Obviously the Brexit Bill is the one that’s getting all the attention at the moment, but another Bill currently making its way through Parliament is the Higher Education and Research Bill. Last night the Lords voted on an amendment to that Bill that, if accepted by the Government, would be a great benefit to our country and would preserve our long history and clear leadership in offering a first class education and warm welcome to international students. The amendment was tabled by diplomat Lord Hannay and would ensure that international students are not treated as migrants. I believe this is essential to reassure any potential foreign students that they are welcome and to reverse the worrying decline of recent years; figures for non-EU students are down by between 2% and 8% and the number of students from India is down by a half. The Prime Minister of India, Mr Modi, said of the UK; “you want our trade, you don’t want our children”. If that is the impression being received in India and other nations around the world, how can we possibly expect to attract the brightest and the best to come to study in the United Kingdom? That is what we need and want. Our doors and our arms should be wide open to the brightest and the best to come to study here because there is no downside to that. This is not an argument about migration, or about government targets to net migration – that is a conversation for another day – and in any case changing the way students are classified will have little effect on the Government’s ability to control medium to long-term net migration. This is about recognizing and promoting the significant benefits international students contribute to the UK in terms of education, soft power and cold hard cash. Many universities are able to subsidize their outstanding facilities through the income received by international student fees, but, I believe, the benefit to our educational establishments extends beyond the financial to the whole character, quality and calibre of the university. The soft power argument is perhaps most strikingly made by the fact that 55 current heads of state benefitted from an education in the UK, the value of these interactions and relationships, again, cannot be measured in financial terms but is surely significant. Finally, looking at what can be measured, a report from the University of Birmingham found that just eight additional international undergraduate students would add £1m to the economy. At a time of uncertainty in what precisely our global future will look like this is a powerful message I hope the Govt will be prepared to send.
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Listen to summary on Today in Parliament
Chris is delighted to be Co-Chair of a new All Party Parliamentary Group on assistive technology. The group aims to disseminate knowledge, generate debate and facilitate engagement and a greater understanding of assistive technology amongst members of parliament. The group is supported by a number of organizations ranging from academic institutions to manufacturers of assistive technology and disability charities. On the day of the launch a group of key stakeholders met to discuss aims and objectives. One key issue raised was the unacceptably high disability employment gap (40% of disabled people are unemployed compared to 5% of non-disabled population) and the role assistive technology can play in providing solutions. Questions were also raised over what was perceived as limited dialogue between the industry and government, and departments with government, it is hoped that this group will help address this communication and understanding gap and lead to far greater access to assistive technology for far more people. The group had invited Hannah Rose to share her experiences of using assistive technology after she was paralyzed from the neck down at the age of fifteen. Thanks to various products including mobility aids, environmental controls (allowing her to turn off the lights and switch TV channel independently) and drag and dictate software (allowing her to use a computer) she enjoys a significant degree of autonomy and loves her job at Cheshire Police HQ – she jokes about how difficult it was to convince officers that she had found a job when she was trying to sign off incapacity benefits. Access to employment is important but assistive technology is not only about jobs. It is about enabling people in a far broader sense, to live independent and fulfilling lives. It is about finding and making available the tools that allow people to overcome barriers and Chris relishes the challenge of working with the group to make sure that happens.
Chris was invited to speak at a major diversity and inclusion event at Adidas HQ on the topic of inclusion for innovation. The corporate focus was on the belief that the best teams are diverse teams, that the company should mirror the society they serve and that for change to happen, it must be actively pursued. In the words of the CEO’s father: “it takes a long time to do something you’re not really working on.” Chris was delighted to deliver the keynote and so much of the power of his personal experiences and philosophy spoke perfectly to the themes of the day. More than most, Chris understands the power of sport to change lives; his own story of adjusting to the unexpected shock of losing his sight as a child to become one of the country’s most successful Paralympians illustrates a deep understanding of inclusion. As he says, making a case for staying in his mainstream school and continuing in his swimming club were experiences of diversity and inclusion “before the terms really existed”. Chris goes on to discuss the various ways technology can be used to innovate for inclusion – from cassette tapes to Bluetooth beacons! – but also makes the point that innovation of thought is as important as the practical tools. A commitment to welcoming and supporting diversity is the major requirement for successful outcomes. What is often viewed as bold, brave, risk-taking he argues is not actually risk-taking when it’s doing the right thing for the right reasons. He gives many fascinating examples of successful inclusive and innovative achievements around the London 2012 games. As Chris says “it’s not easy but it is essential”. When thinking particularly about the power of digital to disrupt, his passionate exhortation is to “become diverse or die.”
Seeing isn’t believing
Later on in the day Chris delivered another short presentation, “Seeing isn’t believing” which focused on his sporting achievements and was inspired by his popular TedX talk.
Chris really enjoyed all the connections and conversations throughout the day and wanted to thank everyone who came to say hello. Discussions covered many aspects of the diversity and inclusion agenda but Chris was delighted by the enthusiasm for one of his key messages; that change can happen when one person believes that things can be other than they are.
VISION 2020 UK, the umbrella organisation which leads collaboration in eye health and sight loss, has launched a podcast. This new platform will look at the major topics of interest within the eye health and sight loss sector, with expert analysis, opinion and debate. The podcast is an educational forum for professionals, service users and carers as well as those with no knowledge of the topics.
Hosted by John Welsman, Guide Dogs Policy Business Partner, the podcasts will be released on a monthly basis and will focus on one topic or interview per episode, highlighting the work of the VISION 2020 UK Standing Committees, as well as discussions with leaders in the sector on topics such as rehabilitation, dementia, children and certification.
The first two podcasts are now available through the VISION 2020 UK website, on audioboom, and will soon be found on iTunes (search ‘VISION 2020 UK’). These episodes feature Mercy Jeyasingham, CEO, VISION 2020 UK and Chris! Chris gives listeners an understanding of his background, his achievements to date and his areas of concern and interest around eye health and sight loss. One of his major areas of concern is the issue of shared space.
John Welsman, commented, “Podcasts are a great way of discussing complex topics as well as being entertaining and informative. The ability of people to listen to the podcast on their commute, in their car or at home is a great way of communicating these issues. I look forward to working with VISION 2020 UK to create an engaging and professional podcast”.
Listen to Chris’s interview
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has published updated guidance for pubs to help licensees make their venue as welcoming as possible to those with access needs. Chris was at the launch and is delighted to endorse the guidance saying it “provides lots of useful information for licensees to help those with access needs enjoy the Great British pub.” The foreword to the guidance is written by Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson DBE, who points out that “accessibility is not simply about physical access to the pub, but rather it is about creating the best experience for all who visit”. The guidance gives six key features for an accessible pub: 1. Access ramp at door 2. Hearing loops on bar 3. Large print menu 4. Accessible toilet with disability sign on door 5. Staff trained to meet needs of disabled customers 6. Layout – easy to navigate and clear of obstacles.Let’s hope the guidance is circulated widely and embraced by all pubs. Read the guidance in full.
The Supreme Court today ruled on a long running dispute between FirstGroup Plc and Doug Paulley. In 2012, Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, had been unable to board a bus when another passenger with a pushchair refused to move allow him to use the space. Mr Paulley had argued operator FirstGroup’s “requesting, not requiring” policy was discriminatory. The court ruled that this policy of requiring a driver to simply request a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space without taking any further steps was unjustified. Chris welcomes the “important milestone” but noted that as the judgement was with limits it may be necessary to look again at issues with existing legislation. Further legislation may offer the clarity and emphasis that is so urgently required to make sure disabled people feel confident about exercising an equal right to access public transport.
Supreme Court Judgement
Top of the league clubs: Derby County, Wrexham, Tranmere Rovers, Egham Town; all have been named as examples of excellence in making their clubs truly welcoming of disabled supporters. You will note that none of these clubs are in the Premier League. In Sept 2015 the Premier League promised to make all clubs accessible to disabled people. The House of Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport report published today states that it’s “very clear” that sports clubs, notably many of those with very considerable income and resources, have not done anywhere near enough for sports fans with disabilities in recent years, despite the increase in income many of those clubs have enjoyed.” Given the examples above I would say it is clearly a question of will rather than resources and Greg Clarke of the Football Association agrees, telling the committee “that for the Premier League the problem was not money”. Football is our national sport, beloved by so many of us, and it needs to rediscover its moral compass. If not on its own then with some help. Both the commons committee and the Minister for Sport have said they would support legal action against clubs that miss the August deadline and Bill Bush, executive director at the Premier League spoke of fines of up to £25,000. I would urge both the Premier League and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to use all means at their disposal to ensure that disabled supporters are no longer treated as second class citizens when they want to support their football team.
Chris’s letter to the Times: Football’s Failure
Watch Channel 4’s report: Are football stadia no go for disabled?
BBC Sport: Disabled access: Premier League clubs may face sanctions over lack of improvement