Tag Archives: living the life i choose

Things like this stop me from living my life the way I want to

Bal is a post graduate student at Staffordshire University, disability activist, former President of their Student Union and has Generalised Dystomia.

In this blog Bal shares her campaign story to ensure taxi fares charge the same for all and how she helped change the law.

In 2015 I led a campaign to highlight the disgracefully high taxi fares that disabled people often face. It was stunningly successful; the law was changed, and bad practice prosecuted. But since then it appears taxi firms in my home town have blacklisted me.

Since moving out of home and becoming a student, taxi drivers have been a thorn in my side. I soon discovered that I was being charged significantly more for taxi journeys around the city than my non-wheelchair user friends, this moved me to act. I took part in undercover filming with BBC’s Inside Out which highlighted this existing national problem in a regional city setting. As a result of this, the law was changed. I then used this amended law by reporting the driver of a wheelchair accessible taxi to the local council’s Licensing department for refusing to take me to the train station. This driver was then successfully prosecuted and fined by the Magistrates Court.

A victory for wheelchair users

However, for me personally, because I was the public face of the case for the prosecution, not so much. I feel like I have been blacklisted in Stoke.  I find it impossible to book a taxi using my own name, (a task that seems to be easy for my non-disabled friends), with the taxi operators always saying that there are no available wheelchair accessible taxis when I give them my name.

Am I being paranoid? Well, when I wanted to go to the cinema with a mate, I rang to book a taxi; after being told by seven different companies that there were no wheelchair accessible taxis available I asked my friend to use her phone to try and book a taxi under a different name. She rang the first company that I had tried and they sent a vehicle straight away.

This is not a one-off event. Another example since the court case included not being able to attend a friend’s birthday meal. All the taxi companies that I called said that they had no accessible taxis available and, as I was alone, I couldn’t get anyone else to book the taxi for me. This left me with fear of missing out . On a recent night out, I was turned down by 15 taxis, despite using a small manual wheelchair that would fit in any car boot. Eventually after an hour in the cold and rain, a taxi agreed to take us.

Things like this stop me from living my life the way I want to

In a wider context taxi drivers overcharging or refusing to take people like me, prevents wheelchair users from living life with the same level of freedom as non-disabled people. Recently I was quoted £35 by one taxi driver and £10 by another on the same taxi rank, the disparity is shocking and has obvious financial implications. I have previously been quoted £55 for a 1-mile journey after a night out when the going rate for that trip is only £10 for everybody else.

Before I was involved with the court case I used taxis a lot more than I do now because they were reliable and on time and, the flexibility and convenience that they gave me was far preferable to using the bus service. However, since the court case I have had to change the way that I plan my journeys and my social life. I try not to let it stop me doing what I want to do, but in some instances, I simply have to change my plans and stay home because I have no way of getting where I want to be, especially at night. This really infuriates me as I feel I am being targeted.  I know that some people may say that I have brought this on myself, I don’t feel that I should have had to accept being discriminated against for being a wheelchair user.

Of course, I’m not alone in experiencing discrimination when travelling. Disability equality charity Scope have recently found that 40% of disabled people often experience issues or difficulties when travelling by rail in the UK and 25% of disabled people say negative attitudes from other passengers prevent them from using public transport. Although campaigning for equality has had some negative repercussions I will always continue to fight for fair and equal treatment with taxis and in all other aspects of life too.

This is a shout out to all taxi companies in Stoke on Trent, please let me know if you have got any wheelchair taxis that will be willing to take me and my friends and not overcharge us. After all I just want to be treated like everybody else.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, with transport playing a huge part in this.  We all need to work together to change society for the better.

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger so get involved in the campaign today to end this inequality.

“Education is said to be a ‘stepping stone’, but for disabled people it’s a slippery one”

Kasia talks about how the quality of access support varies greatly from university to university, and the impact this has on being able to live the life you choose. 

Education is said to be “a stepping stone” towards one’s career.  Unfortunately, to a disabled person, it often becomes more of a slippery stone.  There are a few university rankings that are widely available, with those from the Guardian and the Times being the most often quoted.  Sadly, there is no ranking system available that would rate quality of support available to student with access needs.  Far too often disabled students choose a university where it is guaranteed they will receive appropriate support rather than a university with better teaching that can also offer better chances of employment.  The quality of access support varies greatly from university to university.

I myself experienced different levels of support.  They varied from very poor to excellent.

The quality of support I received was very poor

A few years ago, I started a Postgraduate course at one of London’s universities.  I was still sighted at that time.  I then returned a year later as a student with a visual impairment having been diagnosed with a brain tumour too late to prevent my sight loss.

I had to cope with sight impairment while learning access technology and new ways of studying.  I used to rely heavily on my visual memory.  The quality of support I received was very poor.  It was limited to assigning me support workers.  I kept getting the same people despite expressing my dissatisfaction.  I was told by a Disability Support Officer (DSO) on one occasion that a support worker is my eyes and I should know how to use a search engine.  Later on, I was told that the DSO was making faces and rolled her eyes whilst talking to me.

In order to complete my studies, I had to submit a final dissertation.  My supervisor contacted the Disability Department and asked for someone to transcribe audio recordings.  I was assigned one person but when I asked for an additional transcriber, I was told that a meeting was required to establish my support needs, as unfortunately, they were not aware.  That was despite them being told directly by my supervisor what I required.

I ended up making a formal complaint against the DSO.  This improved the quality of her work slightly but unfortunately not for long.  The whole experience was very difficult and challenging.

I consider graduating from that university with a good grade to be the greatest achievement of my life.

More recently I tried to do a Human Resources course at a local college of further education.  The course has a CIPD (Charted Institute of Personnel and Development) accreditation.  The whole course consists of three levels with the most advanced being at a postgraduate level.  I did all that was required of me to be assigned to the right group.  I submitted a case study and filled in all the necessary forms.  It all took time and effort.  I was initially told by their DSO that I will be given access to electronic copies of books that I would require.  However, later on I was told something completely different.  On the top of that, the course leader informed me that she had never had a student that required learning materials electronically.  She had students with sight impairment who were able to access large print.  I certainly wasn’t made feel welcome.  Instead I felt discouraged and disheartened by the whole process and the attitude of the staff in the college.  Suffice to say, I decided not to go ahead with the course.

I will never willingly put myself in this situation again

A few years later I did another course at a different university.  It was a private university.  The experience couldn’t have been more different.  They were fantastic.  They just couldn’t do enough.  All that despite the fact that I wasn’t entitled to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) funding.  They had a designated librarian who I could contact for any book I required.  She would then write to a respective publisher in order to obtain electronic copies of books.  They organised orientation walks for me in the campus.  They were always there for me whenever I required any support.  They were absolutely brilliant!

At the end of September this year I’m starting a PG Diploma in Media, Campaigning and Social Change at the University of Westminster.  I attended an open day this Summer.  Everything has been made as accessible to me as possible.  This includes the application process.  The course leader put me in touch with a current student who also has a sight impairment.  The student couldn’t be happier with the level of support he received.

It is important to know what to expect.  During my first course after my eye sight had deteriorated, I didn’t know what support I was entitled to.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I didn’t know what to ask for.  It certainly helps to know what access technology is available out there.  You then know what to ask for. Events such as Sight Village  that are organised in a few major cities in the UK are worth visiting.  Attending various events is always beneficial if not to find out about access technology, then to learn about everything else.  You just never know.

Kasia looking at the camera, smiling, wearing access technology glasses

There is no doubt that there should be equal access to education for everyone.  Society can lose out on a lot of talent.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, with digital and assistive technology playing a huge part in this.  We all need to work together to change society for the better.

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger so get involved in the campaign today to end this inequality.

“my impairment left me feeling like I was on a deserted island but technology helped me feel at home”

Ajay, Service Desk Team Lead Analyst at Scope talks about his journey from the age of 16 to a working adult, showing how technology has helped him live the life he chooses.

Ajay, wheelchair user, looking at computer screens at work

For me living with an impairment is a bit like being in a relationship, you and your impairment know each other very intimately, you share every moment together, you sleep together, eat together and spend a lot of time getting to know each other very well. Like most relationships you also have conflicts, and both sometimes desire different things. This certainly was the case with my impairment and me.

As I got older my disability became worse and by the time I turned 16 years old I had lost all movement in my hands. From being able to write, play musical instruments or even feed myself, I was left with no movement at all. It was as if my impairment had left me on a deserted island with no hope of getting back home.

Technology changed my life for the better

This is where technology came into effect and really changed my life for the better bringing more control and freedom to it. I remember a time when I was watching TV at home and CNN showed an advert for a new piece of technology that had come out in the US called the Smartnav.

It was a device that would let you control the mouse using your head. It works by sending a signal to a piece of reflective material which you can attach anywhere and when you move that, it would control the mouse. You can click using additional switches or keys on the keyboard. When I learnt about this I immediately contacted the suppliers and purchased it from the US. At the time I could not operate the computer without assistance and if this worked I would feel not completely disabled again.

Ajay, wheelchair user, looking at his work screen on his chair and talking into his microphone

I remember when the first one arrived it was faulty, and I was extremely disappointed. It meant that I had to return it and wait for the next one to arrive which came in a couple of weeks. As soon as I plugged it in and configured it, I was hoping that this would change my life and let me use a computer again. When I started using it, it was amazing! I was able to control the mouse with precision and complete control. It had opened up a new world to me as I was able to use the computer again, and hope of getting off that deserted island had become a possibility again.

The internet was a complete life changer

As I got older, the Internet started taking over people’s lives and more and more Internet Service Providers were providing Internet connectivity to people’s homes. Being able to use the internet was a complete life changer for me also because it meant I could communicate with anyone around the world and I could research and look at whatever I wanted.

The next piece of technology, which completely transformed my life again was a device called the Housemate which I have been using since February this year.

This device with an app installed on your mobile, lets you control devices around your home. Being able to control the TV again was fantastic and I didn’t need to rely on having to ask someone to change channels or access recordings and so on. With this device I can control the TV completely, being able to record, playback recordings, change channels and fully operate my Sky box. Feeling bored was now not an option.

Technology gives me the independence to be part of society

Without technology I don’t think I could really survive in this world, being imprisoned in a body which cannot move can be very depressing at times and it’s something I would not wish anyone to go through. Finding different ways to keep your hopes up and trying to perceive things positively can sometimes be a job in itself and extremely tiring. Technology brings a breath of fresh air to my life, being able to live it the way I want, giving me the independence to be part of society, be employed and share experiences with friends and family.

There is no limit to what technology could bring to disabled people’s lives

What I would really like to see is developers and manufacturers to develop more technology and software to bring more freedom and independence to lives of many disabled people out there, who rely on technology not as a luxury, but as a means to get through life on a daily basis. I think if there was more awareness raised in Information Technology about the needs of disabled people, then there is no limit to what technology could bring to people’s lives and perhaps maybe someday it could even get me off this deserted island that my impairment left me on many years ago.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, with digital and assistive technology playing a huge part in this. We all need to work together to change society for the better.

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger, so get involved in the campaign today to end this inequality.

Will you be a Disability Gamechanger?

Today, Scope launches a new campaign to tackle disability inequality head on. Head of Policy, Campaigns and Public Affairs, James Taylor, tells us why it’s an issue we all need to get behind.

“Negative attitudes, poor access to support or transport, limited opportunities for work.

Disabled people tell us that these things matter. They lead to discrimination, to prejudice and to being seen as an afterthought.”

“The things that people say to you never go away. There have been times where bad attitudes have made me ask, what’s the point?” – Marie

“People with invisible impairments still struggle for people to ‘believe’ their condition is real.

On buses, trains and planes we’re often denied equal service and equal treatment.

When we want to go on a night out, the disabled toilet is often an extra storage cupboard, because we’re not thought of as customers.

Hear from some of the storytellers in this film, highlighting the barriers disabled people face in their day-to-day lives.”

The scale of the issue

“Our latest research shows how many disabled people feel and experience this.

We spoke to disabled people right across Britain to find out about their day-to-day lives – what makes them happy, what angers or frustrates them and what they want to get out of life.

We wanted to understand what equality means to disabled people today, and we wanted to start from what disabled people think and feel, and how important independence is to them.

Overwhelmingly disabled people told us they want to be independent, to have confidence and to be connected through friends, family, colleagues and communities.

Yet for too many disabled people this isn’t the case.”

“I’ve been excluded from social situations or activities due to my condition. People make assumptions about what I am able to do. It’s really frustrating.” – Shani

“Earlier this year, Opinium polled 2,000 disabled adults for Scope and found:

  • 49 per cent of disabled people said they feel excluded by society
  • Just 23 per cent said they felt valued by society
  • On top of this, only 42 per cent of disabled people believe the   UK is a good place for disabled people

These statistics make it obvious that the fight for disability equality is far from over.

Throughout the last century we’ve seen action that has led to dramatic changes in our society, but our research demonstrates that there is still a way to go until all disabled people are able to live the lives they choose free from discrimination and low expectations.

At Scope we want to change this.

Whilst we might have protection in law, at Scope we know there is still a way to go until until all disabled people can enjoy equality.”

You can read more about the research in our report, ‘Independent, Confident, Connected’.

Be a Disability Gamechanger

“We have launched our new campaign calling on all those who want to work with us to show their support for disability equality. It doesn’t matter if you’re a bus driver, a politician, a teacher or an employer. You can all make a difference.”

We can’t do it alone. We know that we are stronger as a movement, as a community and as a force for change, when we work together.

If you, like us, want to end this inequality, join our campaign today.