An overheard comment the other week set me thinking about labels and person centred language, particularly with regard to disability. Two of the phrases that often get discussed are ‘disabled person’ and ‘person with a disability’. The latter is often said to be preferable as it puts the person first.

Then I started thinking a little deeper and thought what does disability mean in each phrase. The view I reached is entirely subjective, I’ve not discussed it with anyone and after all it’s just an idea in a collections of some bloke’s wafflings on the interwebs so I’m not claiming to be starting a movement or saying that this is the way people should be referred to.

Disability or the state of being disabled can be looked at a couple of ways. There’s the Medical Model approach, where disability is the thing that’s ‘wrong’ with a person that needs to be fixed or overcome by adapting the individual to fit society. The other way is that the individual is disabled by barriers that exist to their full participation in a society. This is the Social Model and separates out disability from the impairment that the person has.

‘Person with a disability’ does seem to fit the medical model in that it’s talking about a person with a ‘thing’ rather than a state of being. This is still better than the old medical model labels of ‘cripple’, ‘spastic’, etc.

With a social model hat on, ‘disabled person’ seems a much better fit. I’m a person in society and I’m disabled by the barriers it places in my way therefore I’m a disabled person. I’d also say following this way of thinking that I’m a person with an impairment.

This, in a nutshell, sums up why I prefer the term ‘disabled person’ as it’s a reminder that I am disabled by the society I live in rather than something inherent to me.

The Work Programme – Making things harder

After you’ve been unemployed for a year, you have to volunteer for The Work Programme to carry on receiving Job Seeker’s Allowance. This is a strange definition of volunteering as it’s effectively compulsory. I already do genuine voluntary activities to maintain my work related skills and benefit my community.

The Work Programme is ‘delivered’ on behalf of The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by a number of providers, most of whom are private sector. The one I have to deal with is Ingeus, an Australian company. They are based in a building that has a number of access issues:

  • The doors require a force greater than the 20N specified in Part M of the building regulations;
  • The lifts are on a mezzanine level, not the ground floor;
  • This level is accessed by a ‘porch lift’ that has no operating instructions, no safe working limit, a faulty safety interlock and side rails that are loose;
  • The handrails on the stairs are flat bar stainless steel with sharp 90° edges that also don’t comply with part M;
  • There is no accessible parking within 300m of the building;
  • The access to the building is via a shared use foot and cycle path.

None of these make an already stressful experience any easier for disabled people.

The provision for everyone inside isn’t much better. There are only four computers available for people to use for job searching and only five seats for people waiting to see their advisors. Today, this resulted in more people waiting than there were chairs. When you get to see your advisor, there isn’t any privacy, with other clients within 2-3 feet. Given that some of the issues that the work programme is meant to address are health and wellbeing related, this can’t be appropriate.

Part of their contract with DWP states that they have to provide two mandatory bits of training – Job Search training and Interview Techniques. While I agree a large number of the people referred to them will need help with this, it’s a waste of time and resources to put everyone through it regardless of need and/or ability. My interview technique is, according to feedback, excellent. Where I have lost out has been to other candidates with slightly more experience in specific areas. This is not something you can learn to overcome. When I used to contract I would have an interview every two to three months as part of getting my next placement. This really hones your skills. These mandatory courses are exceptionally blunt instruments that won’t give the right support to those who need it and will alienate those with a good grounding in the skills.

When you get ‘put on the books’ of a provider, responsibility for reimbursement of travel to interview expenses shifts from Job Centre Plus (JCP) to the provider. A couple of weeks ago I had two interviews and my first appointment with Ingeus. I’d got the expenses forms in advance from JCP as I was supposed to do, attended the interviews and then submitted the forms. I was then told that Ingeus were responsible as I had been signed over to them before the interview dates, despite not having had an appointment with them. Today I went to Ingeus and tried to get reimbursed, only to be told that as I hadn’t got the travel pre-approved they couldn’t pay me. As one of the interviews was in London and the other was in Cambridge, this involved considerable expense. Train failures on the day of the London interview meant I had to drive, despite having already bought the tickets (to save money). As a condition of getting JSA, I have to attend every interview I’m offered. As a result of this fiasco, I’m over £120 out of pocket. JSA is £67.50 a week, so this is a significant amount. Something like this throws your whole budgeting out for weeks.

It seems to me that the whole Work Programme is poorly executed, under resourced, designed to alienate and not joined up with the rest of the process. As well as fortnightly appointments with Ingeus, you also still have to attend fortnightly appointments with JCP. This duplication is a ridiculous waste of resources and seems further designed to emphasise the control JCP has over your life. The aim is laudable, but the system falls way short and will only serve to waste public money, often generating large private sector profits. Not exactly the best use of limited resources in the current economic climate.

Hate Crime: Sticks and Stones….

There have been a stream of horrific cases where disabled people have been attacked, tortured, held hostage and killed ‘just’ for being disabled. They grab the headlines for a day or two and then vanish. Despite all these cases, there hasn’t been a ‘Stephen Lawrence’ moment for disabled people, where the mainstream is so shocked by a case that policy makers have to react. Luckily this level of violence is rare and not experienced by most disabled people.

But there’s the problem. Most abuse is more low grade, frequent and unchallenged. Katherine Quarmby calls this ‘background noise’ in her excellent study of disability hate crime “Scapegoat”. This background noise is the name calling, minor bullying, anti-social behaviour directed at disabled people. It occurs throughout our society, where ever disabled people go.

I’ve had conversations where non-disabled people have told me to be more ‘thick skinned’, to shrug off the comments. I can see where they are coming from but a line has to be drawn. All the serious hate crimes started out as name calling. When the violence started, in most cases, bystanders did nothing. Some even spectated or took pictures and video with their phones. This is all permitted by the background noise of low level abuse that helps de-humanise disabled people in the eyes of the public.

If we all stand up and take a zero tolerance approach to hate crime directed at us then we can change things.

  • The background noise will get less
  • Media companies will have to take our complaints seriously
  • The police and local authorities will no longer be able to say “It doesn’t happen  here as we have no record of it”

These changes will reduce the more serious offences as they will be seen as far more unacceptable and response and prevention will be better funded.

It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick and not every disabled person will be able to do it but that shouldn’t stop us. Those of us that have the capacity to report and follow up should hold the authorities to account. If we can’t feel safe in our homes, on public transport, while going out and on the internet, all the rights we have fought for will be compromised.

These are just my thoughts on the issue and I’d love to hear what you think, whether you agree or disagree.

Famous for Five Days

The Red Cross has a weekly feature where they chat to various staff and volunteers called Famous for Five Days and this week it was my turn. It’s only available on their intranet so I’ve included it below for anyone who might be interested.



Dave McQuirk has been a Red Cross fire and emergency support service (FESS) and emergency response volunteer for nearly two years. He talks about Steampunk, makeshift beds, and his admiration for one-footed Vikings.

Why did you decide to work for the Red Cross?

I’d heard about the work of the FESS and I wanted to help make a difference when people need it most. With a day job background in emergency planning it seemed the best fit for my skills. I also did the Disaster Response Challenge in 2008, which gave me a good introduction to the Red Cross as well as being a fun weekend.

 What’s the worst job you’ve ever had to do?

I worked for a unit trust company for four months and we had to work ten-hour days and seven-day weeks because it was the ‘company way’. Sitting doing bookkeeping for that long is appalling. It taught me that to be any good you need to balance work and real life.

Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?

Mark Steel, the comedian, as he has a way of bringing people and issues to life. Billy Bragg, the singer, as I’ve loved his music since I was in my early teens and he’s introduced me to all sorts of areas of life. Finally, the Viking known as Onund Treefoot. He adapted to having one leg so well he was known as being “as good as any man in Iceland, be he whole or not”.

What is your favourite book?

I’m not sure I really have a favourite, as there are a number of books I love. The book I’ve re-read the most is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It assumes that Charles Babbage has managed to build his difference engine and computing exists in the Victorian era, being mechanically rather than electronically based. The altered version of reality that this presents is a wonderful setting. It was one of the forerunners of the Steampunk movement.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

It was being tucked into a bed made up on the back seat of my parents’ Morris Minor for a very early start on a trip to see family up in Lancashire. It used to take eight to nine hours or more from Southampton. How lax about safety in cars we were back then!

What keeps you awake at night?

I’ve always been a poor sleeper, so sometimes almost anything does. I think the thing that can keep me awake reliably is going over mistakes I’ve made in the past. Not very helpful and a habit I need to get out of.

What would be your ultimate fancy dress party theme?

I think it would have to be ‘What did you want to be when you grew up?’. It’d be really interesting to see what we all dreamed of being and where we ended up. I’d have to go as a helicopter pilot or a marine biologist – very different from the jobs I ended up doing.

Who or what is the love of your life?

I’m a trustee for a disability charity and I’m finding that more and more rewarding. Being able to help shape change that improves people’s lives is wonderful and something I hope to be involved in for a long time to come. Fairness, equality and supporting vulnerable people are some of my passions.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

John Cusack I think. He’s a taller, much better looking version of me and his films seem to have a similar sense of humour to mine – excluding 2012, which is wonderfully over-the-top.

 You’ve won £1 million. What’s the first thing you’d buy?

I’ve always wanted a proper Land Rover that I could get really muddy so it’d have to be that. It’s something I have no use for from day to day, so it would be my lottery splurge.

Turning Off Twitter

Part of the fallout of the recent riots is the usual blame for the internet for making it happen. According to the politicians and the media, the internet is the source of all ills. Like any human endeavour it reflects the best and worst of us. Research by the Guardian shows that the majority of tweets about the riots were reacting to it, rather than encouraging/arranging it. Boyd Neil has blogged about the political aspects of this and the potential implications of censorship, so I’m not going to cover that. What I’m interested in is the practical implications of restricting social media in these circumstances.

If you speak to any emergency planner or police officer responsible for ensuring public safety they’ll tell you that getting timely, accurate information to people is one of the hardest aspects of responding to any major incident. This is considered so important that there is a National Steering Committee for Warning and Informing the Public  to share best practice and improve the resilience of communications in an emergency. A number of police forces across the UK successfully used Twitter to communicate the reality of the situation during the disturbances. Their tweets refuted rumours and promoted calm. For a lot of agencies, this was their first ‘real’ use of Twitter in a live event and seemed to be fairly successful. Taking this communications channel away would be a serious retrograde step.

There are also practical issues with ‘switching off’ Twitter and the like.

Would the URL be blocked from the UK? Would this stop third party apps from accessing it? What about the impact on non-UK users?

If the services are left intact but the means of accessing them are suspended then there are serious implications. You’d have to shut down the dial-up and broadband access in an affected area as well as stopping mobile phone data traffic. The knock-on effect from this is huge. Legitimate businesses would suffer losses, warning and informing information wouldn’t get out to the public, some communications between responders would be affected, and lives may be at risk. The increasing use of satellite broadband would also be an issue too.

If the whole mobile network has to be shut, rather than just the data service then the situation that arose on July 7th 2005 would be duplicated. Due to the invocation of Access Overload Control (ACCOLC) around Aldgate, the majority of phones carried by responders on scene were unable to access the network. Paragraph 3.10 onwards in the London Assembly Report explains this in more depth. ACCOLC has now been replaced by the Mobile Telephony Preference Access Service (MTPAS) but the number of handsets that can be registered per organisation is limited.

There’s also the possibility of jamming equipment similar to that used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent remote detonation of IEDs being used. This can be a bit ‘clumsy’ and restrict legitimate communications working due to the wide frequency bands it covers.

After the car bomb in Oslo, people were using Twitter to offer shelter and support to those affected by the bombing and encouraging everyone to make their wifi freely available so people could get in touch with their families. Post riots, community clean-up events were organised by Twitter. If suspended, this community resilience and support would be lost.

To me, it seems that closing down these networks would create more practical and operational problems than it would solve. Truly dedicated criminal groups would use other mediums (PMR radio for example) to co-ordinate things if they do do that sort of thing. The individuals who’ve been prosecuted for ‘incitement’ on Facebook seem to be at worst misguided rather than earnest rabble rousing criminals and don’t reflect the vast majority of users of social networking. There is also the risk that the suspension of a communication channel would increase the fear of people affected as their access to ‘live’ information would be severely reduced.

When won’t this be news?

Yesterday there was the headline “Fakenham woman chosen as role model for those with disabilities” in my local paper. It details how a young woman with Down’s syndrome has secured employment through a joint scheme involving several agencies. I’ve got a couple of issues with the promotion and reporting of this which I’ll go into below.

Before I do, I want to make it perfectly clear that in no way do I decry the efforts of Brogan Johnston and her family in securing employment and a more rewarding life. It’s not easy and they must be congratulated.

The article called Brogan a role model for disabled people as regards employment before going on to discuss the project that has helped her find meaningful work.

As far as I can tell, Brogan is just like the vast majority of disabled people I know. She wants a job, a life, the same things as everyone else. The real story in the article is Project Search. The Sayce Report summarises Project Search as:

Project Search The Project Search model has been adopted by 14 (mainly public sector) employers across England to offer people with learning disabilities the opportunity to move beyond the mundane work usually assigned to them – clearing tables, moving shopping trolleys – and instead trains them in more complex, but routine, tasks, such as assembling medical equipment. Individuals learn different roles, in rotation. The approach requires the employer to ‘carve’ jobs in new ways so the individual has one essential job, that they learn thoroughly, and offers support to both employee and employer, alongside training. The initiative is still young in the UK and formal evaluation evidence is not yet available, but the four sites that have been running for over one year report that they have successfully supported people into employment and are saving money in recruitment costs. The Employers’ Forum on Disability aims to involve five private sector companies in adopting the approach, so it may be set to grow.

This is a laudable project if it gets disabled people into meaningful long term employment.

I have two main concerns with the reporting and the project.

Firstly, while I see there is a good ‘human interest’ element to Brogan’s story, it perpetuates the myth that disabled people need ‘inspiring’ into work and should follow the example of such ‘role models’. There is also the unspoken flip side that those disabled people not in work are lazy and need to take after these ‘paragons’ when the reality is much more complicated than that. Access to transport, appropriate adjustments and employers that comply with the law are needed for starters.

My second concern is why do large employers need these special projects to employ disabled people? Why aren’t they embracing the qualities that a diverse workforce brings? Time and time again it’s been proven that disabled people in employment take less time off sick and are as productive (in appropriate roles) as non-disabled people.

I’d like to see more mainstreaming of the employment of disabled people and fewer value judgements in reporting these issues but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Finally congratulations to Brogan and I wish her every success in her working life. I look forward to the day when a disabled person having work like this is the norm and not a news story.

Send the Troops In

As you may have noticed, things have got a bit ‘rioty’ in a number of cities over the last week or so. I have been involved in a few conversations on Twitter about it. I’ve avoided talking about the causes and the ‘deeper’ rights and wrongs (damaging other people’s stuff is just wrong) but did get involved in a conversation about getting the army in. After I’d expressed my thoughts, someone asked me if I’d blog about my take on it. I’m only going to look at the legislative and practical issues rather than the political aspects.

As regular readers will know I’ve been involved in the UK Civil Contingencies field since the early 2000s so this element of the response really interested me.

Putting the army on the streets to support the police has two main elements; how they are deployed and what they do once they are out on the streets.

The policies and procedures for using military assets/personnel to aid the police and local authorities are contained in Joint Doctrine Publication 02: The Defence Contribution to Resilience. This covers both Military Aid to the Civil Community (MACC) and Military Aid to the Civil Powers (MACP). Supporting the police is MACP.

Any request for the military to assist the police has to be passed from the Home Office to the MOD and be subject to scrutiny at ministerial level. The Home Office explains the task that they need assistance for and then the MOD will then deploy resources as it deems appropriate.

This process takes time and it can be 36-72 hours from initial request to the first units arriving on scene. This isn’t ideal in a rapidly changing situation. There is also the issue of the availability of appropriate military units with public order training. Following the end of operations Banner (Northern Ireland) and Telic (Iraq), there is far less public order training and fewer units with an appropriate level of currency in this training. Other operational requirements and force reductions also reduce the availability of suitable personnel.

Military personnel and assets remain under the command of their officers and the MOD with all requests at a local level being routed through a liaison officer at either tactical or strategic command (Civil Contingencies Act usage rather than military usage).

As will be obvious, this presents a time delay and less responsiveness and flexibility compared to police assets under direct police command.

Another key restriction in the use of the army is the powers they do or don’t have. JDP 02 states:

Legal powers of Service Personnel conducting Military Aid to the Civil Power in the UK

411.        General Powers. Service personnel are required to act within the rule of law and will normally have no special legal powers beyond those of the ordinary citizen. Hence Service personnel may use reasonable force to prevent crime, including in self-defence. As a last resort such force may include firearms if authorised by the MOD and subject to the relevant Rules of Engagement (JSP 398).

412.        Arrests Although Service personnel should not normally attempt to arrest a civilian, in certain circumstances there may be no other option. Any citizen, including a member of the Armed Forces, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may arrest offenders for a breach of the peace.

However without appropriate control and restraint training there is significant risk to both those making the arrest and the individual being arrested. Any injuries inflicted on the detained person whilst being arrested may constitute assault.

This lack of additional powers over and above the ordinary citizen may remove any advantage of having the Army on the streets as opposed to police officers. There are also issues where, for reasons of security, the testimony of Service personnel may not be able to be used in court. This would have a significant impact on court cases following any disturbance where they were involved in arrests.

In summary, the Army are far less useful that might have been at first thought for the following reasons:

  • They take a significant time to deploy
  • There probably won’t be appropriate units available
  • They only have the same powers as ordinary citizens
  • They may not be able to give evidence afterwards, resorting in failures of prosecutions.

This ignores the social and political impacts that having soldiers policing our streets would have.


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