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.
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
More than a third of Premier League clubs, including two of the richest teams in the world, will not have adequate facilities for disabled fans by August 2017. Chelsea, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth are all set to miss an agreed deadline to bring their stadiums up to the minimum standards for disabled access, according to the disabled fans organisation Level Playing Field (LPF).
Last year, all Premier League clubs pledged to improve their stadium facilities for disabled supporters and increase the numbers of wheelchair user spaces by August 2017, as set out in the Accessible Stadia Guidance (ASG). However, in meetings with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which took the league to task last year over inadequate accessibility provisions, the Premier League has now acknowledged that many will miss the deadline.
Commenting on the lack of progress, Chris Holmes, EHRC Disability Commissioner said:
“All clubs agreed to make the minimum recommended improvements for disabled fans over two years. We are now at half-time, and for many teams, the performance is simply unacceptable.”