International Day of Disabled People and Assessment Centre Demonstration

3rd December 2016 is the international day of disabled people.

United Nations Secretary General – Ban Ki-moon says We mark this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities in the wake of the adoption of the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, a global blueprint for action which summons us to ‘leave no one behind’.

On Friday 2nd December 12:30-2pm at St Francis House, Queens Road, Norwich, members of Equal Lives, Norfolk’s user led disability organisation and Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) will draw attention to the inaccessible assessment centre in Norwich which is ‘leaving disabled Norfolk residents behind’.

Atos have two assessment centres for PIP in Norwich one located at Prince of Wales Road and one on Queens Road; both have been defined as inaccessible by Norfolk’s disabled community. At St Francis House on Queens Road:

  1. The parking is across a busy road with 4 lanes of traffic.
  2. It is not clear that the front entrance is for PIP assessments as the windows say IPRS. This is the physiotherapy company that is sub contracted by Atos to provide assessments at this venue (and they also carry out assessments at other venues).
  3. If you have mobility issues, you may not be able to access the front entrance due to 2 concrete steps so there is a sign that directs you to the rear entrance.
  4. Access at the rear entrance is via a long ramp and the journey to reception exceeds the 20 metre distance that will enable you to receive the enhanced mobility component of PIP. They say they won’t penalise you for this, as they don’t assume people can do this all of the time. Our argument is that if people find it very difficult to mobilise this far, they shouldn’t feel pressured to achieve this to make it to their assessment!
  5. Once at the back door the signage is very poor, and there is no intercom or bell to ring for assistance. There is a poster in a window that says for ‘PIP assessments and physiotherapy appointments to call them for assistance.’ This creates another barrier as the person may not have a phone on them or have credit to make a phone call for assistance. The door is unlocked, but it is very heavy.
  6. Once you manage to get inside you have to make your way through 2 more heavy fire doors making your way back to the front of the building where the reception desk is located next to the front door.

Equal Lives has been working with Atos to address some of the access issues and a meeting was scheduled on the 17th of November. Unfortunately this was cancelled due to not having anyone ‘appropriate’ to meet and greet our staff member in St Francis House. They have been keen to engage with Atos on behalf of their members in order to share their lived experiences and help bring an assessment centre to Norwich which meets their requirements.

This is following the closure of The Norman Centre in Norwich as an assessment centre as it was deemed not suitable by the DWP as the assessment room did not meet their minimum requirement of being 12m2, although many assessments had successfully taken place there and the venue was easy to access for those with severe mobility problems if they could drive.

Melanie Leader from Norwich said;

“I found the access to the assessment centre inadequate. I had to plan my journey and ensure my partner came with me dropping me off outside as otherwise you risk your life trying to get across the road. Once I had been dropped off outside and my partner went to park I realised the disabled access is round the back.

Once inside the assessment centre there was a long walk to reach reception, I use a walking aid and when I tried to push the doors they were really heavy and I could not manage them. This all adds to the stress you are already feeling with having to attend such an assessment. They are assessing us as disabled people, surely it is common sense to make sure their assessment centres are totally accessible. Or am I being naïve?”

Mark Harrison, Chief Executive of Equal Lives says

‘We would welcome members of the press and media to come along to St Francis House so that our members can demonstrate the difficulties they are having. The assessment process is at the front end of a benefits system which is quite clearly leaving many of our members behind. ‘