RJ recently took time out to share his story with a group of young disabled people – including some aspiring actors and actresses – at a Scope project, which aims to give people the confidence to break into the workplace. The session was hosted by Channel 4 disability lead Alison Walsh. Below are some highlights from the event:
Starting on Breaking Bad
Playing a range of disabilities in his career
What drove him to want to succeed
People thinking he got his job because of being disabled
This is an issue that is hugely important to Scope. Speaking as C4 launched a new diversity strategy, Scope’s chief executive Richard Hawkes, summed it up:
“Attitudes to disability must improve. Often it’s simply down to people not knowing a disabled person and not understanding what it’s like to be disabled. That’s why representation on TV is so important.
“Channel 4 have led the way in getting more disabled people on and off screen. But we have some way to go until disability really breaks through into the mainstream. We need the creative industries to give disabled talent the opportunity to show what they can do.”
Scope research shows:
Nearly half of the British public (43%) do not personally know anyone who is disabled.
Two-thirds (66%) said that they would worry about speaking about disability in front of a disabled person, with many worrying they would say something inappropriate or use an offensive term by mistake.
9 in 10 disabled people believe that more disabled people in the media would improve attitudes to disability – highlighting the importance of increased exposure of disabled people in the creative industries.
Charlotte was diagnosed with peripheral Sensory Motor Axonal Neuropathy at the age of two. She’s now an aspiring actress and model. She talks about the challenges she faces in such a competitive industry.
At the age of two I was diagnosed with the very rare condition peripheral Sensory Motor Axonal Neuropathy. In a nutshell this means that the nerves haven’t told my muscles to grow. I was able to walk until around the age of nine, after that I relied on a wheelchair more and more. It also affects the use of my hands although I manage to find my own way of doing things!
I attended a mainstream school through to Secondary, when, like all pupils, I had to make the decision on what my next big step would be.
I decided to take my love of drama and music and apply for a place on a Foundation Diploma in Performing Arts at a local college. After a successful audition, and making sure that the support I’d need was in place, I was able to study and have the opportunity to perform in both plays and musicals.
After I finished the one year course, I decided I needed more experience, so stayed on at the college to pursue a two year National Diploma in Performing Arts. The course offered even more performance opportunities in and outside of college. It was a fantastic way to get experience.
When the course finished I had to decide what path I wanted to take in the crazy world that is the performance industry. That’s when I auditioned and enrolled on a BA (Hons) Performance degree.
This included an incredible opportunity with the British Youth Film Academy who came to campus to hold auditions for a feature film they were producing. I, like many others, auditioned for roles, others offered their skills to help with hair, make up, operating cameras or anything else they could do.
I was lucky enough to be case cast as the Duchess of Gloucester in the Richard II Feature Film adaptation.
After wanting a career in acting for so long it was fantastic to be out getting experience in the big wide world. I always knew it would be a challenge as acting is a hard profession to crack for anyone – whether able bodied or disabled – but I was ready for it!
I was so lucky that just a couple of months after completing my degree I saw an ad wanting disabled extras and I gained a role in BBC1’s highly acclaimed television drama Call the Midwife. It’s the first professional role I‘ve managed to secure which is great. I’m continuing to attend every suitable audition going and the determination is as strong as ever!
When I’m not auditioning I’m attending rying to attend as many acting workshops as possible to keep my skills fresh, and to network with likeminded people.
This isn’t without its challenges. Over the past year and half I’ve found that a lot of the workshop are held in inaccessible venues. This has had a real effect on my career as it means I can’t always get out and about and meet the people who matter.
Passion for fashion
Alongside my acting career I also have a passion for fashion. From going shopping on a Saturday afternoon to buying the latest magazines, I’m always on the lookout for the next ‘must have’ item.
I found that fashion was a way in which I could be like all the other girls my age, although fashion can come with some challenges for me. I can’t wear heels due to my disability; instead I try to find what I call ‘going out’ pointy flats! This can be a little frustrating, but I just do it my way. I just adapt today’s trends to suit me, as we all know not everyone is the same. It would be boring if we were!
I’m really in to makeup and have my own way of applying it. I love my black liquid eyeliner – it’s great for a statement look
I’d love a side career in modelling. I think we need more models with disabilities in catalogues, magazine shoots and in our shops. Surely it is a way of reflecting the society in which we live?
I hope to one day achieve my goals and keep helping to move the barriers in the arts and hopefully inspire others in a similar situation to do the same.
In our last post we introduced you to our brand new event which encourages people to raise money for Scope whilst giving up technology for the weekend – Digital Detox is a good old-fashioned weekend without technology.
In the lead-up to her analogue 48 hours, Alice Wilkie started a blog documenting her fears and panic over losing digital.
5 Days to go
I am going 48 hours without digital in aid of Scope, raising money that could potentially provide assisted technologies to those who need it. As of today, the data on my phone has run out. I have a monthly allowance of 1GB but I ALWAYS run out part way through the month and 9 times out of 10 will top it up. This time however, I thought it would be better to dip my toe in the water and leave it, and guess what? ME NO LIKEY.
I think it’s fair to say I’m feeling pretty anxious. I spoke to my Mum on the phone tonight and she said I can’t possibly go without a phone in London. Love you Mum, but it’s happening.
4 days to go
Running out of data is definitely giving me a taste of what the weekend is going to be like. I went to an event about social entrepreneurship yesterday afternoon. It was at a place I’ve never been to before, and my Google maps was not working due to lack of data allowance. So I literally had to (shock-horror!) use street signs and speak to people!
Talking to strangers was actually rather nice. One man even called up his friend to ask him for directions to the place I was looking for as he was unsure. However, part of me has been thinking it would be nice to top up my data and make the most of my apps and stuffs before the weekend.
3 days to go
Today was focus groups training day! Woo! This is a course I’ve been looking forward to going on. It’s basically all about how to run focus groups and get the best out of them – it was extremely interesting! Overall I had a great day – however, no data plus no WiFi meant I was unable to check Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Twitter, Emails… Nothing! ALL. DAY. And again, I had to ask a stranger for directions. This time I opted for a fruit and veg stall man, and rather embarrassingly I was standing outside the hotel I was looking for. I think this made me realise just how dependent I am on my Google maps… So much so that I’m incapable of just looking around me and using a bit of common sense!
2 days to go
So! Really chuffed with how many donations I’ve got – £73 so far! That’s 152% of my £48 target. So thank you so much to all who have donated! All day today my work colleague, Claudia, has suggested that I buy a board game. Lovely idea Claudia… But no. Plus I’m not going to have anyone to play with at this rate. Oooh, in happier news – my data has been renewed! This means I have spent as much time as possible today listening to Spotify.
I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to fill my time this weekend… Most prominent ideas include – getting drunk for 48 hours, reading my book, getting the train somewhere and having a mooch, taking pictures with Rupert’s polaroid camera, going to the gym, going for a long walk, going to see Ellie, sleeping all weekend, or rocking up at my Nan’s house as a surprise.
Wonder whether I’ll do any of the above. Other worries include – what am I going to do without speaking to the boyfriend all weekend?! We must literally exchange about 50 texts/ Facebook messages/ Whatsapps/ Youtube clips/ Snapchats per day. Oh… And speak for around an hour most nights on the phone.
Ah well… You know the saying… Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
15 hours and 28 minutes to go…
I’m going into a digital coma. No phone, no internet, no social media, but most importantly NO GOOGLE MAPS. I think that is what I am freaking out about most…
On the way home from work
My phone died.
I was freaking out on the bus. I ALWAYS listen to Spotify when I’m on the bus, and I couldn’t. The 20 minute journey seemed like an hour long. Plus, when I got to my front door, I rang and rang the doorbell and nobody answered. Thankfully my phone decided it would turn back on for a quick burst so that I could call my boyfriend to let me in.
Wow, this weekend is going to be harder than I imagined. I knew it was going to be hard, but I was kind of joking about it and not thinking it through too much, but NOW it’s hit me! Eeek.
My lovely boyfriend wrote me a little note for the weekend 🙂
I’ve had some wine and I’m feeling pretty sad now.
Who’d have thought turning your phone and internet off for 48 hours would be so emotional?!
Only 33 minutes to go…
Saturday 23 November
So, on Saturday I literally woke up with clammy hands from DREAMING about the Internet?! I lay in bed for about an hour resisting the urge to check my phone before getting up like I usually would. After having a coffee and showering, I thought I might as well brave the outdoors and see how I get on.
At 11am I got the tube to Piccadilly Circus and walked to Oxford Street. I had a mooch around and found the camera shop Lomography on Carnaby Street. I’d never been to Carnaby Street before- it’s so cute! I was pretty surprised how easy it was to get around without Google maps. Admittedly it probably took me 5-10 minutes longer than it normally would – but I got there.
I then walked to Regent’s Park to experiment with the camera (Just going started now – I didn’t quite work the camera out over the weekend… You’ll see this from my photos! Out of 20 Polaroids you can only see something resembling a picture in about 4).
I found I was really aware of myself without having my phone or my headphones. Particularly on public transport where I always have my headphones on or am chatting away on my phone. I also noticed that I kept tapping my right coat pocket to check my phone was in there- which I normally do out of habit every 10 mins or so it seemed!
When I got back I called Gaz on the landline. Was so nice to chat, but really strange talking on the phone and not being able to move (old school landline)! Sounds silly but it was really weird putting the phone down and not being able to send a text or anything?! As normally we’d get off the phone and send a text goodnight or something. Gaz said he’d found the day difficult too, particularly not being able to send me funny Youtube clips!
Overall, the day was hard, but I did feel kind of liberated. One day down, one to go.
Sunday 24 November
Felt a bit better on Sunday! Think that’s because I knew I only had 24 hours left!
I woke up, had breakfast, watched a bit of Titchmarsh and then got ready to meet Ellie. I’d written directions to Ellie’s down on Friday so I was looking forward to seeing if I’d be able to find my way there without getting lost!
Got to Ellie’s about 20 minutes early so decided to walk around Vauxhall park and failed to take photos that were any good YET AGAIN. After roaming around for a bit I could hear “ALIIIIIICE!!!” And Ellie was hanging out of her top floor flat like Rapunzel!
Was slightly worried on the way back because I’d told Gaz I’d ring him on the landline around 5pm-ish and it was now nearly 8.30pm. Called him when I got in and he had been a bit worried about where I was! But it was nice to chat and remind ourselves that we’d be back to our obsessive-texting-selves by Monday.
Monday 25 November
Woke up this morning and couldn’t wait to turn on my phone to find:
10 Facebook notifications
3 Instagram likes
Got ready for work in my usual way… Checking my phone in bed, checking it after having a shower, drying my hair and putting my make-up on whilst texting/Facebooking, getting on the bus with my headphones on listening to Spotify (whilst browsing the web) and only taking them off when I stepped into the office. Yay, back to the 21st century!
Despite slipping straight back into my usual ways I think I have learned a lot this weekend. Such as:
I CAN find my way from A to B without Google maps
I don’t need to be in constant contact with people, and it feels much nicer and more special when the contact is more sparse and deliberate.
I can go to the gym without my phone, and I think I will from now on.
I feel very self-conscious and more self-aware when I am without my phone and headphones- particularly on public transport.
I obsessively tap my right pocket to check my phone’s in there – I CAN sit on my own and not flick through my phone. People are on their phones SO MUCH.
I need to learn how to use a Polaroid camera
It seems like the weekend had a long-lasting effect on Alice as she soon updated her blog.
I went to the gym this morning WITHOUT my phone. And I traveled to work WITHOUT my headphones on. WHAT’S HAPPENED TO ME!?!”
For your chance to get to grips with using a Polaroid camera, sign up for your own 48 hour detox. Digital Detox will be returning the first weekend in March. To meet previous detoxers find us on Facebook and Twitter.
The Undateables is back for a third series. We asked on Twitter and Facebook what you thought of the show and here’s what you told us:
You really don’t like the title
“Why call this programme by this horrible title? Doesn’t this just perpetuate stigma?” – Pauline
“Can’t stand this show. Yes it shows that as disabled people date etc. but the title is an automatic barrier. Why are we UNdateable?” – Stixie
“Wish it was called something less awful.” – Davida
“I am really offended by the title.” – Christine
“I’ll be watching! The title is dreadful but the programme is really good at understanding disability.” – Elizabeth
Many of you enjoy watching the show
“I love the show. As a mother of a severely disabled little girl it gives a lovely insight to adult life of disabled people. People who take the mickey are just ignorant. I will be tuning in to watch every week” – Tanya
“The programme shows that the people on it are just people with feelings looking for love, like the next person” – Julie
“It’s actually an ironic title. A friend of mine was trying to get on to the programme. It’s seen through able bodied – so hence the title. But it turns out that they are not undateable but very pleasant people.” – Steve
“As a lesbian woman with diplegia and spastic cerebral palsy who is married with step children, I celebrate this program as it forces people who would be uncomfortable around disabled people to see just how ordinary we are in our need as any able bodied person.” – Tre
“I’m really looking forward to watching it. If you’re going to watch it with a closed mind, chances are, the program won’t change that – it’ll need much more than one show to make that much of a change.” – Faye
“Love this series. Good to see people’s personalities coming to the fore rather than their conditions.” – Heidi
But many worry that disabled people are being used for entertainment
“So many people sitting in their homes tonight will be taking the piss or passing their negative comments . Why is it so shocking that people with disabilities want to find love?” – Christine
“I love this program but I’m getting so fed up with lots of people taking the mickey out of them all!” – Sheenagh
“Personally I think it paints a bad viewpoint of disabled people, and I am disabled, so I have an idea.” – Shau
“Hate the title, hate the idea. Disabled people are not frickin entertainment.” – Shohna
“I also feel a small degree of shame and anger. Segregating disabled people from other dating shows and creating a special show angers me but I can’t quiet articulate how. It’s like deep down I’m feeling this anger because the show almost makes it look like while disabled people are great – it takes a special person to see past that an love them, when that’s not the truth.” – Tre
It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start
“The show has a long way to go, but maybe it’s a start. Having spoken to the creators on the phone, I realise they have a set agenda…” – Downs Side Up
“I think we have to start somewhere. Disability issues are so far off the mark and ignorance is the only reason for this.” – Emma
Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Guest post from Kate Caryer. Kate is one of five people with communication difficulties who have joined Channel 4’s continuity team this December, to introduce some of the channel’s biggest shows.
Along with brain surgery, bar maiding and ballet dancing, continuity announcing was a career I had never considered suitable for me, as a person with athetoid cerebral palsy and no speech. However, along with four colleagues-turned-mates, each with different communication impairments, I’ve joined Channel 4’s continuity announcers for 10 days in December!
To get some idea what I am on about, watch me here introducing my all time favourite show, The Simpsons:
I am on a mission to tell the world that people like me should have a voice! Being a continuity announcer fits right in with this aim I think!
So how did the Channel 4 thing come up? Well, I entered a singing competition!!!
As I can’t speak, let alone sing, I was told to go away! So I decided to give this continuity announcing lark a try! (Only joking.)
Actually what occurred is that the clever minds who came up with the idea of having voices from people with different communication difficulties announcing their peak-time shows, contacted organisations and charities that work with such people. This included Communication Matters, which is an organisation that is about AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) – or other means of communicating for people without clear speech. They share my passion for greater awareness of communication aids and non-speech communication.
The chairwoman contacted me about this possible opportunity and I absolutely loved the concept!! (I would love the idea even if I wasn’t involved!)
I was asked to do a screen test at Channel 4 in September which was really exciting! Due to the uncertainty of the project (at this stage, it was just a good idea) I was sworn to secrecy. I wanted to tell absolutely everyone, especially the people at the Communication Matters conference in September that I attended just a matter of days before I went to Channel 4 for the first time!
By coincidence, at that Conference I delivered a presentation and discussion on the media portrayal of AAC users. Like most disability media portrayal (Paralympics excepted – thank you Channel 4) it is often pretty dire and full of pity for the so-called ‘victims’ of impairment. It was agreed that AAC users should be shown in the media doing things other than simply being an AAC user.
This is exactly what Channel 4 is hoping to achieve with this project when they say, “we want to give them a platform and normalise the presence of disabled people on TV by adding fresh, representative voices to the rich diversity of our existing pool of announcers.”
I have no speech at all so I use a communication aid called a Pathfinder. I am lucky I am able to use a keyboard to work a special programme that uses icons to speed up communication. However there are many communication aids meeting the needs of most people who can’t speak, whatever the level of their physical skill. That I use a communication aid has become a matter of fact to me, my family and friends. What is interesting is how unknown people react to me using, what seems to them, a magic box. I must say the reactions have been odd, not down-right negative fortunately, like when I go to quiz nights everyone wants to be on my team because they assume my communication aid can magically get all the right answers!!
The great thing about Channel 4 is that we were treated like any continuity announcer, so we wrote our own scripts; hence you would hear our own voices, albeit mine with some fantastic tweaks from the Wonderful Wendy who worked as hard as me programming my communication aid to sound fantastic!
The Wonderful Wendy is one of my partners on the Unspoken Project, a theatre project where the issue of communication is at the centre. This is important because, like television and other media, we think the world of drama rarely gives voice to people with communication difficulties and we want to change this. We hope to do this by a number of ways.
One of our plans is to produce a play where the main voice is from a young woman who has no speech. We want to tell the unspoken story of her getting a voice and coming of age. At the moment we are holding variety nights on 25 January and 18March at Tottenham Chances, 399 High Road, London, N17 6QN. Entry is £7. All proceeds will go towards the Unspoken theatre project.
The nights put all kinds of voices in the limelight. If you would love to perform on one of our nights, we would be delighted to hear from you! Also we are always looking for audience members to come to our January and March shows. You can contact us by e-mail email@example.com, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook – watch this space for our website!
Scope summary of research by Linguistic Landscapes.
As we seek to shift attitudes with our next campaign, we recognise how important language is. We recently released the first part of some research into discourse: what people are saying about disability in Britain today, including disabled and non-disabled people, online communities, the media, Government, charities, campaigners and others.
Below are some of the emerging alternative discourses – other ways of speaking and thinking that could be built on. These include individuals actively speaking out for themselves, people breaking down barriers respectfully, making disability more ‘normal’ through the power of popular culture – and more.
Angry, active dissent
Some disabled campaigning groups explicitly take on and challenge the language of the dominant discourse. By doing this they expand what it’s possible to say about disability, and also enable more moderate voices to occupy the middle ground. But they can also tend to reinforce difference from the rest of society, whether or not that’s intended.
Overt rejection of ‘care’. Terms like “caring” and “help” do not feature on websites of these campaigning groups, whereas for mainstream charities they are in the top 50 words. Rights feature large instead.
Anger is reframed as positive, fuelling action, for example “We have consistently united in anger and celebration”. Disabled people are described as vocal agents of change.
The raw experience of being disabled is present. There are references to hate crime, harassment, hostility, and these are not sanitised.
Self-mocking, reframing the negative
Some disabled groups or individuals reclaim or mock terms of abuse directed at them e.g. Benefit Scrounging Scum, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger etc. This is a powerful way of reducing the effect of the negative, but ultimately to replace the dominant discourse you need something else too.
Alternative ways of talking about disability
Other alternatives below don’t directly take on the dominant discourse, but they do provide other ways of speaking that could help to shift the way society talks and thinks.
Voices in the first person – individuals telling their own stories, rather than talking about disabled people and as a group.
Active aspirations and hopes – They have hopes not for a non-disabled normality but for ‘normal’ aspirational things. Trailblazers for young people: “be an undercover reporter… make an impact.. become a media star… help build a team …”
It’s okay not to know, it’s okay to ask
It’s possible to create respectful ‘legitimised curiosity’. Instead of disabled people being alien, ‘not knowing’ is changed from disrespect to respectful interest. The Last Leg’s hashtag #isitokto encourages people to discuss what’s OK around disability. The Paralympics explained categorisations of impairments.
The power of popular culture to normalise
Disability appears more normal when featured within another dominant topic.On ladsy late night chat show The Last Leg, disability is just another topic, a recurring one – but recurring just as football, sex or celebrity might be. This approach powerfully ‘normalises’ disability by portraying it subtly. Could we see Gardener’s World or Location, Location, Location include disabled people without comment (as they do for gay people)?
Mixing disabled and non-disabled people is powerful.On The Last Leg the presenters are also a mix, which potentially breaks down the ‘us and them’ (they are all presenters, united in satire).
Other alternative discourses include:
‘Calling out’ the non-disabled, reversing who’s included/excluded and challenging what’s considered normal.
Reversing the assumption that disability can only be a bad thing, e.g. “I celebrate my ‘MS birthday’”, “I celebrate Deaf Day. March 20th marks my entry to deaf life!”
Resisting sharp line between us and them.
Talking about technology and how it enables all of us, disabled and non-disabled people.
What do you think?
We know there’s a lot here, even in this short summary of what was a massive piece of research. How do you think we should be responding as campaigners? What does it mean for Scope and others?
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below or tweet with the hashtag #ScopeGameChangers.
Guest post from Eugene Grant – Scope’s Public Policy Advisor on poverty and welfare.
In 2013, with the economy in recession, unemployment levels still high and wages flat-lining, times are tough for everyone. But disabled people in particular are struggling to make ends meet and the way ahead is hazardous and foreboding. Already disproportionately likely to live in poverty, be out of work or paid less than non-disabled people, disabled people are about to be hit from all sides by a barrage of cuts to much-needed welfare benefits and changes to social care services.
Among these, one of the biggest concerns for disabled people is the future of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). DLA is a life-line for millions for the simple reason that it costs more to live in our society as a disabled person. The little things so many of us do without thinking – like getting out into our communities, running errands or travelling to work – can be much more expensive – often prohibitively so – if you’re disabled. DLA helps people meet these extra costs. In fact, such is the impact of these costs on disabled people’s living standards that academics estimate that taking these into account when measuring poverty could put almost half of all disabled people in the UK below the breadline.
With this in mind, disabled people are understandably frightened by the government’s plans to bring DLA to an end and introduce a new benefit called the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – the subject of tonight’s Dispatches on Channel 4. Come the new financial year and PIP is to be piloted in a select few areas; in June it will be rolled out for new claims only; in October those affected will include those whose current DLA award is due to expire around that time and thereafter. In 2015, everyone else receiving DLA will be told that their support is soon coming to an end and they will have to apply anew for PIP; they will not be moved across automatically. While the department for work and pensions (DWP) has launched an online toolkit showing people chronology of changes, lots of people are confused about how they will actually be affected when the reforms come into effect.
The government’s aim of creating a better targeted benefit through PIP is laudable, but what we and many disabled people are really worried about is that the assessment with which the government wants to re-test almost two million disabled people is not fit for purpose. As our past research shows and as we’ve said before, this is because it doesn’t take into account the range of practical and social barriers that disabled people face in daily life. We’re anxious because the government is set to get rid of the low rate of DLA care and that, under the new system, disabled people who might have less visible impairments but still face real barriers to living full and independent lives will lose out.
But most concerning is that the government is already predicting how many disabled people will receive support before PIP has even been rolled-out. As a result of introducing PIP, the department for work and pensions reckon more than half a million people who would’ve have received support now won’t get it. For us and disabled people across the country, this raises alarming questions as to whether the government is working to predetermined targets instead of what’s best for disabled people and their families. It looks set to repeat past mistakes it made with the much-derided Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
The government has to make some difficult decisions in terms of the country’s finances; but, at the same time, some people need benefits. They aren’t feckless, they aren’t scroungers; they just need a bit more support to live the full and independent lives that so many of us take for granted. If the government is really serious about leaving a lasting legacy after the Paralympics – one in which disabled people can fulfil their potential – then they urgently need to reconsider their approach to welfare.
So I made it to the games and am now an official resident in the Paralympic Village. It’s amazing to walk round an enclosed campus, with heavy security, and to see so many disabled people in one place. There is an enormous food hall with every type of cuisine catered for, there is even a fully kitted out McDonalds! All the apartment blocks have been given team makeovers and it really is a sight to behold to see the flags and banners of all the nations living together united by sport.
Despite my previous reservations I am happy to say that my uniform fitting went very well and everything fits! We have a few technical meetings and our Wheelchair Fencing competition begins on 4 September at 9.30am. We are currently in the training hall at Excel whilst the hall previously used for visual impaired Judo is converted to the Fencing Hall, we are hoping it will be ready on time.
Hopefully you may have been able to catch some of the TV coverage on Channel 4. For me it’s been a mixed bag with some good stuff and some pretty poor commentaries. In particular the Opening Ceremony was so depressing as virtually each team was introduced as being ‘war torn’ or ‘civil war’. I do personally have issues with the use of ‘superhumans’ to describe the athletes, but it seems C4’s angle is to promote the ‘journey’ and overcoming adversity – at least it’s on TV I suppose…
I was pleased to hear that the Post Office agreed to continue the theme from the Olympics by celebrating Gold Medal winners at the Paralympics with a commemorative postage stamp, however I would have preferred the irony of the stamp being second class, perhaps to reflect the attitudes still prevalent to disabled people?
With the Olympics now over, already social media sites are being bombarded by people starting to miss the spectacle as their favourite sports competitions come to an end. Leaving a huge void in their lives and giving their sofas a chance to recover from the excessive use received over the past two weeks – if only they gave out armchair Olympic medals…
If, however you are one of the masses who crave more sport on TV, fear not – the Paralympics are coming! Channel 4 is the official broadcaster of the games and promises to have bigger and better coverage than ever before. Indeed their pre-games shows and the inclusion of disabled presenters has been very well received. A BBC insider told me in confidence that they were ‘gutted’ not to have secured the Paralympic coverage, but admitted that the C4 bid was ‘far superior’ to theirs.
Over the next few weeks and during the games I will be hoping to keep you informed from an insider’s point of view as I take my post as member of the Technical Official team at the Wheelchair Fencing Event at the Excel Centre in London.
As part of the International Wheelchair Fencing Committee, I along with my fellow members from Spain, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong and Brazil, will form a Technical Delegation that act as an arbitration, enforcement and rule-making body if required. We currently operate with several large rule books covering equipment, competition and organisation, and it is our responsibility to ensure that all wheelchair fencing is undertaken fairly and in the spirit of sportsmanship. If it isn’t in the rules – we make a rule!
Wheelchair Fencing was one of the first sports introduced as rehabilitation for disabled people and we have a proud heritage linked with the etiquette inherent with a combat sport such as fencing, which was used to settle matters of honour with duels in days gone by.
I hope the newly found pride in being British will transfer to the Paralympic spectators and that our Paralympians rise to the occasion and draw on the home support and make a ‘Gold Rush’ of medals in a similar vein to our Olympians – so wave your flags and make some noise!
Coming out of a meeting on Tuesday morning, one of Scope’s press officers was waiting in my office, telling me that we needed to leave immediately to go and do some filming for Channel 4’s documentary series Dispatches.
Dispatches had filmed undercover footage of what happens when doctors are trained to deliver the Government’s Work Capability Assessment. They wanted me to watch the footage and give a reaction to it.
The Work Capability Assessment is something Scope has been campaigning on for a while now. This test was introduced to determine which disabled people would be eligible for out of work benefits, who would be eligible for specialist support to help them find a job and also identify those disabled people who would be expected to get a job straight away.
It’s a test Scope has had deep reservations about. We’ve been deeply worried about the implications of using a medical tick box assessment that ignores all the other barriers disabled people face in finding work, being used to identify who can go out and get a job.
Work Capability Assessment tests
Within 15 minutes of coming out of my meeting, I was sitting on a sofa in a studio watching something absolutely outrageous.
Disabled people would have been shocked and appalled as I was to see the reality of the way doctors were effectively being trained to leave behind all their years of medical training and deliver a test that even the trainer claimed was “almost unachievable”.
The Government has said time and time again that this test is fair, appropriate and not driven by targets. Yet quite clearly the doctors are being told to achieve targets of how many people they find fit for work or who need support and that they will be held to account if those targets aren’t met. This is a flawed test and it is being implemented in a damming way. How can decisions that can have a profound and devastating effect on disabled people’s lives be made in this way in Britain in 2012?
These are real people being assessed, up to 10,000 every week. We know that disabled people want to work but many need the right support to do so. And by being subjected to this flawed test they may be denied the very support they need to get a job.
Dispatches reveals a “toxic” system
The trainer in the film even said she felt the test was “toxic”, that it was “frustrating” that someone cannot have the benefits and are expected to find a job when she knew they didn’t stand a chance. For me, the footage didn’t just show that the test that was toxic. It showed that the whole system is toxic.
Yes this programme has to raise serious questions about how the test is being delivered, but ultimately the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for ensuring that disabled people get a fair deal.
Many disabled people, Disabled People’s Organisations and disability charities have been trying to work with the Government to improve the test. There can be no more finger pointing or blame between the DWP and ATOS. They both have a responsibility and duty of care towards disabled people.
They should both be ashamed for allowing this to happen. And they need to take serious action immediately.