Well as always when one returns from a holiday it’s down to earth with a bump…
Holiday was great though and everyone was really friendly, the place was relaxed and people were keen to make the journey and activities as easily accessible for me as possible. It’s funny now but wherever I go I think about how accessible everywhere is, the language people use “Handicapped” for example is still widely used particularly in relation to those who use a wheelchair.
There is a curiosity as to why I am doing something as I can’t see. For example, we took an off-road buggy tour and the lady booking us on asked why I wanted to go when I couldn’t see the scenery. She hadn’t considered the power of my other senses: the descriptive ability of my partner, the rough, bumpy and hang on for your life feel of the buggy off road or the minds ability to imagine what a 100ft drop off a cliff edge might mean if something went amiss.
Winning them over
However, by the time I left for the tour she was as excited as me after I explained all this to her and she couldn’t wait for my return. She asked if the tour had been extreme and bumpy enough and whether the water at the falls was truly freezing. Completely covered in dust, I think it was an experience of a kind for everyone and a lot of fun.
Well anyway enough of me and onto work…
This week there was the launch in Parliament of the “Barriers to work” report.
The report commissioned by Inclusion London and written by disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale. It is based on a survey of 320 Access to Work customers – more than half of whom were Deaf or had hearing impairments – which was carried out last year by the campaign group StopChanges2AtW.
The report, found that “shocking levels of delay, error, and the de-skilling of staff” were putting Deaf and disabled people’s jobs at risk:
Equal Lives attended the launch in Parliament. Whilst I was unable to go myself, Mark Harrison (CEO of Equal Lives) attended and read out my account of my experience of using the Access to work Scheme. My account noted the highs, and sadly in recent years extreme lows of using it.
For anyone that doesn’t know Access to Work is a government funded body that provides advice and support for disabled people to get back into or remain in work.
They can provide financial support for:
- Travel to Work
- Support Workers
As well as a range of other support
My Personal Experience
When I began my work here in 2010 it was a great scheme and everything I needed was ready to go for my start date.
The advisers were great and supportive – asking questions where they didn’t understand why I needed to use a particular piece of equipment i.e. speech software on my mobile phone. They were keen to assist with queries and to make relevant notes on my records that would make review processes quicker and easier for all. This ran smoothly until the start of 2016 after Access to Work capped the amount of support people could have and there the rot sets in. Money.
Mental Health can have an impact too
Starting my review at the end of 2015, I spent a whole year fighting Access to Work. Although my circumstances hadn’t changed, my support workers jobs were left uncertain. I spent 2 months working from home as nothing was sorted out for me to get to work. I faced rude, ignorant and offensive staff who constantly told me that, despite my requirements, it was the money that mattered. It wasn’t about what was best for me, what enabled me to do my job as anyone else would or even if what they suggested was feasible. It was just about money.
My Mental Health suffered terribly under the strain of just trying to be able to go to work. Being confined to working from home was isolating and demoralising. At my lowest, it was only through the support of my Partner and Equal Lives that I got through it. However, feeling at the point where I couldn’t take any more I settled for a package that sees me going to work less and paying more for it (again in with no changes to my circumstances from previous years). If my costs increase much more then basically I won’t be able to afford to go to work. That is a terrible thought.
Work gives us so much more than just money. It’s the Social Interaction, new skills, confidence, education through others experiences, responsibility, independence, self-worth and equality to mention a few things! Now, nearly 2 years on, I am still in a fight with Access to Work. This time over invoices provided by my taxi company. Apparently, Access to Work changed the way they needed invoices written but did they send this info out? They just rejected payment, which has led to my taxi company saying they won’t take me to work.
Continuing to fight
So I continue to fight to go to work and wonder which will get me first? The inability to get there? The financial cost of being able to work? The ability to do my job with the support I can have? The austerity cuts that see contracts and jobs vanishing? Or will it just be the Mental impact of being someone who “just wants to go to work”.
In all the negative publicity we see that promotes that disabled people don’t want to work… They always fail to tell the stories of the millions of disabled people who fight to go to work every day!
There are times when I want to give up and that is through the stress of constantly fighting the system. It is not, and never will be, because I don’t want to work.
Hopefully reports like those presented in Parliament this week will highlight the sham that Access to Work has become. Hopefully, work can begin to take place to turn it back into a service that is about “Access” to work. Not one that prevents or restricts this access to breaking point.
There are millions of disabled people out there working or wanting to work every day. Let’s tell the world and stop the negative rot of those who want to save money (falsely) through the exploitation of disabled people.