideologically loaded” and fed the “cult of celebrity culture”, maintained “cultural stereotypes”, reinforced “negative public attitudes”, and served to “legitimise” cuts to public spending.

She said there was a “huge chasm” between the portrayals of elite disabled athletes and “ordinary disabled people”, both of which were rooted in the “bio-psychosocial model of disability” championed by companies such as Atos, which sponsored London 2012, and Unum.

She pointed out how David Cameron, the prime minister, had said the Paralympics would teach people “what they can do, rather than what they can’t do”.

Wilde said that it was obvious that the legacy of the Paralympics would see the issue of welfare approached in the same way as elite sport, “in that it is up to us to improve our attitudes and slay all our barriers”.

The academic and writer Tom Shakespeare, in an illustrated lecture shown to the audience at the beginning of the event, said the games proved “that the word ‘excellence’ can be used in the same sentence as the word ‘disability’”.

But he said that the same media that was “praising disabled sporting success is now attacking supposed benefit scroungers”, ignoring the very low levels of disability benefit fraud.

He pointed out that only a tiny minority of disabled people become Paralympians and that “most of us need some support to meet the extra costs of disability”.

He said there “may be some more work to be done” to make sure talented young disabled people get the qualifications, training, funding and employment opportunities they need to “set them on the road” to success in the arts world.

He concluded that “all disabled people have the potential to achieve more in their lives and participate in our society and to make a difference to Britain”.

But he added: “They need proper investment and a lasting change in attitudes. Not superheroes, and certainly not scroungers.”

News provided by John Pring at

Conference access failure shines light on ‘ignorance’ of deaf needs

Deaf people who use speech-to-text translation say the failure of a national disability conference to cater for their needs only highlights how often such discrimination takes place.

They spoke out after a national conference – sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions – failed to provide speech-to-text, even though the organisers had confirmed it would be in place.

Lidia Best, a trustee of the National Association of Deafened People (NADP), attended the National Disabilities Conference – subtitled: Promoting Rights and Respect for Disabled People – but was unable to follow much of the event because of the lack of speech-to-text. She also found the hearing loop was not working.

NADP had booked a place at the conference – with speech-to-text support – more than a month earlier, at a cost of nearly £200.

The conference organisers, Gov Know, at first denied that they had agreed to book speech-to-text.

But after Disability News Service forwarded an email to them in which one of their employees confirmed that speech-to-text would be available, the company issued a new statement which offered a “full apology”.

Best, who is also a board member of the European Federation of Hard of Hearing People, said she was not happy that it took outside pressure to persuade Gov Know to apologise.

She said: “Far too often, as a deafened person, I come across ignorance of the needs of people who are deaf but do not use sign language.

“The fact that we often speak too well is associated with good hearing in society’s mindset. We often lip-read well in one-to-one situations and this gives a false understanding on the society side that we do not need help.”

She added: “I teach assertiveness for deaf people and obviously I should lead by example. I hope that what happened at the conference and the stand I took in this case will help others to be more assertive.”

Suzie Jones, also a deaf awareness trainer and consultant, said that when an event organiser hears that someone is deaf, they “automatically provide a BSL interpreter”, even though most deaf people use speech, hearing aids, cochlear implants, lipreading and text.

She added: “It happens all the time, to be frank. What is more irritating is usually they will ask what support needs you have, list them, and in the list they will have ‘BSL interpreter’ or (if you’re lucky) ‘loop system’.”

She said Gov Know was guilty of “ignorance, lack of communication, lack of understanding of needs of the delegates, and an all-too-common attempt to blame the person for ‘not letting them know’”.

“I would certainly have expected a lot better given the high price of tickets.”

The deaf-led company 121 Captions was approached by Gov Know about providing communication support at the event but was never asked to make a booking.

It said in a blog on its website that it would “expect such an event to be accessible without having to fight for such access – which is our right, not a privilege, under the 2010 Equality Act”.

It added: “This is a common occurrence for deaf and hard of hearing people who do not sign, to request speech-to-text at events and find it is not provided, or to turn up and find there are only sign language interpreters. We have had enough. This has got to stop.”

A Gov Know spokeswoman said: “It was miscommunication on our behalf and we would like to offer Ms Best a full refund and again our sincere apology. Our planning teams will also conduct better reviews for future events to ensure a similar incident does not reoccur.”

Delegates to the conference had already complained that both the Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, and her Labour shadow, Anne McGuire, pulled out of speaking at the conference despite earlier confirming their attendance.

News provided by John Pring at