Pushing the disability ministry to take disabled access seriously

A minor little campaign victory achieved at NDCS the other week: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepted that deaf people should not be forced to use the phone to make a claim for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit. Usually, I do a little jig and get the Bucks Fizz out when a campaign victory has been achieved. But this was a very small, unsettling one and which left an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

How come? Because the only real concession is that deaf people have been given a postal address that they can write to to ask for a paper form instead.

And why is it an unsettling one? Because it was such a small issue that should absolutely never have been an issue at all. And because it’s revealed some rather interesting things about how the Department for Work and Pensions, which has responsibility for disability issues across Whitehall, seem to approach issues around access for disabled people.

For example, who at DWP thought it was OK to propose that the only way that a disabled person could make a claim was via a telephone?

If an online system is being created, why not wait until this is developed before rolling out the new benefit so that more people can access?

And, the worse one of all for me, who on earth thought it was acceptable to suggest that if a deaf person couldn’t use the phone, it didn’t matter too much because they could ask a family member to call DWP for them?

Something has gone very horribly wrong when the Minister and officials responsible for disability have to be hectored at some length and for some time to take a tiny step to improve access.

Official were seemingly operating in ignorance of the Equality Act 2010 and its central tenets to remove discrimination and promote access for disabled people. Throughout the whole exchange with DWP, it was abundantly clear that the needs and the convenience of their ‘system’ was far more important than the physical access needs of disabled people.

And this is before we’ve got to the raft of spending and welfare cuts that are going to impact on disabled people (and which the Government refuses to assess the impact of – another legal requirement). This was a small issue. But it said big things about the Government’s wider attitude towards disabled people.

I despair. It makes me angry and depressed. But equally it makes me more determined to keep challenging the Government. And I hope others do too.

P.S. If you’re not sure what this new PIP benefit is all about, both the National Deaf Children’s Society and Action on Hearing Loss have recently produced some information resources on PIP for deaf young people, parents and deaf adults.

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Deaf access fail at the Department for Work and Pensions

Imagine someone telling a wheelchair user that the disabled toilets are just up the stairs. You’d think it bonkers. Well, the Department with overall responsibility on disability policy seem to be on well on their way to pulling a similar trick with deaf people.

There’s been lots of discussions about how the process for claiming the new Personal Independence Payments benefit will work in practice. In a nutshell, you have to make a pre-claim before you’re given a personalised form for your proper claim.

And how do you get a pre-claim form? Easy, you give the benefits team a call and they will do a short interview over the phone. And if you have problems using the phone? No worries, you’ll get a paper form to complete. And how do you get a paper form? You give the benefits team a call.

Frankly, it’s more than just a little disconcerting that the people looking after benefits for disabled people haven’t quite twigged that not every disabled person can use a telephone or have a textphone. So much for the new digital age and for the Government leading by example when it comes to access for disabled people… Am told that Department officials are working on trying to get an online form set up for the new PIP benefit… but it may not be ready in time when the new benefit launches in April next year.

They’d better get a move on. It’s not only just bonkers and ludicrous, but discriminatory.

Love film but hate lack of online access for deaf people?

I got an email the other day at work about Lovefilm and the lack of subtitles for deaf people who sign up to their online film streaming service. A father of a deaf daughter was angry that she wasn’t able to watch any films online with subtitles. It quickly became apparent via Twitter that this wasn’t an isolated issue and that loads of other similar companies are equally poor. Another example of access failing to keep pace with technology and incredibly frustrating.

I would say that Lovefilm and other companies that fail to provide full access to deaf people are acting unlawfully under the Equality Act 2010. Their defence? Lovefilm would probably use the get-out clause that it would be an “unreasonable burden” on them to provide access. Ultimately, someone would have to take Lovefilm to court so that a judge could decide who was right.

In the meantime, there are a few things that can be done to make a fuss about this.

1) Complain. If your beef is with Lovefilm, you can contact them via their website. You could ask them to justify why they don’t provide access and whether they think they are acting lawfully under the Equality Act 2010. Other companies should have a “contact us” page on their website tucked away somewhere. If lots of people complain, this will start to get noticed internally.

2) You could also raise with the Equality and Human Rights Commission – who can look into companies that are not complying with the Equality Act.

3) Ofcom are responsible for regulating telecommunication companies and setting access requirements. For example, they require mainstream TV companies to provide a certain level of access according to their size. Currently, they don’t (I think) regulate online TV or media access. But you should certainly feel free to tell them you think they should.

4) Finally, tell the Government to sort it. The relevant Ministry is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. A new Communications Bill is expected soon-ish and this offers an opportunity to get the law changed on things like online access, if enough people say it’s needed.

Be really interested to hear any other nightmare stories or how others have got on when making complaints like this. Or of any solutions that people have stumbled across.

University access for deaf students fail

Image courtesy of the Northern Echo

An interesting article appeared in Guardian yesterday about Rosie Watson, a deaf mature student, who took Durham University to court for breaking disability discrimination laws.

On the one hand, it’s a very inspiring story about a gutsy deaf person who refused to let the university get away with it. On the other hand, it’s appalling what she went through what she did. The Guardian also reports that disabled students at Oxford are twice as likely to drop out and that the Students Loans Company is failing to approved Disabled Students Allowances quickly enough.

It all reminded me of own experiences at university (many years ago), which I blogged about ages back. Back then I speculated whether this was a one-off experience. I’m beginning to think that it probably isn’t.

It all raises a lot of questions. Are these one-off cases or widespread problems across all universities? Why? Do deaf students know their rights? Are they making a fuss about it or are they just “coping”? Were universities having a sick day when the Disability Discrimination Act was passed? Do they think that deaf young people are so thick that they would never think of applying, or even going to university?

What are your thoughts? Do you know of any cases where deaf students have been let down at university? Be good to hear about it.

Funding for deaf access to cinema to be cut?

Image courtesy of http://www.ukfilmcouncil.com

I spotted last week that the UK Film Council are doing a consultation on their future priorities, and I’m glad I did.

There’s no mention of access to the cinema for deaf children and adults in it. For a moment, I suddenly thought that we now live in a world where deaf children and young people can go and see any film they like with subtitles at any time whenever they like . But then I saw the pigs flying by the window and I realised I hadn’t missed an important memo somewhere. We don’t live in such a world and cinema access for deaf people, whilst much better than it used to be, could still be a lot better. So it’s pretty depressing to read that it’s not a priority for the UK Film Council.

And it’s get worse. There’s no mention of funding for existing initiatives that aim to widen access. As I understand it, existing UK Film Council funding for the award-winning one-stop shop YourLocalCinema.com website is being cut. If I didn’t have access to the YourLocalCinema.com website, it would be a lot harder for me to work out what subtitled films are showing where. I probably wouldn’t bother in the end. On top of that, capital funding to allow cinemas to buy equipment to show subtitles is also being cut. In fact, according to the consultation, only around 0.5% of the UK Film Council’s future expenditure will go towards “diversity and inclusion”, and there is no mention of anything of direct benefit to deaf children and young people. Nada.

I know I’m not alone when I say there is insufficient choice of subtitled films at convenient times at local cinemas. A lot of cinemas seem to think that deaf children’s schools are quite relaxed about them bunking off to watch a film judging by the times they schedule some subtitled films. Instead of making cuts, shouldn’t the UK Film Council should be looking at ways to widen access, by funding research into on-demand technology for subtitled films?

The consultation closes tomorrow so if you’d like to respond to their online survey, you need to be very quick. NDCS’s response can be dowloaded from here.

Be good to hear your thoughts. Are you surprised / disappointed that the UK Film Council are not making access to the cinema for deaf children and adults a priority? Leave a comment below to say what you think.

Downing St petition on Government’s failure to ensure equality in exams

I am still angry about the debacle over the Equality Bill last week when the Government decided that, actually, you know equality in exams and qualifications for disabled people, isn’t all that important, like.

So angry, that I have created a No.10 Downing Street petition to vent my anger.

If you’re angry too, please add your name as soon as you can to the petition. And tell your friends, families, random acquaintances, pets, etc.

The more people who sign it, the more the Government will realise that they cannot, in the 21st century, get away with denying full access to GCSEs, A Levels and other general qualifications for deaf and other disabled people.

I’m off to find a barracade to chain myself to.

PS The Downing Street website will send you an email to check that you want to sign the petition – so please check your email afterwards!

No equality for disabled people in exams

I thought the Government had a goal of equality for disabled people by 2025 but, when it comes to exams, it turns out that just “minimising disadvantage” is the highest goal the Government will aspire to.

Yes, I’ve slipped back into angry deaf man mode. On Tuesday, Lords were debating the issue of accessible exams for disabled people and possible new laws as part of the Equality Bill. NDCS, Skill, Afasic, RNIB, the Disability Charities Consortium and the Equality and Human Rights Commission all wanted the Government to strengthen the law. But the Government decided to side with the views of exam bodies. The same people who removed all support for disabled people in 2005 on the basis that reasonable adjustments were unfair and took marks away from deaf students when they were unable to hear tapes in oral exams. If a deaf person wanted a test on ability to hear, I think most of us would prefer to go to an audiologist. Anyhow, NDCS led a coaition to get that support reinstated but still, we come across sporadic examples of problems. Anecdotally, my colleagues report still going to meetings where exam bodies discuss whether someone reading out text for blind people is “unfair” to non-blind people.

The Equality Bill now provides exam bodies and the exams regulator with a range of “get-out” clauses to avoid having to provide full access, even though there are lots of safeguards already in place to make sure that the exams are still rigorous and not watered down.

Perhaps the most offensive thing of all is that the Bill says the regulator only needs to “minimise” disadvantage faced by disabled people in exams. If you’re going to be slapped around the face unnecessarily, it’s not much consolation to be told that the Government did try to “minimise” any harm to you.

You can read NDCS’s statement on this issue here. We’re having a think about next steps. If you’ve got any thoughts on the issue or any ideas on next steps, please do leave a comment below or email NDCS at campaigns@ndcs.org.uk.

UPDATE: There’s now a Downing St petition on this. Find out more…