Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Part 2 - Getting There

Now, this was a meeting with a jobs broker in a job centre linked to New Deal for disabled people. You'd think it'd be in any easily accessible location, wouldn't you? Well, you might not consider it, but maybe if you did you'd hope as it's a government building, for an official government programme to try and get disabled people off benefits and into employment it would at the very least be easily accessible to said disabled people. Well, that'd just make life too easy really, and make far too much sense for anything involved in the public sector! Far better to make those scrounging cripples into public enemy no.1 and try to make everyone believe they and they alone are responsible for the mounting cost of the welfare state.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995
was the first time disabled people were given legal rights in the areas of employment, education, buying or renting land or property and access to goods, facilities or services. 1995! And still not all of the Act has come into force. Part 3 of the Act requires;

service providers to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people. A service provider is required to take reasonable steps to:

  • change a practice, policy or procedure which makes it impossible or unreason-
    ably difficult for disabled people to make use of its services
  • provide an auxiliary aid or service if it would enable (or make it easier for) disabled people to make use of its services

In addition, where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of services, a service provider has to take reasonable steps to:

  • remove the feature; or
  • alter it so that it no longer has that effect; or
  • provide a reasonable means of avoiding it
  • provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service available
In practice you tend to hear this referred to as 'making reasonable adjustments' which often is all that is needed. Sadly, all too often being reasonable is far from the reality.

So, I turn up for my appointment at the job centre to find firstly that I can't park. This for me is a fairly major and common problem. Like many people who struggle with their mobility my GP referred me to be assessed for an electric wheelchair. I need an electric wheelchair or suitable powered aid because my upper body is funnily enough attached to my lower body. Even more strangely that means both my upper and lower body have the same genetic disorder...whaddya know! It sort of makes sense really! What doesn't make any sense is to be refused a powered wheelchair on the grounds that 'they aren't provided for outdoor use unless you first use one solely indoors for a minimum of six months' eh what? This is to be the subject of a post in it's own right, but suffice to say that due to more NHS, Social Services, public sector, actually I don't know who quite is responsible for wheelchair services, stupidity I don't have a wheelchair because I'm not capable of self propelling and don't have someone to push me around. God that's one hell of a good way of cutting costs!

Back to the job centre...where thanks to our local council's dramatic refurbishment of town there are now only spaces for 3 cars outside job centre, and of course all are taken. I had to park in a side street, which in small town land was luckily close enough, but then had to figure out how to negotiate kerbs and modern cobblestones. The pedestrian crossing was simply too far away for me to be able to walk to so I had to take my usual gamble that traffic stops upon sight of an extremely small person very slowly limping across the road. I find smiling at drivers helps...alot. It doesn't however help the fact that the bastard kerb stones have been increased in height so much that I could neither get up nor down them without dislocating multiple joints....Clearly another reasonable adjustment. I grit my teeth and hope not to fall headfirst into the road. Happily the cars stop again...this time.

Despite confident instructions from the job broker that I am to go in via the main entrance I can see the three large stone steps up to the front door, and unlike him understand that steps are just a bit of an obstacle to anyone with mobility problems. That means I have to go around the side of the building to the 'disabled' entrance which of course is not a problem unless you have mobility problems, in which case any extra distance is like a marathon. It's worse when trying to walk on unstable joints over fucking cobblestones that cause pain to ricochet throughout my body, make it impossible to place even my small feet down safely or solidly and increase the risk of falling by about a gazillion. Yep, putting in new cobblestones was a wise move by the local council. I've heard it referred to as 'granny skittles' as every time you drive through this particular town you see another old person toppling over the posh new cobblestones.

Finally, wincing I get round to the 'disabled' entrance which of course is locked. There's an intercom which I push and have to wait several minutes for someone to answer. I'm waiting outside, on the pavement, cold and in more pain from the cobblestones, wobbling trying not to fall in the road, cross from the humiliation of having to ask permission to enter a building open to the public. As I wait there I realise I have hurt my shoulder joint from having to reach so far up to the intercom then gape in utter amazement as I work out that the intercom is sited so far up the wall it is impossible for any seated person to reach. People in wheelchairs as a rule are sitting down and this very intercom for their use is sited just below normal eye level. Clearly someone has previously complained as a token doorbell has been placed at sitting level. It seems like it was either too much effort or not thought of to move the intercom to an accessible position for the very people it's intended for.

Eventually, slowly a security guard creaks into view. I hope nothing bad ever happens in small town job centre as this security guard kindly though he turns out to be will not be capable of securing the staff from anything. He must be on new deal. It seems not only do I have to ask for permission from an intercom sited out of my reach, and impossible for a wheelchair user to use, I have to then wait to be let in to the building, there is no automatic unlock facility. The security guard asks if I have an appointment, then says he thought it would be with job broker as I start to follow him through to the room. He slows down as he sees I am unable to keep up with him, struggling to follow I joke at the implausibility of the situation, he replies sympathetically that he has complained, repeatedly but nothing is ever done and no-one listens.

3 comments:

having my cake said...

Truly incredible! You'd kind of like to think that they'd actually trial-run the disabled route using someone who can point out any pitfalls...

BenefitScroungingScum said...

You'd think so...but I suspect that would be far too logical!

Textual Healer said...

Sometimes I cry for you and your anger and frustration at dealing with such an illogical system. I know that if I were in your shoes I would be equally self righteously indignant - and more. More power to your pen.