12 November 2008
Our story in the last newsletter about disabled access problems to official buildings has stirred quite a few of you.
It seems many of you believe the government itself and the organisations it works with are breaching the Disability Discrimination Act.
We revealed the struggles of one of our disabled members called to attend a series of Work-Focused Interviews in a building with serious accessibility problems.
The catalogue of failings included poor provision of disabled bays in the car park, difficulty gaining access through the front entrance, little (or no) disabled signage or even guidance to the organisation’s offices and the disabled toilet used for storage.
Although our member has now received two formal responses to the original complaint, they do not address the points raised.
It seems others are experiencing similar accessibility problems and are also failing to get satisfactory answers from those conducting the WFI interviews or from the Department for Work and Pensions.
The problems range from a lack of suitable chairs to a wheelchair user unable to enter the office where an interview was scheduled to take place and having to try and walk instead.
One incredulous member told how he was refused permission to use one of the staff chairs at a recent Jobcentre Plus meeting for “health and safety reasons”. Apparently the chairs are deemed unsafe for visitors, but perfectly acceptable for members of staff and as yet he has been unable to secure any sort of clarification, apology or concession from the DWP.
“Frankly the DWP's compliance with the DDA is a joke,” said our member. “When a disabled client points out a problem they are patronised to the point of being bludgeoned with a mallet.”
Others have similar experiences to tell after being invited to attend all manner of official interviews and assessmentsw.
“The office was on a fast, main road, there was no parking outside so arriving by car necessitated having to take your chances across the road without the aid of a pedestrian crossing,” explained one member. “The building had a large, inaccessible step up into it and the actual office was on the second floor with no lift.”
Another of our members also had a long list of basic accessibility failings after being called to attend a medical assessment.
The list included parking problems, gaining access to the building itself, a poorly designed reception area and the general ignorance amongst staff members about DDA.
“The crowning moment though was when the doctor came to collect me from reception,” said our member.
“We tried to enter his office. My wheelchair is slightly wider than normal and his door slightly narrower than normal, so I was unable to get into his office.
“It was only with the help of my partner and the door frame that I was able to get out of my chair and walk the short distance to a very uncomfortable office chair. At the end of the examination we had to reverse the whole processes.
“Throughout all of this I kept getting strange looks and from one of the members of staff a: ‘Oh, your in a wheelchair,’ as if they never expected to actually see disabled people.
“I was absolutely stunned that they could say that this building was totally wheelchair accessible.
“I found the whole thing both hysterical and degrading at the same time.”
Many of our members are just as annoyed at what is often referred to as the patronising or simply ignorant and uninterested response of those who called the meeting.
The DWP said it did take such complaints seriously and every effort was made to ensure buildings used for official purposes complied with DDA requirements.
When we listed some of the complaints, a spokesman said he was unable to comment on individual cases.
“If these complaints have been registered formally with us, we will carry out a full investigation,” he promised.
We are still keen to hear from anyone experiencing such problems and especially from anyone who has managed to get a satisfactory response to any complaint they have lodged.