Paralympics puts focus on plight of the
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 August 2012 21.40 BST
David Brindle (Disability movement at a crossroads as Paralympics arrives, 21
August) underestimates the scale of the coalition's attacks onbenefits and
services for disabled people, and the damage they are causing to the lives of
millions of people.
The work capability assessment, described by the British Medical Association as
"not fit for purpose", was designed with the express purpose of removing
thousands of people's entitlement to benefit. Reports suggest that many found fit
for work after the assessments have subsequently died.
These tests are being administered by Atos, a company whose handling of the
assessments has been much criticised. It is a disgrace that such a company is
sponsoring the Paralympics.
The government, however, has responded to the controversy by awarding a
further £400m to Atos to ensure that the number of disability living allowance
(DLA) claimants is reduced by 20% – even though its fraud rate, at 0.5%, is the
lowest for any state benefit. Many low-paid workers who qualify for DLA, and who
rely on it to survive, will be forced out of work.
It is not true that there are no disabled activists these days. We in Disabled
People Against Cuts are committed to direct action to stop the criminalising of
disabled people as "cheats" and "scroungers" by the press and government alike.
DPAC, and organisations such as Black Triangle, are grassroots organisations of
disabled people formed to resist and reverse these attacks.
This new disability movement sees itself as part of a wider struggle to resist
austerity. We have therefore from the outset sought to unite with the many other
non-disabled people organising against the cuts.
Ellen Clifford, Rob Murthwaite, Andy Green, Roger Lewis
National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
• I was one of those disabled leaders instrumental in ensuring people with
learning difficulties were included in disability antidiscrimination legislation and
had the right to direct payments to support independent living in the mid-90s.
Twenty years on, disability discrimination has become much more subtle. Could
there be a correlation between the lack of disabled people in work and
participating on mainstream professional courses, and the increasing use of
psychometric testing based on non- disabled people's norms and experiences?
Such tests are used by all sorts of agencies to distribute scarce resources, jobs,
housing, benefits and alike.
• Arguably the disability movement began in the 1960s, not the 70s, with the
establishment of the Disablement Income Group (DIG). Led by the redoubtable
Megan du Boisson, it rapidly became a thorn in the side of the then ministry of
social security (as an official I was on the receiving end). The pressure exerted by
the DIG certainly bore fruit in the 1970s, as benefits for disabled people began to
• David Brindles' account reminded me of the scepticism facing the group that set
up Peterborough Shopmobility 30 years ago. Although the new town
development corporation was prepared to spend public money in supporting an
innovation aimed at improving access for people with mobility problems, there
was so little faith that it would be used that the office and store was tucked away
on the 11th floor of a multistorey car park, where a discreet veil could be drawn
around it when it failed. Now, with more than 350 such services operating in
towns and cities across the UK, there is still no room for complacency because,
although the idea is proven, the money doesn't flow as easily as in those early
days and some schemes have closed due to financial difficulties.
• If, as Frances Hasler is quoted as saying, public transport is the acid test, she
might not have taken great pleasure from seeing a wheelchair user abandoned at
a bus stop in Hendon Lane, Finchley, a couple of weeks ago. The driver of the
143 bus was apologetic but two large buggies had taken up all the available
space. Is it not time for the fold-up pushchair to make a comeback?
• We are looking forward to the Paralympics next week, but no mention has been
made of this week's British Transplant Games in Medway (23-26 August), which
help to keep people fit who have had to have some kind of organ transplant.
Last year's games in Belfast were a huge success and increased the number of
donors joining the register, and if enough people did join the register there could
be an end to the waiting lists.
Judith and Treve Eddy
• Philippa Perry's suggestion that "special needs children" should not be taught
French, mathematics or geography (The person we'd like to be, 21 August) made
my heart sink. Disabled children continue to suffer from the tyranny of low
My autistic nephew would like to go to a small "special" school, which would
provide a good educational environment – but it does not teach geography, a
subject in which he has a passionate interest. Thankfully, it does teach French –
a subject in which he has a particular strength because his father is French. Of
course, if mainstream schools catered to the full range of educational needs and
diversity it would make it possible for all children to attend.
As Ms Perry says, difference needs to be acknowledged. But this starts with
listening to disabled people themselves, not trotting out third-hand stories about
teachers who work with disabled people or relying on the fleeting experience of
using a wheelchair while healing a broken leg. Could you allow disabled
journalists, academics, psychoanalysts and pupils to speak for themselves?