London 2012: Disabled leader left ‘humiliated’ by opening ceremony treatment

A leading disabled activist was left “humiliated” and “incensed” after she was twice interrupted by London 2012 staff while watching the Paralympic Games opening ceremony to be told her guide dog was a health and safety hazard.

Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), had been given tickets to the event in the Olympic Stadium by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), and told them in advance that she was a guide dog-user.

But she was given two seats in the middle of a row where there was not enough space for a guide dog to sit at her feet.

As a result, she asked other spectators to move so she could sit in the aisle seat, with her guide dog Faith beside her on the steps.

Bott was first approached by a member of staff halfway through the opening ceremony, as the Queen was about to declare the games officially open, and was told that Faith was a “health and safety” issue.

She said: “At first I thought it was a bit of a wind-up, but then I realised she was actually serious.

“I really got quite cross and in the end I said to her, ‘I hear what you are saying. I don’t agree and I am not going to take any notice.’ I actually missed the Queen opening the games.”

She was later approached again, this time by a London 2012 manager, who told her that Faith, who was sitting quietly beside her on the steps, was a “health and safety hazard”.

Bott said: “I told her that she was interfering with my enjoyment of the evening. She was saying, ‘suppose we have to evacuate the stadium?’ and I said, ‘I would get out easier with a guide dog.’”

By this time, there were empty seats beside Bott and her daughter, Angela – who had accompanied her and was describing the action to her – so they moved along and Faith sat in front of one of the vacant seats. But there was still so little room that part of the seat in front kept hitting Faith’s paws.

Bott said: “I just felt totally humiliated. It was ridiculous. If Faith is a hazard then so is every disabled person and every wheelchair-user.

“I am still struggling to believe it. It just feels like a bad dream. I would not have expected that kind of treatment in a million years.”

Bott was even more disappointed because earlier in the day she had enjoyed taking part in the Paralympic torch relay as part of a five-strong team of disabled people from DR UK.

She said the treatment she received in the stadium “really took me back to years gone by”, and added: “What it does prove is that we still need our disabled people’s organisations fighting for our rights. We cannot relax for a moment.”

A DCMS spokeswoman said she believed it was her department’s fault that Bott had been given a seat in the wrong section of the stadium, which was not accessible to guide dog-users.

But she has so far failed to comment on the attitude of London 2012 staff in the Olympic Stadium.

A LOCOG spokesman said: “If it was a health and safety issue it is something we have to take extremely seriously.”

He has so far failed to comment further.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Decision to award PIP contracts to Atos is ‘twisting the knife’

The decision to award benefit assessment contracts to the company that carries out controversial “fitness for work” tests for the government has caused widespread shock and anger among disabled activists.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) finally announced today (2 August) that two of three regional contracts to assess claimants of the new personal independence payment (PIP) will go to Atos Healthcare.

The third contract has been awarded to the outsourcing company Capita, while two further contracts have yet to be awarded.

The two five-year contracts awarded to Atos will see its staff deliver PIP assessments across Scotland, north-east England and north-west England, as well as in London and southern England, while Capita will assess disabled people in Wales and central England.

PIP will begin to be introduced from April 2013, as it gradually replaces disability living allowance for working-age people.

The announcement came only three days after two prime-time television documentaries were highly critical of Atos, which carries out thousands of work capability assessments (WCAs) every week for DWP.

One leading disabled activist said the decision to grant the contracts to Atos was “like turning the knife when they stab us”.

Sasha Callaghan, former president of the University and College Union, went even further and said: “If this decision doesn’t end in open civil disobedience and even bloodshed I’ll be amazed. People can only be pushed so far and we could well be at the tipping point.”

Another activist, who tweets under the name La_crip, said: “No real surprise. They seem immune to effects of criticism & will no doubt reach Govt targets.”

Others told Disability News Service on Twitter that they were “disgusted but not surprised” and “mortified”, while another said Atos’s treatment of disabled people through the WCA had been “abysmal”.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which this week announced plans for several days of direction action against Atos in protest at its sponsorship of the London 2012 Paralympics, said it was “astonished” that Atos had been awarded the new contracts.

DPAC said that Atos was the company “most responsible for driving through the government’s brutal cuts agenda” and had “devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people”.

But Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said Atos had been in prime position to win contracts because of its existing WCA infrastructure.

He insisted that the biggest problem facing disabled people was with the government’s testing system, rather than the way it was applied by Atos.

He added: “The same is likely to be true with the PIP assessment, which we know is designed to allow a government policy that will take 20 per cent off the budget and deny support to half a million disabled people.

“Atos could be better, but they are delivering government policy. Government policy on PIP is going to be much more significant for disabled people [than who carries out the assessments].”

Members of the Disability Benefits Consortium – including DR UK – had asked all the bidders for the PIP contacts to sign up to 10 pledges that they hoped would ensure the assessments were delivered more fairly than the WCA. As yet, none of the bidders have signed up.

But there are also unanswered questions over the involvement of disability organisations in helping Atos win its contracts.

DWP has made it clear that the three successful bids “demonstrated strong evidence of working with a range of partner organisations such as health groups and the voluntary sector, and of close working with disabled people’s representative groups”.

Capita said it had carried out “extensive consultation” with “representative groups” – including Assist UK, a national disabled people’s organisation which promotes independent living – that would now be “a part of our supply chain”.

Some of these organisations will help Capita train assessors, while some will provide premises where the tests will take place.

A Capita spokeswoman said: “We believe that peer-to-peer interactions will provide the best claimant experience and as a result we expect that around 40 per cent of our advisers, centre hosts and administrators will have long term health conditions or be disabled.”

But Atos has so far not released the names of any of the disability organisations it has worked with, or is planning to work with to deliver PIP assessments.

A DWP spokesman said the three contracts were awarded “following the usual procedures for open and fair competition, and assessed against established and published selection criteria”.

But he said it was up to Capita and Atos to name those organisations they had worked with.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disabled people set to be outnumbered on Paralympic torch relay

The opportunity to celebrate disabled people’s diversity has been “stolen” by organisers of the Paralympic torch relay, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation.

The UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) spoke out after research by Disability News Service (DNS) showed disabled people were set to be heavily out-numbered by non-disabled people on next month’s Paralympic torch relay.

An analysis of about 250 of those chosen to take part in the 24-hour relay shows that more than 150 appear to be non-disabled people.

Many of those taking part have been nominated for fund-raising or other charity exploits, while there will also be scores of representatives of the three “presenting partners” – London 2012 sponsors – who appear to have been picked only because they work for those companies.

Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, said organisers had “effectively stifled the voice of disabled people”.

She said: “I believe the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of disabled people’s experiences and lives has been stolen from us through corporate greed.

“How brilliant it would have been if the Paralympic torch relay had just gone from one disabled person to another disabled person.

“It would have been such a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate to the world that we are out and proud and part of the rich existence of society in the UK.”

Newman added: “The Paralympics is about disabled people, not about non-disabled people.”

The DNS analysis, which has been carried out on those selected to be torch-bearers whose “stories” have been revealed on the London 2012 website, shows that nearly a third seem to have been chosen because of their charity work.

The figures suggest that the process of asking members of the public to nominate people to take part has backfired, and has led to a glut of non-disabled charity volunteers, fund-raisers, carers and special school teachers.

Those nominated for the torch relay are supposed to embody the Paralympic values of “courage, determination, equality and inspiration”.

A significant number – more than 10 per cent – have been heavily involved in raising money for charity.

Only about a dozen disabled people seem to have been selected on the basis of their work campaigning for disability rights, while only one of 255 whose stories have been analysed appears to have been recognised for work with a disabled people’s organisation.

Newman said: “I don’t think it represents us. It reflects how society likes to see us, as recipients of either care or charity.

“I think it is very, very sad, because that is not what our experiences are.”

Channel 4 has already been criticised for its “absurd” decision to choose five non-disabled people – and not a single disabled person – to take part in the relay.

The three “presenting partners” – Sainsbury’s, Lloyds TSB and BT – have each chosen about 140 people to take part in the relay, with the other 150 or so being selected by bodies linked to the Paralympics itself and other London 2012 sponsors.

There will be a total of 580 torch-bearers, working in teams of five, with each team covering about half a mile, while a further 40 will carry the torch at the three “flame festivals” in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, and at the flame lighting event in London.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, usually thought of as Britain’s greatest Paralympian, who is an “ambassador” for the torch relay, said that many British athletes who will be competing in the Paralympics had taken part in the much longer Olympic torch relay.

She said she thought that the reason for the distribution of torch-bearers “ultimately comes down to who was nominated”, but she said the relay had achieved a much higher profile than at previous games.

A spokesman for LOCOG, the London 2012 organising committee, said: “Nowhere have we said you have to be disabled.”

He said the three sponsors had “made an effort to ensure that it is a fair representation across the board”, and added: “This is not like a recruitment drive, it relies on public nominations. We wanted it to be open to everyone but [those selected] can obviously only reflect people who have been nominated.”

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s, which has already been criticised for using a panel of four non-disabled employees to select its torch-bearers, said: “All the nominated torchbearers were selected by Sainsbury’s panel following a nationwide in-store nomination process.

“The nominees were selected for their contributions to local communities and inspirational personal achievements and submitted to LOCOG for final inclusion in the relay.”

A BT spokesman said: “We are quite happy with the criteria and the nomination process we went through.”

He pointed out that BT’s final selections were made by the multi-gold-medal winning Paralympian Lee Pearson, and added: “We are delighted with the people that Lee Pearson selected.”

Lloyds TSB refused to comment.

LOCOG has also revealed the torch relay’s 87-mile route. The flame will start at Stoke Mandeville, in Buckinghamshire, the spiritual home of the Paralympic movement, before travelling through Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire and all six London host boroughs.

It will enter the northwest of the capital, travelling through Harrow, Barnet, Brent and Westminster.

Once in the centre of London, it will be carried down Regent Street from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus, passing Westminster Abbey, Downing Street and Trafalgar Square, before crossing the Thames over Lambeth Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Tower Bridge, which will by then be displaying a giant version of the Agitos, the symbol of the Paralympic Games.

It will pass through Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Canary Wharf, Hackney, Waltham Forest, Barking and Newham, before finally making its way into the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Miller pledges expansion of government’s ‘best-kept secret’

Reforms to the scheme that provides funding for disabled people to make their workplaces more accessible could help end its reputation as the government’s “best kept secret”, according to a minister.

Among the “first steps” in reforming Access to Work (AtW) announced this week by Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, was a “targeted marketing campaign” aimed at encouraging more people with mental health conditions and more young disabled people to apply for support through the scheme.

The campaign will include efforts to raise its profile among those still at school, and it will focus on regions where AtW is not widely used, such as Wales, and promote the scheme with employers who are unaware of how it can help them recruit or retain a disabled employee.

Miller also announced that AtW would be available to young disabled people carrying out work experience through the government’s new Youth Contract, and to young disabled people taking part in the Department for Education’s supported internships scheme.

Miller told MPs: “We do not think it is right for Access to Work to be a hidden success and expanding, strengthening and modernising this programme will make work and choice of work possible for many more disabled people.”

But there are continuing concerns over the availability of AtW to new claimants, with numbers plummeting since the coalition came to power in 2010.

Liz Sayce, whose review of employment support for disabled people last year focused heavily on the need to expand and improve AtW, said she was “deeply concerned that numbers of new claimants are going down”.

If the current trend continues, the number of disabled people helped for the first time through AtW is set to dip below 10,000 in 2011-12, compared with a peak of 16,540 in 2009-10.

Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, suggested this was partly because so few people knew about the scheme, and partly because of restrictions on what was covered by the “standard list” – items which AtW will not cover because they are seen as standard equipment, business costs or health and safety requirements.

Sayce said this list “should be torn up” because it “causes immense frustration and bureaucracy for disabled people”.

Her review called on the government to double the number of disabled people receiving ATW, so that the scheme could change from being the “government’s best-kept secret” into a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.

But there were concerns that further much-needed reforms to the AtW scheme could be delayed, after Miller also announced a new “expert advisory panel”, to be chaired by Mike Adams, chief executive of ecdp (Essex Coalition of Disabled People), which will advise the Department for Work and Pensions on the best way to take forward Sayce’s recommendations on AtW.

Miller said the new panel would also make its own recommendations on “how to significantly improve” the scheme, and would report to her early next year.

When the government 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”.

Sayce welcomed the decision to set up the panel, but warned that “action must come fast because right now disabled people are not getting into jobs or getting onto the career ladder or staying in their jobs after acquiring a health condition or impairment”.

Asked whether she was concerned at further delays to implementing her recommendations, she said: “Some of my recommendations are being implemented straight away, others are being phased in, with advice from the expert panel on the most effective implementation of each policy change.

“As far as I’m concerned the proof of the pudding will be in strong and rapid implementation and I’d like to see an action plan with timescales.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Survey finds public support for winter fuel campaign

There is widespread public support for extending winter fuel payments to severely disabled people, according to a new survey.

The research found that 86 per cent of non-disabled people (and 90 per cent of disabled people) supported the move.

The survey of almost 900 people by the Papworth Trust also reveals that disabled people were twice as likely as non-disabled people to go without food, heating, clothes and leisure opportunities last winter because of a lack of money.

And three-quarters of disabled people spent between eight and 12 hours at home during the day in winter, compared with just 21 per cent of non-disabled people.

The Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert tabled a Commons early day motion (EDM) in June calling for winter fuel payments to be extended, which has so far been signed by 42 MPs from across the political spectrum.

The policy was part of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto, but was not included in the coalition’s programme of government in May.

Steve Webb MP, then the Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions secretary but now pensions minister in the coalition government, said before the election that such a policy would help to “break the link between disability and poverty”.

In March, a coalition of campaigning organisations said the “scandal” of fuel poverty had reached “crisis levels”, leading to debt, ill-health and winter deaths.

They called for winter fuel payments to be extended to all terminally-ill people and many disabled people under 60 on low incomes.

And last year, the government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group suggested that more than a million more disabled people had fallen into fuel poverty between 2004 and 2008.

In his EDM, Huppert calls for the current system of winter fuel payments to be extended to all severely disabled people, paid for by delaying age-related payments until people reach 65.

At present, the payments are given to households including someone aged 60 or over – with £250 for those over 60 and £400 for those over 80 – but the trust says making the change would save money “until at least 2014”.

Huppert said: “This survey shows that regardless of their situation, the public support the campaign to extend winter fuel payments to severely disabled people. It is vital that the government reforms the present system.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Euthanasia protest will mark opposition to ‘very dangerous’ bill

Disabled anti-euthanasia campaigners are to stage a protest outside the Scottish parliament, as a committee of MSPs hears evidence on a proposed bill that would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.

The end of life assistance (Scotland) bill would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify for assistance to end their lives under the bill, which has been proposed by independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

Bill Scott, acting manager of Inclusion Scotland – a national consortium of disabled people’s organisations and disabled people – said that offering the bill’s assistance to anyone with a care need was “very, very dangerous”.

He said a “huge number” of people would technically qualify for assistance under the bill, which was “not about assisting people at the end of their lives but about offering assistance at any stage once they have acquired an impairment that requires some level of care”.

Catherine Garrod, a member of Inclusion Scotland, said there were many people within the disability rights movement who were “very strongly opposed” to the bill.

She said it could be argued that the bill covered any disabled person who receives disability benefits, and added: “That’s why the disabled people’s movement is so strongly opposed to it. It is going to cover such large numbers of disabled people.”

Written evidence already submitted to the committee considering the bill by Independent Living in Scotland (ILiS) – a disabled people’s organisation set up to develop the independent living movement in Scotland – said the bill took a “disempowering” approach to independent living.

ILiS said the bill “contradicts and undoes the years of work” by the independent living movement, the Scottish government and other organisations.

ILiS also criticises MacDonald’s bill for making no mention of the barriers disabled people face that may contribute to them finding life “intolerable”.

The protest will take place from 9.30am on Tuesday 28 September, the day Inclusion Scotland is due to give evidence to the committee, along with other disability and pro- and anti-euthanasia organisations.

For more information about the protest, contact Inclusion Scotland, email info@inclusionscotland.org or tel: 0141 8877058

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Resistance seeks London venue to match US hosts

A powerful, award-winning installation by a disabled film-maker has yet to find a London venue willing to display it, despite being shown at two of America’s most renowned cultural institutions.
Liz Crow’s Resistance: which way the future?, which explores the horrors of the targeted killing of disabled people in Nazi Germany, has just finished successful exhibitions at the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Although it has been exhibited at several UK venues, it has still not been seen in London, where Crow is seeking venues with a similar high profile to the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian.
She is also hoping that a London venue will show the installation as part of the cultural festival that will take place in the lead-up to the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.
Crow said: “It does fit in with 2012. I think it’s a very hopeful piece even though it’s linked to the Holocaust.
“It’s about international harmony and diversity and people working together, and how you start achieving those things. It fits the ethos of the Paralympics.”
The Aktion-T4 programme is believed to have led to the targeted killing of as many as 200,000 disabled people, and possibly many more, and became the blueprint for the “Final Solution”, through which the Nazis hoped to wipe out Jews, gay people and other minority groups.
Crow’s installation explores the values that allowed T4 to happen but also shows how some disabled people found the courage to resist.
It also draws close parallels with issues that challenge disabled people’s right to exist today, such as disability hate crime, the campaign to legalise assisted suicide and pre-natal screening and abortion.
The installation features a short drama about T4, a filmed conversation between three of the actors, and a series of disembodied voices of present-day disabled people talking about their own experiences of both discrimination and inclusion.
Resistance will next be shown in the UK as part of Portland and Weymouth’s B-Side Festival, at the Brackenbury Methodist Church, Fortuneswell, Portland, Dorset, from Friday 17 to Sunday 26 September.
For more details, visit http://www.roaring-girl.com/productions/resistance-on-tour/

News provided by John Pring at http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com