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23 June 2022

 In this week’s edition:

  • DWP ignored ‘hugely alarming’ research that linked WCA with 600 suicides, MPs are told
  • Transport secretary silent after misleading MPs about tactile safety markings
  • DWP’s ‘failing assessment system is increasing poverty and worsening mental health’
  • Ticket office closures report sparks fresh access fears
  • It’s ‘unfair’ to say our accessible transport strategy is failing, says government
  • Research shows how tens of thousands of disabled staff are ‘managed out’ of jobs
  • Government eases concerns over cost-of-living payment care charge fears
  • Co-production projects are ‘driving change’ in Wiltshire, says DPO
  • Theatre company marks 25 years with new emphasis on visually-impaired leaders
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week


DWP ignored ‘hugely alarming’ research that linked WCA with 600 suicides, MPs are told

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ignored leading academics after they published “hugely alarming” research that linked the work capability assessment with 600 suicides in just three years, MPs have been told.

The failure is just the latest evidence to show how DWP ignored and covered-up warnings about the safety of its disability benefit assessment system over the last decade.

The Commons work and pensions committee was hearing evidence on the assessment system yesterday (Wednesday) from Professor Ben Barr, from the University of Liverpool, and Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, from the University of Kent.

Professor Barr was one of the team who published ground-breaking research in 2015 that concluded that the government’s programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit (IB) through the work capability assessment (WCA) was linked to about 600 suicides in just three years.

Professor Barr and other public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford showed in the study that, for every 10,000 IB claimants who were reassessed in England between 2010 and 2013, there were an additional six suicides, 2,700 cases of self-reported mental health problems, and an increase of more than 7,000 in the number of anti-depressants prescribed.

He told the committee yesterday that the study, and other evidence that has emerged over the last decade – such as reports of individual deaths and reports by coroners – showed “clear evidence that there’s potential for the assessment process to cause some very major adverse effects on mental health”.

He said it was impossible to prove that the WCA caused the 600 suicides, although it was “extremely likely” and “extremely plausible that the assessment process led to those outcomes”.

But Professor Barr told the committee yesterday, in response to questions from Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, that DWP had not contacted the research team after the article was published.

He and his colleagues had recommended in the study that DWP should start to monitor the WCA’s “adverse outcomes”, but the department failed to contact them to discuss the recommendation and the wider study.

He said it was not possible to say if the level of harm had decreased since 2015 because DWP “hasn’t been collecting the data to be able to answer that question and hasn’t enabled researchers and others access to the data that would enable that to be answered more robustly.”

He called on the committee to push for DWP to monitor “adverse outcomes coming through the assessment process”.

Professor Barr later confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) that he had had no official contact from DWP about the study, despite the number of suicides it linked with the WCA being described by Abrahams as “hugely alarming”.

He told DNS the research team had organised a workshop a couple of years after publication, which was attended by representatives from DWP, and in which he and his colleagues discussed the study in an “unofficial capacity”, but there had been no other contact.

Conservative MP Dr Ben Spencer repeatedly questioned the data and told the committee that the figure of 600 suicides “seems almost too big to be believable in terms of going through the work assessment process”.

He asked if there was another explanation for the increase in suicides, and later said that he “can’t really get my head around it” because “it looks so large”.

But Professor Barr said the figure was “entirely plausible” as one million IB claimants had been put through the WCA in those three years.

He told DNS later that “using more detailed data that the DWP has access to, we would be able to estimate these effects with greater certainty.

“At a minimum, our evidence, along with evidence published by others, is sufficient to warrant further independent inquiry, and changes to the assessment process to minimise harms.”

Dr Baumberg Geiger said that – despite recent claims from DWP assessment contractors that their performance had improved – his own research suggested there were “still major problems with the WCA that could lead to increased risks of poor mental health”.

He said that provisional results from a survey of more than 7,000 benefit claimants found more than half of those who had been through a WCA said it had made their mental health worse.

He told the committee: “It is not sufficient just to say this is a historic problem and everything is fine now.”

He also raised serious concerns about the gradual move of disabled people onto the universal credit working-age benefit system, which can place demands on disabled claimants before they have had the chance to be assessed through the WCA.

He said: “For universal credit, everybody is part of the system and has the demands imposed on it potentially at the start before a WCA so you’re really, really relying on the safeguarding procedures to be really good.”

He said DWP “has a responsibility to make sure for people that it is there to help, that it is not causing harm”.

Professor Barr said it was not possible to examine the impact of universal credit on mental health, and whether it had also led to suicides, because DWP was refusing to release the data needed to carry out that research “when it is within its power to do that and it would be possible to assess those impacts”.

23 June 2022



Transport secretary silent after misleading MPs about tactile safety markings

Under-fire transport secretary Grant Shapps is refusing to say if he will apologise after misleading MPs about the government’s progress in installing life-saving tactile paving on railway platforms across the country.

Shapps is already at the centre of a fierce political row after refusing to meet the RMT union to try to resolve this week’s rail strikes.

But on Monday, he told MPs – after being questioned by disabled Conservative MP Paul Maynard about assistance for disabled passengers during the strike – that the government was “speeding up” response times for assistance.

Shapps then claimed: “We will shortly complete the work that we have promised on putting in tactile pavements around station platforms to remove another potential risk of using our railways.”

But last month, Network Rail told Disability News Service that only about 60 per cent of around 5,500 station platforms across the country had been fitted with tactile strips.

The government refused last month to promise to accelerate the long-delayed installation of tactile paving, despite an inquest finding that the lack of safety markings played a part in a disabled man’s death.

The government has so far promised only to instal tactile markings on all rail platforms by 2029, even though an inquest jury found last month that the lack of tactile paving caused or contributed to the death of 53-year-old Cleveland Gervais, at Eden Park station, south-east London, in February 2020.

The jury concluded that if there had been tactile paving, Gervais would have been aware of how close he was to the edge of the platform.

The government’s new National Disability Strategy – since declared unlawful by the high court – included a pledge last year to “develop proposals for the accelerated upgrade of rail station platforms with tactile paving”.

But the Department for Transport (DfT) admitted last year that it had set a deadline of 2029 to complete the work, while Network Rail said that all its regions had plans to finish the work by March 2029.

Last month, Network Rail said it had secured the extra funding it needed.

Network Rail had failed to respond by noon today (Thursday) to requests to confirm the timetable for installing tactile markings on all rail platforms.

A DfT spokesperson refused to say by noon today (Thursday) whether Shapps would apologise for misleading MPs, and also refused to confirm the current timetable.

But he said in a statement: “We remain fully committed to fitting tactile surfaces across all mainline stations in Great Britain.

“Network Rail received an initial £10 million to install tactile paving at priority stations and funding for other stations was secured at Spending Review 2021.

“We are committed to installing tactiles at the remaining stations as soon as possible.”

23 June 2022



DWP’s ‘failing assessment system is increasing poverty and worsening mental health’

The government’s “failing” and “pseudo-scientific” benefits assessment system is increasing disability poverty and worsening claimants’ mental health, MPs have been told by leading academics.

Professor Ben Barr, from the University of Liverpool, and Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, from the University of Kent, were giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) as part of the Commons work and pensions committee’s inquiry into the assessment system.

Both academics have carried out influential research into the assessments.

Dr Baumberg Geiger described the work capability assessment (WCA) as “pseudo-scientific”, and said it assessed people’s impairments “without any transparency or evidence” in the way that it “over-rules people’s accounts of their own lives”.

And he said the assessment for personal independence payment (PIP) was a “crude gesture towards some of the very high costs that people face, but it doesn’t come close to covering them”.

He said: “There is a lack of transparency and evidence and rigour about what goes on in these assessments and their link to the things they are meant to be assessing.

“There is no evidence base linking the PIP criteria to the costs that people face that the DWP has produced, and I think that is something that needs to be rectified.”

He said it was essential that disabled people could trust the assessment system but that it was “hard to trust a system that says it’s going to assess your capability for work but then doesn’t, really”.

He has researched assessment systems in other countries, but he said the UK’s WCA “does stand out as being particularly bad, causing particular unhappiness and distress, and being particularly difficult to link to any sensible conception of what it should be assessing”.

Professor Barr, who works in applied public health research, said there had been an increase in the disability poverty gap* since 2013, particularly among disabled people who are out of work.

He said this was likely a result of reduced access to disability benefits and those benefits being set at too low a level.

He said the WCA “does seem to be failing”, with research suggesting it had not had a “positive impact on employment” among disabled people and had increased their risk of poverty.

Both he and Dr Baumberg Geiger were critical of DWP’s failure to release reports and research about the assessment system, including figures Disability News Service (DNS) has been seeking that would show WCA data for claimants of universal credit.

Professor Barr also pointed to secret internal process reviews, which DWP is refusing to release to DNS, despite a ruling six years ago from the Information Rights Tribunal.

Dr Baumberg Geiger said the “major” issue of refusing to release reports should also be linked “to a wider culture of a lack of transparency around the assessments and the wider benefits system”.

He said DWP was blocking researchers from using its data to examine how its systems were working.

*The difference in the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people living in poverty

23 June 2022



Ticket office closures report sparks fresh access fears

Parts of the rail network are set to become even more inaccessible to many disabled people if the government presses ahead with proposals to close all ticket offices in England, campaigners have warned.

The Sunday Times reported this week that plans had been drawn up to phase out paper tickets, close or “repurpose” 980 ticket offices, and force passengers to buy tickets online.

But not only would such a move impact those disabled and older people who do not use the internet, it would also be likely to have a significant impact on the ability of passengers with mobility impairments to travel on the railways without booking assistance in advance.

The cost-cutting measure would almost certain lead to more unstaffed stations, which – when combined with train services that run without a guard – would effectively mean that disabled passengers who need support from a member of rail staff to access and leave a train would be prevented from using large parts of the network without booking assistance.

The Department for Transport told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) that “no final decision has been taken on ticket offices” but did not deny that the closures were being considered.

Emily Yates, founder of The Association of British Commuters (ABC), told DNS: “The prospect of closing every ticket office in the country would be devastating to disabled and older people’s rights.

“Station destaffing would be the inevitable next step, meaning more unstaffed trains running though unstaffed stations; more booking ahead; difficulties with ticket purchasing and penalty fares; the denial of access to station facilities and increased safety risks at the platform edge (see separate story).

“The government should be reminded that the denial of ‘turn up and go’ travel is almost certainly in breach of the Equality Act 2010, the public sector equality duty, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“As asserted by both DPTAC [the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee] and the Equality and Human Rights Commission for years, there is an extremely high likelihood of new case law in this area.

“Legal action cannot come soon enough – to set a precedent that disabled people can never again be denied transport on an equal basis.”

In its response to a Department for Transport consultation on “pay as you go” in 2019, DPTAC, the government’s own accessible transport advisers, warned of the potential impact of the closure of ticket offices.

This could leave train companies “free to reduce or remove staff”, said DPTAC, which would threaten the provision of assistance, and the availability of toilets, waiting rooms and lifts.

In this response – which was secured by ABC through a freedom of information request – DPTAC also suggested that closures and staff reductions could dissuade train operating companies from improving access at stations, to avoid stimulating demand for assisted travel.

DPTAC did say, though, that ticket office closures could provide an opportunity to “redeploy staff to where they are most effective”, such as providing information and assistance in the public areas of the station.

Ann Bates, former rail chair of DPTAC and a retired transport access consultant, said that even those disabled passengers who book assistance ahead of traveling would be affected.

She said: “If unstaffed trains will now call at unstaffed stations the entire network will become inaccessible, despite all the money spent on the new pre-booking passenger assistance app.

“There is a ‘pilot’ going around with staff on a minibus being deployed to your booked station.

“Given the state of traffic nowadays, what happens when the minibus doesn’t get there?”

A DfT spokesperson said: “No final decision has been taken on ticket offices.

“Staff will always provide face-to-face services on the railways, which can be crucial for those who need additional support and cannot, or do not want to, use contactless or mobile tickets.

“Our planned railway reforms aim to help provide greater flexibility for industry to deploy staff where they will offer greatest value to customers, while ensuring customers are able to make the most of the services.”

DfT is currently carrying out an accessibility audit of all 2,563 British rail stations, which it says will help shape future investment in accessible rail travel.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA rail union, said: “We’ve been asking for clarity on rumours about ticket office closures for months, but no proposals have been shared with us or the staff who work day in day out serving passengers.

“This government has no respect for rail staff or passengers if they think this is the way to run our public transport services.

“The government has badly miscalculated the reaction this will have from staff and passengers who rely on and value station staff.

“This will simply make more members vote for strike action.”

He is to write to transport secretary Grant Shapps to demand an urgent meeting to discuss ticket office closures.

But he added: “Sadly, I’m not holding my breath as Shapps and his fellow ministers appear to be on strike themselves as so far no-one from the government has met with our union to discuss booking office closures or our disputes with railway employers who are directly controlled by the Department for Transport.”

The rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), declined to say by noon today if it was concerned about the possible closures.

But an ORR spokesperson said: “Train and station operators must continue to comply fully with their obligations in respect of passenger assistance as set out in their accessible travel policy, and ORR will continue to monitor progress closely.

“It is important that those passengers needing assistance to travel, booked or unbooked, receive assistance and that information on any changes is made clear.”

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the companies that run Britain’s railways, had failed to comment on the potential closure of ticket offices by noon today.

23 June 2022



It’s ‘unfair’ to say our accessible transport strategy is failing, says government

The Department for Transport (DfT) has said it is “unfair” to suggest that the government’s accessible transport strategy is failing, despite three high-profile incidents involving disabled air and rail passengers last week.

In one incident, a disabled passenger in his 80s died after falling from an escalator at Gatwick airport after deciding to leave a plane with family members rather than waiting for assistance.

Two days earlier, a 92-year-old disabled passenger at Gatwick had to hammer on a window and shout for help because she believed she had been abandoned by assistance staff.

And on Friday, a wheelchair-user claimed he had to drag himself up a flight of stairs at Milton Keynes railway station, and was initially refused help by staff, because of a broken lift.

Only last week, the government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) wrote to the aviation industry about recent disruption at airports, and listed five “expectations”, including that “disabled and less mobile passengers must be given assistance they require”.

And earlier this month, CAA wrote to airports to tell them to address “unacceptable” failings in the provision of assistance to disabled passengers.

CAA said in the letter that it would “continue to closely monitor the quality of service provided and if these significant service failures continue, we will consider whether further action is needed, including using enforcement powers”.

Earlier this month, Gatwick had to apologise to a disabled passenger who was left on a plane for more than an-hour-and-a-half after it landed.

And last month, the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, tweeted a similar experience at Heathrow airport.

Four years ago, the government published its Inclusive Transport Strategy (PDF), promising to “make our transport system more inclusive, and to make travel easier for disabled people”.

It insisted that a “genuinely inclusive transport system” would be “central to this Government’s mission to build a country that works for everyone”.

Asked about last week’s three incidents, a DfT spokesperson commented on the two Gatwick incidents.

He said: “We want aviation to be accessible for all and to provide the best service for disabled people and those with reduced mobility.

“We have a robust regulatory framework to support this, and it is unfair to suggest our Inclusive Transport Strategy is failing.

“Ministers and the Civil Aviation Authority have been clear with industry what is expected in relation to providing support to disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility when travelling by air.”

A Gatwick spokesperson said that “staff shortages” at its passenger assistance provider Wilson James were not a factor in the “sad and tragic” incident involving the disabled passenger who fell from the escalator.

He said: “A member of Wilson James staff was waiting when the aircraft arrived and was in the process of disembarking the three passengers with mobility difficulties when the incident occurred.”

A Wilson James spokesperson said the incident “was not related to staff shortages”, the passenger who died “was not left waiting in any way”, and the incident itself happened only 10 minutes after the aircraft had landed.

She said: “Wilson James attended the aircraft with a five-seater buggy to collect three passengers who had pre-booked the assistance service.

“Two passengers required a wheelchair, one did not.

“The Wilson James agent took the first passenger by wheelchair, who disembarked to the lift adjacent to the airbridge.

“During this time, the passenger who did not need a wheelchair disembarked the aircraft on foot and took the escalator with their family members.”

Gatwick said that a “challenging operational day, including significant delays” had led to the assistance operative arriving late to meet the 92-year-old passenger, and it apologised for her “poor experience”, which was “far from the standards we expect”.

The Wilson James spokesperson said the women had waited 33 minutes for the assistance to arrive, which “falls short of our expectations for our service delivery, and we acknowledge her frustrations”.

She said: “Given widespread challenges in air travel at the moment, we are constantly adjusting our resources to meet the shifting reality of flight changes or delays, including trying to allocate agents with relevant experience to passengers with the most complex needs.”

The Gatwick spokesperson said Wilson James was “a respected provider and, since 2017, has provided a good quality service for the airport”.

Investigations into both incidents are ongoing.

London Northwestern Railway (LNR), which runs Milton Keynes station, denied that the disabled passenger had been refused assistance by staff.

LNR blamed an “unfortunate combination of his train terminating early due to disruption and the lift being out of order on the particular platform his train arrived at”.

An LNR spokesperson said station staff had been in the process of arranging for a train to be re-routed to that platform as he attempted to climb the stairs with his wheelchair.

But she said LNR was “really sorry” about the “distressing” experience and that station staff had provided assistance in “challenging circumstances”, as well as offering the passenger an alternative travel solution to get him to his destination.

She said LNR was working with the train provider Avanti “to investigate what happened and understand where we can improve the experience of rail travel for passengers with disabilities”.

23 June 2022



Research shows how tens of thousands of disabled staff are ‘managed out’ of jobs

New research shows why tens of thousands of disabled people every year are being “managed out” of their jobs by disablist employers.

The researchers concluded that the Equality Act was “failing to live up to its potential”, with many employers failing to create inclusive workplaces.

They heard that the time taken to implement a reasonable adjustment can range from 10 minutes to several years, with one disabled employee being placed on “gardening leave” for two years while their employer obtained a particular type of mouse for their computer.

The researchers carried out 38 in-depth interviews with disabled people, representatives of disabled people’s organisations, employers, unions, the government, the private sector and lawyers.

One of the interviewees said many disabled people were not receiving the reasonable adjustments they requested, adding: “Some of that is wilful, some of that is ignorant, and all of it is very bad employer practice.”

The Ableism and the Labour Market (PDF) report* was co-authored by Dr Sarabajaya Kumar, a public policy lecturer at University College London (UCL), who herself was managed out of a job by a previous employer due to its “shocking” failure to make the reasonable adjustments she had requested.

The report was co-authored by UCL’s Dr Colin Provost, funded by The Association of Disabled Professionals (ADP), and supported by UCL’s Policy Lab.

The aim of the research was to understand why reasonable adjustments are so often not being put into place.

Among the key barriers, it found, were the government’s Access to Work and Disability Confident disability employment schemes.

The researchers also found that disabled people’s experience of employment tribunals was “frequently traumatising”, while it was often “prohibitively expensive” to secure the legal support needed to take discrimination cases.

A previous report, Ahead of the Arc, commissioned by the all-party parliamentary group on disability, concluded in 2016 that up to 48,000 disabled people a year were being “managed out of the workplace” by their employers.

And a 2020 report (PDF) by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health and Social Care found that disabled people move out of work at about twice the rate of non-disabled people, while workless disabled people move into work at around a third of the rate of non-disabled people.

Some of the report’s strongest criticisms are reserved for DWP’s Access to Work (AtW) and Disability Confident schemes.

The authors call for significant improvements to AtW, with most of those interviewed raising concerns about the programme’s “efficiency and effectiveness”, which can lead to disabled people losing their jobs.

One interviewee describes the scheme as “a disgrace”, another says it is “useless”, while a third calls for reform, telling the researchers: “Yep, it’s dead. It doesn’t work.”

There are also “unanimous” concerns about Disability Confident, with interviewees describing it as “more of a marketing and public relations tool to make organisations look good”, and calling for it to be reformed so employers have to complete more tasks if they want to move up from level one of the scheme to levels two and three.

One interviewee describes visiting an employer to advise them on their disability strategy, and mentioning Disability Confident to a member of staff, who had not previously heard of the scheme and then left the room.

Less than an hour later, they saw the staff member again, and she revealed that her organisation had now achieved Disability Confident level one, 45 minutes after she learned about the scheme for the first time.

One of the report’s key recommendations is for employers to develop “inclusive, accessible and disability-positive cultures” so they create a “safe” environment where disabled employees can disclose their impairments and conversations about reasonable adjustments can take place.

It also calls on employers to centralise requests and budgets for reasonable adjustments, or even move towards an environment where they offer workplace adjustments to all employees, whether they are disabled or not.

And it recommends government funding for a new “One Stop Shop”, which would provide disabled workers and employers with advice, high-quality research, and best practice case studies.

The report also calls for funding for legal representation for disabled workers, and for disabled workers to be included on employment tribunal panels.

Jane Hunt, ADP’s chair, congratulated the authors for “succeeding in addressing this very important question, and with their very difficult, and sometimes very emotional, research”.

She said: “We hope that this research brings greater awareness and that it helps to continue a broader conversation about how to create more inclusive workplaces in which disabled people can perform and thrive, free of barriers.”

*Dr Kumar has discussed the report in a UCL podcast

23 June 2022



Government eases concerns over cost-of-living payment care charge fears

The government has eased concerns that cost-of-living support for hundreds of thousands of disabled people in England announced by the Treasury last month – which should be worth hundreds of pounds – could have been snatched back by local authorities.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced payments of £650 for those on means-tested benefits, and another £150 for recipients of disability benefits, to help ease the cost-of-living crisis.

But the Disability Poverty Campaign Group (DPCG) had raised concerns that existing care charge rules could mean that many local authorities would snatch all the cost-of-living payments handed out by the government.

This is because many disabled people who receive social care in their own homes from their local council must make a financial contribution.

The charge is decided by the council, which has to leave the person with a minimum amount of money, known as the minimum income guarantee (MIG).

The basic MIG for a single working-age adult is currently £94.15 per week*, or £74.60 for those between 18 and 25, and any income above that rate can be taken back by the council to contribute to their social care package.

DPCG – which is led by the disabled people’s organisations Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel, Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Barnet, and Inclusion London – says an increasing number of councils are keeping all of a service-user’s income above the MIG.

They feared that this could mean that all £800 of the cost-of-living support provided by the government could be taken by the local authority in charges.

DPCG feared that the £400 payment to help with fuel costs could also be taken by some local authorities.

But the Department of Health and Social Care has told Disability News Service this week that it is currently undertaking work to determine the link between the new cost-of-living payments and financial assessments for care costs.

Because the new financial support is provided through one-off payments, DHSC believes this will not be considered as regular income and so will not affect the MIG.

A DPCG spokesperson said: “We welcome the news that the one-off cost-of-living payments announced by the chancellor in May will not be considered in the means test for care charging.

“This means disabled people receiving care will be able to keep the cost-of-living payments, just like everyone else in the country.

“However, this question should never have arisen.

“It is fundamentally unfair that disabled people systematically have their income reduced to a minimum level imposed by the care charging system.

“Fundamental reform of care is needed to tackle the appallingly high levels of poverty in the disabled community.”

Although the MIG rose this April for the first time since 2015, DPCG said the increase was far smaller than the rate of inflation and it eventually wants to see rises that help make up for the years it had previously been kept at the same level.

*The MIG is increased if the disabled person receives various benefits or premiums, such as the enhanced disability premium, or because they are in the support group of employment and support allowance, or its universal credit equivalent

23 June 2022



Co-production projects are ‘driving change’ in Wiltshire, says DPO

A new campaign by a disabled people’s organisation is highlighting how a string of projects are driving change in their local community through the principles of co-production.

Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living (WCIL) launched its Listen Up Wiltshire campaign in 2019 to amplify the voices of disabled people, asking them: “What is it you want to tell Wiltshire?”

Out of that simple question has come a string of publications and campaigns that have helped make change happen locally and have influenced the community and local services, while also allowing them to “take back control”.

All the projects have been co-produced with disabled people, with service-providers working with people with lived experience to design – or improve – the services they will be using.

WCIL is now trying to spotlight the 12 projects that have so far come out of Listen Up Wiltshire, which it hopes will show the true value of co-production.

Kate Tutssel, WCIL’s personalisation lead, said: “It’s not difficult, and it’s not scary, and it does make a difference.

“Co-production is so important, but simply by nature of the word it sounds complicated and difficult, but it’s not… and it’s fun as well.

“The people who have created some of these campaigns have really enjoyed doing it, getting to know other people, working together, and it’s been a confidence-builder for them as well.”

The funding has come through support for WCIL’s user engagement team from Wiltshire County Council and the local NHS, through Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

Among their co-produced schemes, WCIL has produced a guide to accessible walks in Wiltshire; created a guide for employers (PDF); run a project on effective co-production within the NHS; and worked with a local organisation to ensure its annual fundraising event was accessible to disabled people.

They have also published guides on creating accessible venues (PDF) and inclusive gyms (PDF); launched an awareness-raising campaign around disability employment; produced a video showing how supermarkets can be made more inclusive; and worked as co-researchers on a project looking at how robots can support the rights of disabled people.

Tutssel said: “We go to a lot of meetings where people talk about co-production, there’s a lot of talk about it, but not a lot of doing of it, and we’re doing it.

“And by doing this spotlight series we can showcase that and bring more people along for the ride and show it isn’t difficult, especially the NHS.”

She said Wiltshire was “nowhere near the top of the ladder” on co-production, and there was “further to go”, but WCIL was trying to push beyond basic consultation and engagement and towards the ultimate aim of having services that are co-designed by disabled people.

Meanwhile, WCIL is continuing with new co-produced projects, and is working on a scheme that aims to improve accessible bus travel in the county through producing training material for bus drivers, and another that aims to design basic standards for accessible homes.

And WCIL’s SpeakUp Wiltshire Group, whose members are closely linked to the co-production work, has also begun work on its “very ambitious aim” of transforming the personal independence payment assessment system.

Tutssel said: “PIP is a real frustration for people. People’s experience is so horrendous and difficult.

“If they can share their experience and knowledge with other people locally it will make things easier and better for them.”

But they also hope to influence the Department for Work and Pensions by pointing out what does and does not work, and how PIP can be improved.

She said co-production was important because it “gives people a voice”.

She said: “It puts people with lived experience at the forefront and centre of all of it and ensures they are not an afterthought.

“If you’re designing a service for disabled people then don’t design it for them, design it with them, because they are the people who are going to use it and they are the experts.”

Tutssel said WCIL was starting to see progress among the organisations they are working with.

She said: “What’s been really great is the pieces of work that we’ve done over the last few years, they then pick up on and refer to when they are writing their strategies, so it is influencing what they are doing and they are taking notice of it.”

23 June 2022



Theatre company marks 25 years with new emphasis on visually-impaired leaders

A disabled-led theatre company is marking its 25th anniversary by launching a new three-year focus on addressing the lack of visually-impaired leaders in the industry.

Extant will also be working with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) to research and evaluate the company’s contribution to breaking down barriers, and how its new focus can be applied to the rest of the performing arts world.

The work will be part of QMUL’s Performing Leadership Differently research project, which has so far focused on race and class inequality in arts leadership, and now wants to explore disability inequality.

Maria Oshodi, Extant’s founder and chief executive, has announced that she will be leaving her post in three years’ time, but before she leaves will be embarking on a PhD that will examine Extant’s back catalogue of work and its innovative and pioneering approach over the last 25 years.

She hopes her PhD will support her own development as she “transitions” out of the company, but will also leave a lasting legacy for the next generation of artistic directors in the company.

As well as a series of “boundary-pushing” national and international theatre tours, with productions such as Resistance, Flatland and The Chairs – all led by visually-impaired artists – Extant has pioneered the use of integrated creative audio description (AD) in its theatre productions.

When Oshodi launched the company in 1997, theatre audiences usually had to rely on volunteers and charity if they needed AD, but Extant led the way in incorporating live AD – delivered by the visually-impaired actors on stage – into its performances.

She told Disability News Service: “The reason I created Extant was that I felt there was very little space for visually-impaired performers and theatre-makers at the time to authentically engage with what it meant for us to work in theatre creatively, and to receive theatre as visually-impaired audiences.

“How we could make theatre that was more than us just standing around like inert bodies on stage, and only our voices being used, which is all that companies would want to attempt with visually-impaired people because they were too scared that we might fall off the stage if we moved this way or that way.”

Oshodi and Extant began to examine how to bring physical theatre to productions involving performers with visual impairment, and how they could “move in interesting ways, and ways that were authentic to us”.

She said Extant has now reached a stage where, after years of growth, it has succeeded in one of her original aims, to “create a community of creatives”, who were recognised and paid as professionals, and had their access needs recognised.

It is much more common now, she said, that disabled-led companies like Extant deliver their production’s access arrangements themselves, rather than relying on outside charities.

Now Extant is planning to address the “huge deficit of leadership in terms of visual impairment” over the next three years by training new visually-impaired artistic directors in how to manage a company, create artistic programmes, and work with a board of trustees.

It plans, says Oshodi, to “debate and interrogate appropriate models of leadership for disabled people in the sector”.

Extant Evolve will build on the success of Extant’s existing training and development programme, Pathways, which supports visually-impaired practitioners in acting, directing, writing and working backstage.

As part of Extant’s new leadership focus, it will recruit and train two “next generation” visually-impaired artistic directors, to examine leadership from a marginalised perspective, and apply those insights to shaping Extant itself.

Through the programme, the new recruits will be part of shaping Extant’s future leadership structure.

By the end of the three years, Oshodi hopes Extant will have a new model for how the company should be led and structured for the next 25 years.

She said: “It’s an opportunity to see how the industry is not working for disabled people and how it could be working better.”

She said their research had already shown there was anecdotal evidence of the barriers facing disabled leaders within the performing arts.

Another higher education partner of Extant, Middlesex University, where Oshodi will be doing her PhD, will be creating a new MA in innovation in organisational development, and tracking Extant Evolve closely as part of this new course.

Although Oshodi will be “taking a step back” over the next three years to concentrate on her PhD, she will remain as chief executive until 2025, when she plans to step down and develop her freelance career as a writer and working on other theatre projects.

On Friday, Extant celebrated its anniversary by showcasing five-minute pieces by 16 Pathways writers – each directed by a visually-impaired director.

This was followed by a party for the writers and 50-strong support team of directors and actors, who were joined by more supporters of Extant at Brixton House Theatre, next door to the company’s new headquarters in the newly-refurbished Carlton Mansions building.

23 June 2022



Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

Boris Johnson was accused of “ransacking” Brits’ human rights as he blocks fights against his government being heard in court. Tory ministers will change the law to stop high court judges ruling on some human rights cases, under a “Bill of Rights” unveiled in parliament on Wednesday. They will also change the law to let the UK ignore some decisions by European judges. Campaign group Liberty said the changes will be a “power grab” while the Law Society warned they are a “lurch backwards for British justice”: Read The Mirror article 

A caretaker has successfully claimed that long Covid is a disability in what could prove to be a landmark tribunal ruling. Terence Burke is believed to be the first person in Britain to have the condition recognised as a disability after he was given permission to bring a case of disability discrimination against his former employer. Mr Burke contracted coronavirus in November 2020 and despite experiencing “very mild” and “flu-like” symptoms during the isolation period, he soon developed severe headaches and fatigue and did not return to work until he was sacked nine months later: Read The Mirror article 

Channel 4 breached its broadcast licence conditions after viewers had to go weeks without subtitles, signing or audio description, Ofcom has found. The media watchdog said the channel missed its subtitles quota on Freesat for 2021, after a fire at a broadcast centre affected services last autumn. Channel 4 also breached another condition of its licence by failing to communicate effectively with affected audiences: Read The BBC article 

A new service will allow people to make 999 calls using British Sign Language (BSL) for the first time. The new service, 999 BSL, will allow deaf people to make emergency calls using an app or website, connecting callers with a BSL interpreter. It is free to use and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Ofcom announced last June that telephone and broadband companies must carry the service, estimating it would save two lives a year: Read The BBC article

23 June 2022


News provided by John Pring at