Archive for the ‘ wheelchair ’ Category

Urgent PIP Action Needed – Draft Regulations

The government has announced it’s draft PIP regulations now all of the consultations have closed. Two of the biggest issues with these draft regulations are as follows;

  • Changing the criteria for enhanced mobility component of PIP for those with physical difficulties getting around – in a nutshell the Government has now decided that anyone who can walk more than 20 metres (it was initially supposed to be 50m) does not reach the threshold for the enhanced mobility component (unless they have difficulty planning and following a journey). The DWP itself admits that 42% fewer claimants will be awarded the enhanced mobility component that would be the case if DLA continued. We estimate about 200 people in each constituency will be affected by the loss of their car, Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle or wheelchair. That’s over 100,000 people losing out on access to the crucial Motability scheme. Higher rate DLA (which is being replaced with the enhanced mobility component) is also a gateway to many other benefits such as disabled persons travel cards  taxi-schemes, bus passes and fast-track access to the blue badge scheme. It has been hinted that the enhanced mobility will take over where Higher rate DLA leaves off. So the impact of this is even more than just the loss of monthly income & cars/wheelchairs.
  • Excluding the qualification that claimants must be able to perform an activity ‘safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner’ from the regulations themselves. Campaigners, myself included, fear is that if these qualifiers are not included in the regulations, they will not be legally enforceable and tribunals may not be able to apply them on appeal. The Spartacus Campaign Group hope to get some legal advice on this as quickly as possible. If you combine this with the change above it means that theoretically someone who could walk a maximum of 25m once a month could have their mobility competent removed. A disaster for anyone with even a vaguely fluctuating condition.
We have very little time to persuade MP’s that this is not acceptable. Please do what you can.

Hardest Hit have put a ‘contact your MP’ tool on their website and the Spartacus Campaign Group have provided information and a link to this and other resources at http://wearespartacus.org.uk/pip-emergency-act-now/

A letter/email often works best but if you don’t feel up to it there are other ways you can get in contact; you can tweet your MP or post on their facebook page if they have one to spread the word.

Fibrogirl has provided some handy graphics to help illustarate the 20m rule to MPs on her blog such as the following;

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Reversing Recovery Report

The grass roots team that brought us the Responsible Reform Report (known to many as the Spartacus Report) have launched a new report called Reversing Recovery. You can see pdfs of the summary or full version by clicking these links and if you go to the website there are links to accessible formats too. 

For those that don’t have time to read the report here is the press release whic nicely summarises the main points raised by Reversing Recovery; 

New report warns car industry to lose out under welfare reform plans

A new report has highlighted the dangers to the UK’s economy following an analysis of the impact of welfare reform on the motor industry.

‘Reversing from Recovery’, published by the WeareSpartacus campaign group, analyses figures supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions and Motability, the organisation that supplies lease cars to disabled people claiming Disability Living Allowance. The report focusses on some of the impacts of the government’s plans to reform Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and its proposal to remove 280,000 disabled people from claiming the higher mobility rate of DLA, which currently qualifies them to lease a car under the Motability scheme.


The analysis estimates that, under DLA’s replacement benefit, Personal Independence Payments (PIP), there will be a 27% reduction in the number of working age disabled people, and a 17% reduction in the number of disabled people overall, qualifying for the Motability scheme. 


Motability’s publication ‘Economic and social impact of the Motability Car Scheme’ (2010) identified the scheme’s contribution to the economy through employment generation and tax receipts. The new report shows that welfare reform plans will lead to a domino effect including the loss of:

·         3,583 jobs (from 21,080 jobs to 17,497 jobs in Motability-related industries)

·         £342 million contribution to GDP (from around £2 billion to £1.67 billion)
·         £79 million in tax receipts
·         Up to £324 million contribution to GDP from disabled people’s ability to undertake paid work.

Jane Young, an independent disability consultant who co-authored the report, said: 

“It’s not just disabled people who will lose out under the Government’s welfare reform plans. Changing from DLA to PIP means fewer people qualifying for Motability cars to the tune of about 31,000 fewer vehicles a year. Less demand means fewer jobs for the car manufacturing industry, a lower contribution to GDP and the exchequer, and a knock on effect on the availability of cars in the second hand market, which also contributes to the economy.”

The report also raises concerns about future investment in the UK by car manufacturers, given the demand for new cars is going to drop as the government phases in its plans.


Rob Parsons, an Open University lecturer who also contributed to the report, added: 

“We must remember, of course, that part of this picture is the impact of these changes on disabled people themselves.  85% of Motability car users say the car has a positive impact on their ability to access health services, whilst more than 1 in 3 of those able to work say it maintains or improves their ability to undertake paid employment. 7% of customers’ families say it enables a family member to gain or keep a job.“We’ll see disabled people less independent, less likely to be able to get or keep a job and more likely to close businesses or give up self-employment. Having welfare reform plans which interfere with employment prospects is nonsensical. The Government should think again.”

The report is calling on the Government to give further consideration to the wider consequences of disability benefits reform, including consulting more widely, before finalising the regulations under the Welfare Reform Act.

For more information or to obtain a copy of ‘Reversing from Recovery’, the full report or summary version, contact:

Notes for editors:


·         ‘Reversing from Recovery’, both the full report and the summary version, will be available to download from http://wearespartacus.org.uk after publication (25 June 2012)

·         Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is a benefit that helps individuals meet the additional costs that come from living with a disability and is payable to people in work as well as out of work
·         Details of the Government’s proposals for PIP, including projections of the number of people expected to be eligible for the enhanced mobility rate, can be found in the DWP consultation document, ‘Personal Independence Payment: Assessment thresholds and consultation’ (January 2012), available at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2012/pip.shtml
·         The Motability publication, ‘Economic and social impact of the Motability Car Scheme’ (2010), is available for download at http://www.motability.co.uk/documents/PDFs/OEReport.pdf
·         The WeareSpartacus campaign group is an internet-based group of disabled and sick people from around the UK which campaigns for welfare benefits and social care services that enable disabled and sick people to live independently and with dignity.

Birmingham City Council Public Question Time

This Tuesday, June 12th, saw the first Birmingham City Council (BCC) ‘Public Question Time‘ launched. The  initiative was forwarded by Sir Albert Bore, the new Labour head of the BCC. 


I was intrigued by the idea so I forwarded a question about disability and the effects of the cuts. To my great surprise it actually was one of the 7 selected, so this Tuesday I took myself down to the BCC chambers to ask it. 

On arrival I was taken up to the chambers which are not really designed for wheelchairs but they found me somewhere to park and had a non-fixed microphone available. The room was beautiful, but at the same time I couldn’t help feeling like I didn’t really belong in a different world as all of the rather well heeled councillors entered the opulent hall. In a time of austerity this kind of old world grandeur seemed a bit too ostentatious for my tastes. I also couldn’t help but reflect on what a huge pity it was that one of the more beautiful rooms in Birmingham City Centre was generally off limits to the general public. Just one more display of the divide between many in the ‘political class’ and the rest of us.

The meeting started with a Christian prayer, something I didn’t think was really necessary and I felt rather uncomfortable abstaining but that’s the way it goes. The Lord Mayor quickly explained the format, we would have 1 minute to ask our question and a relevant member of the council would have 2 minutes to reply, then it would be onto the next.

The questions began and I soon realised the councillors sat in front of myself and another disabled questioner were Conservative & Liberal Democrats. I was shocked when they decided to talk amongst themselves as members of the public, potentially their constituents, voiced their questions and concerns. I assumed they would stop, but they didn’t. Laughing, passing notes and showing complete contempt for not only the Labour councillors responding to questions, but the questioners and any people in the hall trying to listen to the meeting. One question about human rights violating council contractors seemed to really rile them up. The gentleman sat next to me lent forwards to ask them to stop being so rude but they decided not to listen. Eventually I asked my question;

“The previous administration slashed services to disabled adults.As an example; I was left trapped in my house because budgeting restraints wouldn’t pay for a simple wheelchair ramp. I was told that because I could step out of my door – even though I’m virtually unable to walk nor could I carry either of my chairs with me – my needs were not high enough. I simply do not think this state of affairs is good enough at all.  

“To make it worse, in February the council is quoted as having said “We have sought to identify the things that people value the most” when discussing it’s consultation on a new £62m of cuts. It transpired that the vulnerable were not deemed as valued so the brunt of that £62m fell on Adults & Communities, the people who provide much needed help, support & equipment for disabled adults. 

“I believe it is a council’s duty to protect the vulnerable and promote independence over dependence, will this council work to undo the damage done by the previous administration?” 

I didn’t hear the majority of the reply because of the rudeness of ConDem councillors showing a complete lack of respect for the person replying and for myself. The gist seemed to be that the council was upset that they were not receiving their fair share of financial support from Westminster, I believe a comparison with Woking was made to illustrate a large discrepancy. The implication was that with more funding they would be able to do more for the disabled. They reiterated that they would make sure they provided appropriate care for those who were deemed in need of it, but there was no mention of the fact that they choose who is in need and the unfair way BCC has historically redefined disability so that only those who are critically at risk are able to receive direct payments. They also didn’t touch on the issue that left me trapped in my own home, the fact BCC won’t pay for wheelchair ramps for those without NHS electric wheelchairs. The only people in this area that can receive NHS electric wheelchairs are those that can’t walk a step without support. As I can manage a few metres, even though it causes severe pain to do so, I can’t have one. It does not mean that I don’t need a wheelchair ramp.


I left the meeting feeling pretty disgruntled to say the least. Not because I didn’t get the reply I wanted, I expected that but because of the way certain members of the council treated the question time. I can’t believe that humans with any empathy or care about the people they represent would treat constituents raising valid concerns in that manner. I believe one of those councillors will be my local councillor when we move, I will be sure to take myself down to one of her meetings to ask her why she treated me in that manner.


If you want to watch the council meeting you can watch it by following this link to birminghamnewsroom.com 

Birmingham Access Guide Launch – DisabledGo

Today I attended a launch event announcing the arrival of a access guide for Birmingham created by the organisation DisabledGo in conjunction with Birmingham City Council and sponsored by Marks & Spencers.

It began with a member of the council explaining Birmingham’s commitment to “addressing inequalities”. He then went on to talk about how this new IT support service would be a big step forwards in addressing a lot of the existing inequalities. I don’t quite agree with that, but I’ll explain that side of things later. Next up was a lady from DisabledGo who explained about the principles of the access service.

  • It covers 700 venues across Birmingham including mixture of independent businesses and larger chains
  • It covers theatres, cinemas, restaurants, shops, health care providers, education providers, travel, accommodation, banks, professional companies and more
  • These were chosen from the most popular recommendations put forwards by community steering groups at initial consultations
  • Disabled surveyors with various impairments visited each venue using a standard set of questions produced in consolation with disabled people & disabled peoples organisations
  • Users will be able to grow the database by suggesting new places to add as well as commenting on out-dated/ incorrect entries
  • There will also be steering groups twice annually to help direct and grow the guide
  • It is the 90th Access Guide launched by DisabledGo
  • It was match funded, Marks & Spencer provided £40,000 and the council are matching it over 5 years to ensure longevity of the service
  • The service will recruit more local volunteers to act as surveyors as it grows in size
  • The service will be made available to those without internet access through training of front line council and tourist information staff. It will also be possible to get hard copies of the guide.

The guide itself is pretty good. The website; www.disabledgo.com is  available in a range of colour contrast options, variable text sizes and has pro-reader settings.

You can search via post code if you are a local looking for services in specific parts of the city or, if you’re coming to visit then you can choose by area (for Birmingham you’d choose the Midlands, then choose Birmingham City Council from the list of councils covered).

It’s by no means exhaustive, Birmingham has a lot more than 700 businesses, venues, medical providers etc. but it is a good start. Having had a quick look there are a couple of local pubs and restaurants I’ve been avoiding because they appear inaccessible which actually have level access hidden round the back which is rather handy. I still get pretty grumpy about using places that make disabled people use the back entrance or having to ask staff to move bins so we can get in via a odd fire-escape, but having the option of access is better than none. I understand that it’s a step forward and that pre-1990’s civic-planning and architecture was pretty much always built without access for disabled people in mind yet still, segregated entrances will never sit well with me. Anyhow, I digress. 

There were some problematic aspects with regards to the launch, which can be problematic with any initative helping a community as diverse as those who are disabled;

  • I was pretty much the only person not attending as part of a organisation/charity. There were very few individuals. That is an issue because an awful lot of disabled people don’t have contact with the select group of organisations attending. 
  • It was mentioned repetitively that DisabledGo wanted to work with organisations representing disabled people, which means that the views of charities/organisations like RNIB, RNID, Cerebral Palsy Midlands, Spokz People etc… and the often limited range of disabilities they represent will have a larger sway over the direction of content.I would rather see the content driven by all potential users. Even those that don’t attend day centres and are not in frequent contact with charity representatives.
  • There was little there covering access from a specific Mental Health standpoint from what I saw & heard. Though, much of the guide could be very useful to people with Mental Health issues, especially in the anxiety clusters.
  • They give a mark to companies that say their staff have received disability awareness training, but there is no scale for how through this training is nor whether it is kept up to date. From personal experience working with some major UK supermarket chains diversity training is often a 15 min talk given by someone with very little knowledge about the field covering the bear minimum. As a disabled person I find that this ‘training’ more often than not doesn’t seem to stay with staff or stop them acting in a less than ideal manner which makes that certification rather pointless in my opinion.
  • The closing message by one of the project directors spoke about how this project wasn’t intended as an ‘ DDA/equalities act audit’ and how the council was using this to put ‘nice’ pressure on businesses by explaing that their is £18bn to be made from disabled customers in the UK every year and giving them a gentle nudge towards becoming more accessible in small ways. he was very keen to emphasise that they didn’t want to ‘force’ businesses to become accessible because that might create bad feeling. There was also mention that we shouldn’t be ‘too mean’ to business that don’t live up to access requirements. I, personally, feel much more radically about these things. If a business is not DDA/Equalities Act compliant I feel they should be told they are breaking the law and that they need to deal with the breach asap. Businesses will always have an excuse not to part with money in the short term for staff training/ colour defined steps/ wheelchair ramps/ hearing loops and so on and so forth. I don’t think a business’s owner’s right to feel comfortable exceeds disabled peoples rights to basic choice, access & independence. If we don’t start enforcing the equalities act the only people who will suffer are the already oppressed and disadvantaged.

All in all I though the product they were launching is a very useful tool and will become more so over time if plenty of people buy into it. I for one plan to take advantage of it. Still, there were issues with how it’s being rolled out and in my mind it is being used by the council to cover some rather counter-productive attitudes to disability and access.

Some Positive News Regarding the Christmas Market

Last December you may remember I had a rather rough time at Birmingham’s annual Frankfurt Christmas market.

I wrote to the people I have been informed are in charge of the market and I have heard back. The initial email I sent included some quotes of the abuse I received, so the council computer system quarantined it which caused a delay in replies.

I heard from Steve Hollingworth (Assistant Director of Sport & Events) first and shortly afterwards I received a letter from Cllr Paul Tilsley (Deputy Leader of the Council). Steve Hollingworth has offered to meet with me to discuss the issues surrounding disability, access and the annual market. You can read the letter from Cllr Tilsley here.

Hopefully I will be able to impress on him the importance of access and making reasonable adjustments.

Wish me luck!

The Search For Housing

As you probably know, I became disabled back in 2009. Today I’m still living in the same privately rented house I was then.

My current house is pretty decent on paper; it’s in a nice area, it’s close to good bus and rail links, it’s got a nice garden, a good kitchen and it’s plenty big enough for my partner & myself and our housemate. Sadly for me, it has stairs & steps galore. A set of stairs leads to our upstairs (and only) bathroom, steps lead down to our front door and steps lead out from the back. As we have a shower over a bathtub there is even a big step to be covered if you want to wash. I can’t really manage steps, lifting my leg up to go up a step (especially my right leg) pulls on my damaged abdomen and that causes severe pain. I’m sure you can see why this is an issue.

Back in 2009, when we first discovered my condition was permanent we started asking ourselves how we could go about moving to somewhere that wouldn’t leave me unable to wash without assistance as well as stranded upstairs on bad days and trapped in the house (as the wheelchair won’t climb steps itself) most days. I was, as I still am, unable to work and my partner had taken on a very low paid part time job with Royal Mail so he could balance his need to support me and his need to earn. We were not getting any ESA or DLA because of appeals and alike and we were only getting a tiny bit of housing benefit because of the way Birmingham City Council deals with couples (we sorted it after a 20 months of arguing).

Naturally we started looking at privately rented properties online to begin with. We just wanted somewhere which;

  • was on the ground floor or could guarantee working lifts – because there was no point moving to somewhere with stairs.
  • had level access – so I could get my wheelchair out front door and onto the street.
  • had a level access shower – I can’t bathe without a lot of help and it always causes extra pain so a walk-in shower would be ideal.
  • was in range of my GP, both of the hospitals I attend, my psychotherapist and my psychiatrist
  • had somewhere we could store my wheelchair – be it a garden we could put a secured shed in, a garage, a large cupboard in the house or a decent sized hallway.
  • ideally had a second bedroom so my partner could sleep when I was up all night with pain – but we were also aware how that would be a luxury a couple on less than £7k a year would ever be able to afford.

Of course we found nothing. Purpose built flats or expensive re-purposed buildings were the only ones with level access. Most of the ‘flats’ in our price range were a couple of converted rooms in a HMO (houses in multiple occupation) with steps all over and no where to store mobility equipment and more often than not no shower, let alone a walk in one. Any places which had walk-in showers described them as ‘wet-rooms’ which added an extra large price tag to the property. We quickly began to realise that accessible meant; spacious, purpose built apartment with storage space and a wet room and all of those things are pretty desirable to able bodied folk too. It didn’t talk too long to realise we were never going to find a 1 bedroom accessible home privately for less than £650pcm in Birmingham – which I assure you is pretty much double what we could have ever thought of affording at that point. Nowadays it’s about 1/3rd more than we could safely afford.

We spoke to someone from the council who explained that if we wanted to go on the council housing register we’d have no hope unless we applied at the same time to be on the disabled persons housing register. They also explained that we’d have no hope of being accepted onto that without being in receipt of DLA. So until my DLA came through we were stuck where we were.

The next step was calling Social Services and arranging for an Occupational Therapist to assess us so we could get some adaptations in our home.They kindly fitted us with grab rails in the bathroom, a toilet seat raiser, a extra banister on the stairs and a railing to help with the steps in the front garden. All of which made getting around the house a bit easier and have reduced the number of falls I have quite a bit but none deal with the problem of the severe pain caused by using stairs. Because we are in a privately rented property and I can walk (albeit with a lot of pain) we couldn’t have a stairlift put in so the worst of the problems with the house were left unresolved.

Eventually, in 2011 my DLA was awarded and we got onto applying for council housing. A fortnight ago (Jan 2012) we were awarded points and placed on the disabled persons housing register. Hurrah! Last week we got a call inviting us to go see an adapted property that would suit our needs and we naturally jumped at the chance to go see it.

It took three buses to get there and we soon discovered that it was in another area where whoever built it clearly thought lowered kerbs were optional extra they could do with out. The property was in a nice little cul-de-sac with a lovely community feel to it hidden away in a slightly rough bit of Birmingham. Looking at the building we could see it was two storey, but we assumed we were either a downstairs flat or that the building had a lift. The rep turned up and opened the front door and we were immediately greeted with this sight;

Needless to say it wasn’t quite what we expected from a level access home suitable for a wheelchair user… I stayed outside in my chair whilst my partner went to have a look around (because if it was really good we thought we could contact social services and ask about getting a stair/wheelchair lift put in). Where we need a walk-in shower this place only had a bath tub. Where we need wheelchair storage this place had none. It also was missing white goods and most of the sideboards in the kitchen too. You might not be surprised to hear that we turned it down. The housing rep who was with us was mortified to realise that we’d been sent to this property so kindly phoned the people responsible and gave them both barrels on our behalf.

The search is still on and I’ll keep you informed of anymore hilarious housing mishaps along the way.

 

Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market 2011 In A Wheelchair

Every year for the last decade Birmingham has played host to a huge Frankfurt Christmas Market, to celebrate the twinning of the two cities. It takes place over the months of November and December. The one of the main shopping streets gets a sweet line of wooden stalls laid down the centre, the main thoroughfare between the shopping streets and the library, art gallery, the ICC, the Symphony Hall, the main ‘drinking & partying’ street and the council houses also gets stuffed with lovely little stalls.

Every year I see it as the only way to get from my bus stop to the Birmingham City Centre shops is to pass through it. There are some other routes which avoid some of it but to use them I’d have to be able to get my wheelchair up and down a flight of stairs – which is something I cannot do. On the whole there is a really lovely atmosphere. Everything is fun and festive and it makes me feel great to be a part of it. Sadly, those feelings are beginning to dissipate.

You see, on a normal day New Street is busy but that’s fine. It’s a really wide, pedestrianised street. Folks browsing walk slowly near the shops and those in more of a rush move down the middle. It’s brilliant. The market stalls (which sit back to back) halve the amount of space on the street instantly. Victoria Square has even more room taken by the twisting labyrinth of stalls. This would be slightly annoying on a boring Tuesday in May. On a Saturday in early December it became horrific. The regular shoppers/workers were mixed with all the extra Christmas shoppers and those tourists visiting the Frankfurt Market. It was yesterday (a Saturday) that I decided to visit the market with a small group of friends as it was the only day we were all free.

Trying to navigate it all on foot is taxing enough, trying to move an electric wheelchair through the crowd (let alone trying to get it to any of the stalls) was nigh impossible. It was too noisy for my horn, people couldn’t hear me shouting excuse me and ignored me tapping them on the arm if they didn’t respond to my verbal requests. It often took my companions shouting and holding people back to allow me to safely move. I don’t like to think about what it would have been like on my own. There was no way to turn around in my chair given how dense the crowd was, my turning circle is quite small, but still too large for that environment. Sitting just below eye-height also made life difficult as people tried to stand in me or push into the area I was occupying with my chair. No apologies were forthcoming, just glares for being in the way. I hope the pictures used above help illustrate just how busy the place gets.

I’d be miffed if that was simply it though; just some poor civic planning that is very hard to avoid if you are a wheelchair-user. Especially one wanting to access Birmingham city centre with minimal stress and discomfort.

Unfortunately, I neglected to mention that into the melting pot of the Frankfurt Christmas Market a generous helping of mulled wine, cider and other alcholoic beverages had been stirred. Most patrons of the numerous stalls selling warming festive alcohol were very pleasant but a number of others lost there ability to control their rather anti-disability internal monologues. The stalls selling alcohol are all over the market and are very popular. Especially on an extremity freezing winter afternoon. The numerous patrons, ever fearful of loosing their £3 deposit paid for the mug the hot-booze came in, densely pack around the bars and often fill the thoroughfares too. When trying to ask these people to ‘excuse me’ or to ‘just move a little to the right’ things got nastier. Here’s a selection of the less than helpful replies I got:

“Why on Earth would you come here?”
“Tsk. This is no place for wheelchairs.”
“Harharhar, ‘Wide-load’! Harhar!”
“Try walking next time sweetheart.”
“Tsk, lazy.”
“Sponger coming through”
“How stupid to come here with a wheelchair! What were you thinking?”

I just love being made to feel unwelcome in my home city. There is no feeling like it. My friends were wonderful and challenged the comments they heard but still, they shouldn’t have had too and I shouldn’t have had to hear that abuse. They may as well put up a sign that says “Disabled people only welcome when the market is very quiet”. I plan to complain to the Leisure and Culture department at Birmingham City Council with regards to this. It’s really not fair that people should be put in a position where they are subject to drunken abuse for simply trying to get from A to B. Actually, it’s not right that people should ever be subject to abuse. ‘Nuff said.

Hate crime directed against those with disabilities in on the rise in the UK and little things like poor planning can make it far worse than it already is.

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