Guardian Letters: ‘Paralympics puts focus on plight of disabled people’

Letters to The Guardian

David Brindle (Disability movement at a crossroads as Paralympics arrives, 21 August) underestimates the scale of the coalition’s attacks on benefits 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 Cut

• 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. 
Simone Aspis 
Changing Perspectives 

• 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 be reformed.
Robin Wendt

• 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.
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon 

• 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?
Anne Hutton

• 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
Harlech, Gwynedd 

• 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 expectations.

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?
Caroline Gooding

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