Channel 4 enlists YODA for its Year of Disability

Channel 4 has pledged to double the number of disabled people appearing in 20 of its biggest TV shows this year, as part of what it is calling its Year of Disability.
The broadcaster’s commitment to increase representation of disabled people on and off screen came as it marked 12 months since the launch of its 360° Diversity Charter with a report on the scheme’s progress.
In the last 12 months, the report says, 6.1 per cent of new staff joining the broadcaster have declared themselves to be disabled people, compared with just 1.9 per cent of existing staff at the end of 2014.
Among its plans for the Year of Disability – which will take in the broadcaster’s coverage of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – are a £300,000 investment in two talent initiatives.
One of the schemes will provide “bespoke career development” for disabled people working with Channel 4’s 20 biggest suppliers, helping them into production or writing roles on programmes such as 24 Hours in A&E and Hollyoaks.
The other will double the number of disabled people appearing in 20 high-profile shows, such as Gogglebox, The Island and Grand Designs, as actors, experts, presenters or contributors.
Channel 4 also plans to ring-fence six of its 12 apprenticeships and 20 of its 60 work experience placements for disabled people.
Its plans will be guided by a Year of Disability Advisers (YODA) committee, chaired by Lord [Chris] Holmes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability commissioner and himself a retired, multiple gold medal-winning Paralympian.
Lord Holmes said: “Three years ago, London 2012 was seen as a turning point for the visibility and inclusion of disabled people in our society, driving a clear social, economic, physical and cultural legacy for disabled people.
“Since then, Britain has made progress on many fronts but there is increasing evidence that disabled people are being locked out or left behind.
“Far from enjoying increased visibility and being able to participate more fully in every aspect of life, there is a risk that disabled people will become more invisible as both consumers and participants, with organisations losing out on their valuable experiences and custom.
“I welcome the moves by Channel 4 to make real progress on this issue and urge other businesses and service providers to look again at what they are doing and what they are able to do to increase representation and participation by disabled people in order to unlock the talent that is out there and to avoid Britain becoming a more segregated society.”
At a parliamentary event to launch the updated 360° Diversity Charter report this week, hosted by the Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, who chairs the all-party parliamentary Channel 4 group, the black British actor Idris Elba criticised the television and film industry for its record on diversity.
He told the event, attended by scores of MPs and peers, including Lord Holmes, culture minister Ed Vaizey and Labour’s former deputy leader, Harriet Harman: “Let’s be honest. Too often commissioners look at diverse talent, and all they see is risk.
“Black actors are seen as a commercial risk. Women directors are seen as a commercial risk. Disabled directors aren’t even seen at all.”
Elba also revealed that he had “for a while” attended a special school as a child, because of severe asthma.
He told the event: “Who makes TV? Who’s allowed on TV? And when they get the opportunity, which roles do they play, both on and off-screen?
“Are black people often playing petty criminals? Are women always playing the love interest or talking about men? Are gay people always stereotyped? Are disabled people hardly ever seen?”
He added: “Let’s have a bit of a Magna Carta moment in British broadcasting. Let’s make things fairer.”
Channel 4 also hosted a conference at its London headquarters this week, aimed at encouraging diversity within the broadcasting industry.
The updated 360° Diversity Charter report concludes that Channel 4 has achieved 24 of the 30 targets it set for itself last January, while the other six targets have progressed but have been delayed or amended.
Among its achievements, it has secured placements for 23 disabled people, who are training for roles within the Rio Paralympics production team, across 17 independent production companies.
After the games this summer, Channel 4 will sponsor and mentor these production trainees – as well as another six mid-level trainees – so they can sustain their careers.
One of the charter’s key targets was to increase the number of actors from diverse backgrounds auditioning for mainstream roles, in conjunction with Creative Skillset, the industry skills body.
But the report says this has been delayed until this year because Channel 4 has found it difficult to increase opportunities for disabled and black and minority ethnic actors.
It also encountered problems with a separate target to increase the number of disabled actors auditioning for roles in scripted productions, because, it says, “although we found plenty of talent, it was difficult to find appropriate opportunities for them, so in future we will take a more targeted approach to talent”.
David Abraham, Channel 4’s chief executive, said: “When we launched the 360° Diversity Charter last year we set ourselves challenging targets across every level of the organisation and I’m incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made, though there remains more we must do.
“I hope that with the launch of 2016 as our Year of Disability we can extend the impact of this Paralympic year right across our schedule and help do something lasting to increase representation of disabled people on- and off-screen.”
Justin Tomlinson, minister for disabled people, praised Channel 4 and welcomed the “ambitious goals” in the 360° Diversity Charter, and said its programming had “set the standard for disabled representation both on and off screen”.
But he said there was “still a long way to go if we want television to truly reflect the situation of disabled people in Britain today”.
He added: “I am delighted that Channel 4 have made this Paralympic year their Year of Disability and would challenge the rest of the industry to follow their lead.”
21 January 2016

DWP’s BSL launch cuts reference to successful Scottish scheme

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been criticised for apparently censoring a charity that tried to draw attention to a Scottish government scheme that makes Scotland’s public services more accessible to users of British Sign Language (BSL).
DWP was launching a new pilot scheme that will allow some benefit claimants to make calls to the department via a BSL interpreter.
DWP’s video relay service (VRS) scheme – which will be delivered on a six-month contract by the Deaf-led social enterprise SignVideo – only applies to calls relating to disability living allowance, attendance allowance and Access to Work.
But the Scottish scheme is much broader, and allows BSL-users to contact their doctor, local council and all other public bodies, including the Scottish government.
It had originally been launched as an NHS online interpreting service, but was extended to other public bodies last March.
Jim Edwards, chair of the UK Council on Deafness and chief executive of Signature, the deaf communication charity, told DWP his organisation was “delighted” that it had “taken this step to open up access for Deaf people who use BSL”.
He added: “We trust the pilot will be successful and look forward to more government services becoming accessible, as they are in Scotland.
But when the quote appeared in DWP’s press release, his reference to the Scottish scheme, contactSCOTLAND, had disappeared.
DWP missed out the final five words from the sentence, quoting Edwards instead as saying: “We trust the pilot will be successful and look forward to more government services becoming accessible.”
Dan Sumners, senior policy adviser at Signature, said: “It’s not surprising DWP removed that reference (assuming they did it on purpose), as it highlights the fact Scotland is leading the way on this.
“As Jim’s full quote suggests, we hope the UK government uses the DWP pilot as a springboard to launch a cross-government service in the near future.
“Of course, this service should already be in place so deaf people have the same access as hearing people. But we’re simply glad things are now moving forward.”
A DWP spokesman said: “You’ll have noticed that there are a number of quotes in the press release, and the amends you’ve asked about were for brevity – nothing more. UKCoD is content with the way their quote was used.”
But an SNP spokeswoman said: “It is no surprise that the DWP has removed any mention of the positive work being carried out by the Scottish government as, historically, Scotland has always been talked down by the established Westminster parties.”
Damian Barry, the British Deaf Association’s director of community development, said in a statement that the pilot project was “an encouraging step towards our wish to see full VRS access for Deaf people across all government departments”, but the charity declined to comment on DWP’s decision to remove the reference to Scotland.
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said in the DWP press release: “The introduction of the video relay service is an important step in making government services accessible to Deaf people or those with hearing loss, and will ensure they can communicate with our staff quickly and easily.
“It will make a huge difference to their experience of using our services and I’m delighted we’re leading the way across government.”
Tomlinson said he had made improving accessibility across the UK a “priority” for 2016.
21 January 2016

Alarm over proposals to scrap GPs’ ‘fit note’ duties

Proposals by two groups of English GPs that they and their colleagues should no longer be responsible for providing “fitness to work” certificates for their patients have alarmed disabled activists.
GPs from Kent’s local medical committee (LMC) have proposed in a conference motion to fellow doctors that they should no longer be responsible for filling in “fit notes” and that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should “establish their own means for determining fitness for benefits”.
Another motion, from South Essex LMC, also proposes that fitness to work certificates “should no longer be issued by GPs”.
Both motions have been included on the agenda for an emergency conference of GPs, to take place in London next week (30 January).
GPs play a crucial role in the process of applying for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the out-of-work disability benefit – because claimants need to provide a fit note from their doctor in order to receive ESA while they are waiting to be put through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
Campaigners fear that without the input of GPs, ESA claimants would lose a vital safeguard.
The two motions are on the agenda of the British Medical Association (BMA) emergency LMC conference in London next week (30 January), although BMA has reassured campaigners that they will not be voted on and have no prospect of becoming official policy for the doctors’ union.
Instead, a more general motion will be debated and voted on, calling for “separate contractual arrangements” for medical certification of illness, as well as home visits, care for residents of nursing and residential homes, and travel advice and immunisation.
The Special LMC Conference aims to address growing concerns among GPs about rising patient numbers, a lack of funding, and problems with recruitment in general practices across the country, and to “decide what actions are needed to ensure GPs can deliver a safe and sustainable service”.
Despite BMA’s assurance that the Kent and South Essex motions will not be voted on – or even debated – their presence on the agenda has startled activists.
They fear that dropping GPs’ duty to issue fit notes would risk further “avoidable harm” to sick and disabled people seeking vital financial support through the ESA system.
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, who first drew attention to Kent LMC’s motion, said such a move would mean patients being “thrown to the wolves of Maximus [the discredited US company that carries out the assessments] and DWP decision-makers”.
He said disabled people were “very sympathetic” to GPs’ concerns and frustration over workload and funding, but appealed to them “not to take it out on patients, who really need certification”.
He said: “We take on board their frustrations, but that is not a rational way of going about things.”
McArdle said GPs could ease their workload by making greater use of regulations that state that an ESA claimant should not be found fit for work (regulation 29), or placed in the ESA work-related activity group (regulation 35), if such a decision would pose “a substantial risk” to their “mental or physical health”.
In a draft letter to BMA, Black Triangle says: “It is the lack of a charging mechanism for benefits/appeals-related work that sits at the heart of this motion.
“GPs have neither the resources nor the willingness to continue to provide pro bono work due to the failings of the DWP.
“Despite this, many GPs feel compelled to help and it is well recognised that their support is often invaluable in overturning erroneous decisions.
“GPs must retain input into the process of entitlement to benefits and they must be appropriately remunerated to do so in the same manner as they would if they were completing an insurance report or other non-NHS work.”
BMA stressed that its policy had not changed, and was still that the WCA process should be scrapped and replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm”.
A BMA spokesman said: “This motion [from Kent LMC] will not be debated at the special conference and does not reflect current BMA policy.
“The BMA believes the certification for fitness to work process needs to be reformed and replaced with a system which works better for patients and puts less strain on overworked, overstretched GP practices.”
21 January 2016

Tributes paid to campaigner’s ‘steely determination, selflessness and dignity’

Friends and fellow activists have paid tribute to the anti-euthanasia and disability rights campaigner Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, whose life and death “epitomised the true meaning of dignity”.
Fitzpatrick – who died on 15 January, leaving a wife, Fabienne, and three adopted children – played a huge part in the ongoing campaign to oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide in the UK, Ireland and internationally.
But he also led the Disability Rights Commission’s (DRC) work in Wales throughout its seven-year existence, following an earlier academic career in which he taught philosophy, and was a former chair of Disability Wales.
He was awarded an OBE in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to disabled people in Wales, and in an interview with Disability News Service to mark the award, criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for failing to build on DRC’s work.
He said: “The fight for social justice is a long way from being won for disabled people. Are we there? Hand on heart, not at all. Have we gone backwards since the demise of the DRC? Sadly, yes.”
Fitzpatrick contrasted the EHRC’s work with that of the DRC, which he said was “the best organisation I have ever worked with, in or for”.
Among his other roles were as a long-standing chair of trustees of the St David’s Children Society adoption agency – he and his wife adopted three siblings – and chaired the Welsh government’s expert advisory group on adoption.
There was also a five-year stint as a board member of Consumer Focus Wales, before it perished in the coalition’s “bonfire of the quangos”, and six years as a director of the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, despite frustration at its failure to work more closely with service-users.
Fitzpatrick – who became disabled in 1973, after being hit by a stray bullet while working in a Belfast shop – also founded his own equality consultancy, Inclusion21, and ran it for nine years.
He had set up his own company after seven years as head of policy and research at the disability charity Shaw Trust, leaving the organisation after becoming increasingly disillusioned, and, he would say later, “having learned a great deal more about cynicism and bullying”.
Sir Bert Massie, who worked with him at DRC, said he had been appointed as commissioner for Wales but his “careful and precise analysis of issues resulted in his quickly assuming wider responsibilities, taking the UK lead on education and employment issues”.
Sir Bert, who chaired the commission, said: “He retained his position throughout the life of the DRC and became highly respected.
“He would use humour and integrity when making a case but the end result was always to provide a better service and reduce discrimination.”
Lord [Chris] Holmes, disability commissioner at the EHRC, said: “I had the pleasure and great good fortune to work with Kevin as a fellow commissioner at the DRC; his intellect was only matched by his humour and lust for life.
“We had many a happy discussion late into the evening with a touch of vino, and in the margins of meetings on philosophy and a bit of politics.
“I feel sorrow, personally and for every person’s life he impacted, that he has been taken from us so prematurely.”
Another former DRC colleague, Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said Fitzpatrick had “approached every topic with an unusual blend of humour, warmth and intellectual rigour – with great results”.
She said: “He was involved in the DRC’s work on employment – for instance, working with small businesses to improve their knowledge and practice; and threw himself into big ethical debates on how disabled people’s lives were valued – or not – by things ranging from the abortion law permitting later abortions when the prospective baby is expected to have an impairment, to ‘do not resuscitate’ notices being placed in the notes of some disabled people without proper consent.
“The movement has lost someone who brought huge talent and commitment to our work and we will all miss him.”
In recent years, it was in his role as one of the leading UK campaigners against the legalisation of assisted suicide that Fitzpatrick was best known.
In 2010, he took over the policy and outreach work for Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK) – the network of disabled activists dedicated to fighting legalisation – from Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who had founded the network eight years previously.
The disabled peer, who was another fellow DRC commissioner, said he would be “greatly missed” by fellow campaigners, who last September succeeded in persuading parliament to throw out the latest in a series of private members’ bills aimed at legalising assisted suicide.
She said he was one of the “greatest advocates” of opposition to legalisation, and praised his “larger-than-life personality, intellectual rigour, vitality, humour and genuine warmth”.
He was, she said, a “sad loss to all of us, and the thousands of disabled people’s lives he touched as he fought for our humanity to be valued equally, no matter what our impairment or illness”.
Baroness Campbell said Fitzpatrick had thrown himself into NDY UK campaigning work from 2010 with “passion, intellectual drive and selflessness (when he could have been working for a decent income)”.
She added: “As a result, NDY UK raised its game and began to attract European and international attention.”
Another leading NDY UK activist, actor and performer Liz Carr, said Fitzpatrick was “a bloody lovely man whose life and death epitomised the true meaning of ‘dignity’”, and was “a man of great integrity”.
She said: “Kevin’s passionate opposition to assisted suicide, his philosophical understanding of the issues, his humour, intelligence, optimism, energy, sense of justice and, of course, his great company are some of the many things that I am going to miss.”
She also praised his decision to keep his illness private.
Carr said: “During the past year, he decided that he didn’t want to be the pin-up for disabled people’s opposition to assisted suicide – despite the immense pressure from the media to talk about our impairments and illnesses to gain precious column inches and air time.”
Fellow NDY UK activist Dennis Queen, who also worked closely with Fitzpatrick, said: “Kevin was a wonderful colleague in Not Dead Yet UK, as well as an inspired and talented teacher to activists who are fighting the creep of euthanasia across the globe.
“Kevin was an incredible role model and media representative. I’m not quite sure what we’ll do without him.
“An irreplaceable warrior, who defended our lives until his last breath, is now resting in peace, among our stars. We will honour him by doing the same.”
As well as his work with NDY UK, he worked closely with the Care Not Killing alliance, which described him this week as “a great advocate, campaigner and friend”.
Fitzpatrick also founded Hope Ireland, an Irish campaign opposing assisted suicide and euthanasia, and – just two years ago – was the founding coordinator of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe.
One disabled campaigner, Jessica Hatchett, described this week how she met Fitzpatrick when she was a member of Young Voices for Choices, a youth forum for disabled people in Pembrokeshire.
She was one of several forum members who were invited to be a part of Rights Into Action 2003, the first international congress of young disabled people, in which Fitzpatrick was heavily involved through his role as DRC’s commissioner for Wales.
She said he had been “hugely passionate about the disability rights movement, and spoke very eloquently on the subject”.
She said: “He was great at encouraging us to share our thoughts and opinions and getting us to speak up on the issues that we felt were important.
“He encouraged people to aim high with their aspirations and gave us the confidence to believe anything was possible.”
She added: “He inspired a lot of us who attended the congress to go after our goals in life.
“I kept track of Kevin’s most recent work and was proud of the campaigning that he was doing. I hope that in some way his work can be continued.”
Baroness Campbell said Fitzpatrick had been “very private about his battle with cancer as he didn’t want others to worry about him or let his illness detract from his tireless work to prevent the legalisation of assisted suicide”.
She said the disability movement “owe Kevin so much for his commitment, friendship and selflessness because without him our right to be valued as equal citizens, no matter what our impairment or illness, would not have the recognition that it does”.
She added: “I think it’s important to honour his memory by continuing to campaign hard to get society to realise our right to equality in all things, especially at the end of life.”
Sir Bert said Fitzpatrick had been such an effective campaigner because “although he dealt with contentious issues he was always courteous even when disagreeing”, and was “always a man of principle”.
He said: “He wore his intellect lightly and never sought to intimidate. He always kept a sense of perspective and never lost his gentle humour and interest in other people and their lives.
“But behind this he retained a steely determination to improve society and in particular the lives of disabled people. His early death deprives disabled people of a great advocate.”
21 January 2016

DWP shrinks from confirming Duncan Smith’s latest ‘workfare’ threat

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to confirm reports that it plans to force more sick and disabled people into work through its imminent shake-up of employment support.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith referred to the “sickness benefit culture” and issued new hints about the content of a white paper, expected in the next few months, which will set out his plans to reform employment support for disabled people.
The newspaper suggested that Duncan Smith wanted people currently claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) – the out-of-work disability benefit – to face a new test that would find out “what they are able to do”.
They would then be “found work for around ten hours a week, or whatever is possible”, while “those who repeatedly refuse could have their support cut”, although “inevitably some claimants will still be judged unable to work at all”, according to the Mail.
It also reports that GPs will be told to “refer the long-term sick to back-to-work programmes”.
Duncan Smith is “particularly keen to target those signed off work with conditions related to their mental health”, the Mail added.
Duncan Smith is reported to have told the Mail: “The sickness benefit culture in this country is in dire need of reform… I want those who remain trapped and isolated on welfare to move from dependence to independence.”
Duncan Smith had already said in a speech last August that he believed there was a “fundamental flaw” at the heart of the ESA system, and that its much-criticised eligibility test, the work capability assessment, was at odds with universal credit, the government’s new, simplified, working-age benefit system.
Disabled activists warned then that they did not believe the government had any intention of designing a new system that empowered disabled people, rather than subjecting them to blame and punishment.
They said they feared and suspected that Duncan Smith’s reforms would be aimed instead at cutting support even further.
The reaction from some activists this week suggests that those fears were justified and that he is planning to introduce a new form of workfare for disabled people previously considered “not fit for work”.
Disabled campaigner and blogger Mx Sumpter, who tweets at @latentexistence, said Duncan Smith’s plans would “turn ESA into JSA [the mainstream out-of-work benefit]”.
Sumpter added: “Where are all these employers that IDS thinks will hire sick and disabled people for 10 hours a week? He means workfare. Tell me how this is different from the Workhouse.”
But when asked to confirm the accuracy of the Daily Mail article, and the comments attributed to Duncan Smith, a DWP spokeswoman said: “The work and pensions secretary of state outlined his intention to reform the WCA in a speech last year.
“Further details will be set out when we publish the white paper.”
She then added lengthy briefing notes containing details of government policies on the WCA and ESA, employment, the government’s Disability Confident scheme, and its target to halve the disability employment gap.
She was asked again to confirm the accuracy of the Daily Mail article and Duncan Smith’s comments, but by noon today (21 January), had failed to do so.
21 January 2016

Disabled bouncer barred from job over ‘discriminatory’ new industry rules
By Raya Al Jadir

The only wheelchair-user to secure accreditation as a nightclub bouncer is fighting “discriminatory” new rules that have led to the loss of his licence, just as he is being recognised for three decades of community service.
John Young is to be presented later this month with a British Citizen Award (BCA) – which recognises “individuals doing extraordinary things in the local community” – only weeks after being told he had lost his Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence because of new regulations.
He had held his licence for six years, but it was downgraded in December because new rules state that a door supervisor must be able to escort a person up and down a flight of stairs and, if necessary, be able to restrain a customer.
Although he has some martial arts training – has a blue belt in karate – he is unable to “sit on somebody”, as he says he would need to be able to do under the new rules, because of how long it would take to get out of his wheelchair safely.
As a result, he can now work at retail locations such as Primark or Marks and Spencer, but not at licensed venues such as bars and nightclubs.
SIA has told Young it is looking at whether it will be able to make reasonable adjustments for him and other disabled people, but that any changes to its licensing rules are unlikely to be introduced until early 2017, because they would need to be approved by the home secretary.
Even if that happens, he will have to complete another course – costing £240 – and resit his exams later in 2017 before he can resume his career.
He said: “If a black or Asian or gay person can do the job, why can’t a disabled person? If you are not discriminating against others, why the disabled?”
He said that “if SIA had their way then no disabled person would be able to apply for the licence in the future.
“Given the right opportunity and reasonable adjustments being made, we can contribute to the economy.”
He said his fight against SIA had been a “one-man crusade”, although he praised the support of his Conservative MP, Richard Harrington, and the Hertfordshire council-funded employment agency Work Solutions.
An SIA spokesman said the organisation did not comment on individual cases, but was “committed to tackling equality and diversity issues”.
He said: “Following a number of deaths and injuries involving physical intervention by door supervisors, we were directed by the Home Office to require all door supervision licence holders to obtain a top-up qualification on physical intervention when they renewed their licence in order to ensure public safety.
“Those not wishing to take the top-up training are eligible instead to renew their licence as a security guard.”
He said the top-up qualification “includes escorting and disengagement skills”, and added: “We understand that some door supervisors may not be able to complete the training that leads to the top-up qualification.
“We are fully considering what steps can reasonably be taken to avoid the disadvantaging of disabled people, while at the same time ensuring the safety of members of the public.
“Any proposals regarding amendments to our licensing criteria for disabled people would be subject to a consultation.”
A Home Office spokesman said the department did not think there was anything it could add to the SIA statement.
Young had wanted to join the armed forces as a child but was unable to do so because of his impairment.
He decided instead to join the security industry, as it was “a way of serving the country and making it secure in some way”.
He said: “I thought there are so many disabled people who spend huge amounts of money in pubs and nightclubs… so why not apply to security jobs and show people that disabled people like me can do the job.”
He qualified after attending a college in Hertfordshire in 2009, where the only adjustment he needed was a scribe to write his answers for him, with his exam held in private with his own invigilator.
Young, who also works as a disability awareness trainer, has been a member of the charity Bushey and Watford Physically Handicapped and Able Bodied (PHAB) since the age of 17, nearly 30 years ago.
As a former chair of the club, which takes its members on activities such as bowling and rock-climbing, he has worked to improve access within the community and to promote PHAB’s work, as well as improving the outlook of young disabled people.
He has also qualified as a disability athletics coach, and runs coaching sessions in the community.
Young will be one of 33 recipients of a BCA medal of honour at a ceremony in the Houses of Parliament next week.
He said he was “elated” to be recognised with a British Citizen Award, and added: “It is a good thing to be recognised, but I don’t do it for the applause, I do it because it is something that needs doing for the good of the disabled community.”
He said: “I do what I can do; I know that if my work will help me that it will also help many other disabled people.
“My voice is not just my own, but it is for the disabled community. For me, it is about keeping disabled issues and disabled rights in the public domain and in the public interest.”
He added: “Sometimes I feel like a third-class citizen when it comes to goods and services, and in 2016 you should not feel like that.”
21 January 2016

Hotel faces three investigations after disabled guest’s fire safety shock

A company is facing three separate investigations after a wheelchair-user discovered that the reception desk of the hotel he was staying in was left unstaffed every night.
Mahmood Qureshi only made the discovery after he had already spent a night in a wheelchair-accessible room at the Knighton Hotel in Knighton, on the Welsh-English border.
On his first night at the hotel – where he was staying during a visit to an international draughts competition – he booked an agency care worker to arrive at 9.30am, but she agreed to arrive earlier on the second morning.
When he checked with the hotel staff that they would let her in at 6.30am the next morning, he was told that would not be possible because there were no staff at the front desk between midnight and 7am.
Qureshi, who lives in Bradford, pointed out to hotel staff that he had high support needs and was staying with an older friend who was also disabled. If there was a fire, he said, he could be trapped in his room on the first floor.
He said: “It was very dangerous. We were on the first floor, and there were… steps going down to reception.
“Basically, we would be left to defend ourselves if there was a fire. I would have panicked, I wouldn’t have known what to do.”
Following his two-day stay last October, he complained to Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, which has launched an investigation into the hotel’s fire safety procedures.
The hotel is also being investigated by trading standards, and by Visit Wales, the Welsh government’s tourism team.
A Welsh government spokeswoman said: “These allegations are very concerning.
“Visit Wales is in contact with the owners and hoping that these issues can be resolved quickly.”
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said there was an “ongoing investigation” into the concerns raised by Qureshi.
And a spokesman for Powys council’s trading standards department confirmed that it was also carrying out an investigation into Qureshi’s concerns.
Rowena Williams, director and owner of Rural Retreats and Leisure, which runs the Knighton Hotel and several other hotels in England and Wales, said Qureshi’s complaints were “completely unfounded” and “completely fictional with completely inaccurate information”.
She said the hotel had a duty manager “on site”, but she confirmed that the hotel did not have a night porter and so the front desk was not staffed overnight.
Her husband, Paul, said the hotel had a “sleepover manager” while “the building is manned 24 hours per day seven days per week”.
He said: “In the event that a guest requires assistance out of hours, they just dial 0 from their room or the hotel number if they are not in the room, the call is then put straight through to the duty manager who is on for that evening.
“This is common practice and is explained to all of our guests and is also outlined in the guest information booklet contained within each bedroom.”
But he admitted: “It is true that we have been asked to modify our risk assessment and procedures but this is all that was requested following an inspection that was carried out on 13 November by the fire service.”
Rowena Williams said that all the rooms had fire doors and that “the 20 stepped staircase [is] wheelchair compliant” [with wide enough steps to allow a wheelchair to sit on it] while a “risk assessment shows there is no serious risk”.
She said: “The hotel is not being investigated by trading standards at all. This is complete fabrication.”
She added: “The fire brigade have raised no major issues but minor issues that have been dealt with as a matter of course.”
21 January 2016

Campaigner’s Rio dream is fading over funding shortfall
By Raya Al Jadir

A disabled campaigner has secured a place to volunteer at this summer’s Rio Olympics, but is struggling to raise £17,000 to pay for herself and the four personal assistants (PAs) she will need to take with her on the trip.
Mary Laver, who uses a powered wheelchair and needs 22 hours of care a day, was a leading campaigner against the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), which shut last year, and secured media coverage when she took her PAs with her to volunteer at the London 2012 games.
For seven days during London 2012, the former RAF servicewoman used ILF to pay for personal assistants to support her as she volunteered as a games-maker in the Olympic village, staying in a camp-site in south-west London every night because she couldn’t afford a hotel.
She now hopes to repeat that experience in Rio this summer, after being selected to be an official volunteer in the transport section.
She applied for the role last summer, and subsequently took a series of tests that examined her knowledge of the games of English, and included an interview via Skype, before being informed late last November that her application had been successful.
Although she is not sure yet what her precise role would be, she hopes to be “an active member of the volunteer group” at the Rio Olympics.
She said: “Without volunteers, there are no Olympic Games.”
Most of the cost comes from two first-class air tickets – for herself and one PA, which she needs because of her access and support requirements – and three second-class air tickets for her other PAs, although two have offered to contribute by paying for their own tickets.
Laver can only afford to contribute £1,000 of her own money.
She plans to take both her electric and manual wheelchairs, and has booked accommodation at a wheelchair-friendly hostel in Rio.
Laver said she does not believe she would face any access problems in Rio, because she has been assured by organisers that disabled volunteers would be “very welcome” and that the infrastructure and transport would be accessible.
But she now needs to raise funds to pay for her trip.
As a volunteer, she will not receive any financial support from Olympic or Paralympic organisations in Britain, and will only receive a travel pass, uniform and food from the Rio organisers.
To raise funds, she has set up a gofundme page to raise the £17,400 she needs, which she says would enable her to live out her motto “life without limits”, but has so far raised only £1,175.
She has also approached many UK sports organisations for financial support, but has been turned down by all of them.
She has set herself a deadline of 1 February to reach the halfway stage of her funding quest.
Among her efforts to persuade the government to reverse its decision to close ILF, she wrote to the prime minister, travelled from her home near Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the Conservative party conference in 2014 to lobby fellow party members, and attended protests in London.
Last year, she rode her powered wheelchair the 14 miles from the House of Commons to the constituency of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith in Chingford, east London, to mark his 61st birthday by delivering a “very special birthday card”, in another ILF protest.
She also holds the record for the fastest journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats in a powerchair – just over 24 days – which she set in 2009, raising more than £1,000 for the Royal British Legion.
21 January 2016

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