Disabled employees: What does Brexit mean?

As representatives of the UK and the European Union (EU) negotiate about Brexit, our attention is focused on disability. Now, the spotlight is on how disabled employees may be affected by the country’s withdrawal from the EU.

The Business Disability Forum says that disabled employees, including people with MS, potentially have a lot to lose.

Disabled employees

Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum chief executive.

The forum is a not-for-profit member organisation, headed by chief executive Diane Lightfoot. It aims to makes it easier and more rewarding to do business with, and employ, disabled people.

It warns: “The legislative impact of Brexit – and what it means for disabled employees and customers – is an area of concern. There is real worry that recent progress in the EU around access and equal treatment may be lost, or that standards of accessibility may slip.

“But fair treatment of disabled people has always been about more than just legal compliance. From a business point of view, to harness the full potential of disabled workers, to reduce staff turnover and absence, and to access the £212bn purple pound means going beyond minimum legal standards.

Disabled employees overseas

“It means we need to achieve the best outcomes for all people, with or without disabilities. It goes to the core of being businesses that people will wish to support or want to keep working for.”

Additionally, the forum believes that focusing on good practice rather than legal compliance will only become more important if the UK wishes to be a country that looks outward, and does business on the international stage.

“The work we do overseas focuses not on legal compliance but a universal code of practice for doing business with disabled people,” it says.

“Universal values apply to everyone. Principles for treating disabled people fairly, and working with them, are similar to good customer service, good management and good design.

“Even more importantly, working this way means being disability-smart isn’t effort, but attitude – something ingrained in what we do.

“Brexit may generate uncertainty around legislation and legal risks, but this needn’t bear on organisations doing business with disabled people. In the end, being disability-smart is just about aiming for the best outcome for everyone,” the forum says.

ABOUT THE BUSINESS DISABILITY FORUM

The Business Disability Forum says it builds disability-smart organisations to improve business performance by increasing confidence, accessibility, productivity and profitability.

It does this by bringing together business people, disabled opinion leaders and government to understand what needs to change. Disabled people must be treated fairly so they can contribute to business success, to society and to economic growth.

It has more than 20 years’ experience working with public and private sector organisations, formerly as Employers’ Forum on Disability. Members employ almost 20% of the UK workforce and seek to remove barriers between organisations and disabled people. It is a key stakeholder for both business and government, and has contributed to development of meaningful disability discrimination legislation.

Business Disability Forum provides pragmatic support by sharing expertise, giving advice, providing training and facilitating networking opportunities. This helps organisations become fully accessible to disabled customers and employees.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Wheelchair-users not able to board ships at major cruise port – so much for equality

wheelchair

A woman whose husband was told that she could not board a cruise ship at Liverpool, England, has me thinking. The woman has a disability and was denied access because she could not leave her wheelchair to board her ship.

When her husband tried to book the cruise, he was informed that the port of Liverpool doesn’t have equipment to assist people in wheelchairs. So, he was told that he could not book a place for his wife on the cruise.

wheelchair

Fred Olsen’s Boudicca at Liverpool Cruise Terminal (Pic: Wikimedia Commons).

Ann Fisher and her husband had wanted to travel on a seven-night Emerald Isle cruise with the Fred Olsen line.  But that plan sank when Fred Olsen said she had to leave her wheelchair and get up the gangway steps alone.

Mrs Fisher, a retired lecturer, had twice cruised with Fred Olsen from Liverpool. Now, though, a port policy change means she and her wheelchair have been left high and dry.

Speaking to cruise.co.uk, she said: “It’s quite devastating. I wouldn’t consider going from another port because of the travelling involved.”

Also, she wonders why she was able to cruise without hassle in the past, despite her disability: “It was so easy when we did it before. We got a taxi to Liverpool, and were in our cabin just over an hour from leaving home. It was ideal for someone like me who finds it difficult to travel.”

Liverpool port lacks wheelchair facilities

Her husband John Fisher confirmed that Ann’s disability had previously not been a problem. He said: “We were able to enjoy two Fred Olsen cruises from Liverpool in 2013 and 2014, occupying a wheelchair-adapted cabin.

“Access to and from the ship was easily accomplished. Four sturdy members of the crew lifted my wife’s wheelchair at the corners. Her chair is lightweight, as is she.”

A Fred Olsen spokesman said there is neither an overhead bridge nor a sloped gangway at the Port of Liverpool. As such, the company is restricted from assisting guests, who are fully confined to a wheelchair, to board ships.

I can sympathise with the Fishers but also with Fred Olsen. After all, health and safety regulations would not allow staff to manually lift a wheelchair and its occupant. It wouldn’t be safe for the occupant or the staff. Whatever happened in the past is irrelevant as it is no longer allowed. Period.

What does puzzle me is why the Port of Liverpool doesn’t have facilities to ensure people with disabilities have access. It is the 21st century, the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act requires companies to provide access for disabled people. Liverpool’s cruise terminal in only 10 years old. For it not to have such facilities is an absolute disgrace. Shame on you, Liverpool. It needs sorting out, NOW.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Disney Disability Access Rules Don’t Break Law, Court Rules

Living with a disability, in my case multiple sclerosis, and having to rely on a wheelchair to travel further than 15 yards, I am more than a little interested in access issues.

Access concessions for people with disabilities are, in reality, not about giving preference to such people. They are to enable those of us with challenges of one kind or another to be able to participate in something as easily as any able-bodied person.

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Disneyland Resort Theme Park, Entrance to Magic Morning, Extra Magic Hour, California. (Pic: Alamy).

Misapprehension that the access rules should give priority to those of us with disabilities seems to the thought behind legal cases against entertainment giant Disney. The actions claim the company has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act – all because it changed its access rules back in 2013.

Federal courts in both Florida and California have rejected the cases. In the first to be considered, Judge Anne Conway has determined that Disney’s disability access policy does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sitting in Florida, she ruled that a man was afforded access on par with other visitors to Disney’s theme parks even if the disability ‘accommodations’ were less generous than he had received in years past.

“Plaintiff was given an opportunity to experience Magic Kingdom in a similar manner as guests that do not need accommodations,” Conway wrote in her ruling.

That seems fair to me. Do we really need to go straight to the front of the line of people lining up? I think Disney have got it right.

Before changing its procedure, Disney had allowed people individuals with disabilities, and everyone in their parties, to bypass long lines for rides.

However, in response to abuse of that system, the company now provides a Disability Access Service Card instead. With the card, visitors with special needs who cannot wait in line can schedule a return time for one park attraction at a time based on current wait times.

One thing that does puzzle me is that to get a card, Disney doesn’t ask for any proof of disability, such as a letter from a doctor. They cite legal restrictions as the reason why. But, whatever they may be, it’s interesting that they don’t prevent the Department of Motor Vehicles from requiring such evidence before issuing a disability parking placard.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

MS medications: Improve access

A call is being made for a change to improve access to medications to treat multiple sclerosis.

American National MS Society president and CEO Cyndi Zagieboylo said: “It is time for change. People with chronic illnesses need to have confidence that they’ll be able to get the life-changing medication they need.”

The Society’s latest initiative aims to make the availability of MS medications affordable, simple and transparent and spotlights Abigail Bostwick, 36, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013.

She says she never thought it would hit her as hard as it has — not physically — but financially but added: “Our savings quickly drained. We’ve sold a lot of our things. We live paycheck to paycheck.”

accessLike many people living with MS, Bostwick has struggled to afford her MS medications and navigate the complicated system of prescription medication insurance coverage, says the society.

In a report on its website, it continues:

People with MS report high and rapidly escalating medication prices, increasing out-of-pocket costs, confusing and inconsistent formularies (lists of medications covered by an insurance plan), and complex approval processes that stand in the way of getting the treatments they need.  These challenges can cause delays in starting a medication or changing medications when a treatment is no longer working.

Delays may result in new MS activity (risking disease progression without recovery) and cause even more stress and anxiety about the future for people already living with the complex challenges and unpredictability of MS.

In 2004, the average annual cost for MS medications was $16,000; today it is $78,000 — that’s an increase of nearly 400 percent!

The society’s “Make MS Medications Accessible” initiative is calling on leadership from everyone involved — pharmaceutical companies, insurance providers, pharmacy benefit managers, specialty pharmacies, healthcare providers, policy makers, people with MS and others — to work together to focus on getting people with MS the medications they need to live their best lives.

“Medications can only change lives if people can access them. Medications — and the process for getting them — must be affordable, simple and transparent. No single stakeholder has all the solutions; we can only find the solutions together,” said Zagieboylo.

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

Access for people with disabilities. What is ‘reasonable’?

220px-Handicapped_Accessible_sign.svg

For the disabled, particularly anyone in a wheelchair, gaining access to buildings and all their facilities can still be more than a little difficult in the UK. The situation in other countries may be similar but, from what I have seen, Britain seems to be lagging behind other westernised countries.

True, we have the Equality Act 2010 that followed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and this legislation is supposed to make discrimination against the disabled illegal. But the trouble is that the law contains the word ‘reasonable’ and that term is subjective – what is reasonable to me might be unreasonable to someone else. Just who determines what is reasonable?

So, as far as access to a building and its facilities such as toilets, the owner of any commercial business otherwise known as the ‘service provider’ is required by law ‘to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or provide a reasonable means of avoiding a physical feature which made it impossible or reasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.’

Hm, one sentence with reasonable twice and reasonably once; room enough, in my view, for said ‘service providers’ to avoid doing anything.

Of course, most shops, restaurants, offices open to the public and so on do have level entrances or have alternative means of access, such as ramps or lifts but some still need improvement.

Over the last year, Lisa and I have eaten out at several restaurants in Colwyn Bay, the town in which we live. All the meals have been enjoyable but the facilities for customer with disabilities have been a bit hit and miss.

Pen-y-Bryn bar and restaurant is in its own grounds with a large car park but, disappointingly, has just one bay bearing the wheelchair symbol. Access to the building and the necessary facilities is trouble free.

Dolce Vita Italian restaurant has an on-street location with a level entrance. It has its main seating area and facilities upstairs but when I telephoned to make a booking and mentioned my wheelchair, I was guaranteed a table in the small ground floor dining area and was assured that I would be welcome to use their staff restroom on the same level. The owner also told me that he had plans to put in new customer facilities downstairs.

Vergilio’s Pizzeria and Portuguese Grill also has an on-street location and when I phoned to book I was told that my wheelchair would not be a problem. Well, true the staff were attentive and most willing to help me overcome the step into and out of the building as the entrance is not level. However, the bigger problem is that the restrooms are upstairs and so beyond the reach of people like me.

The Venue @ The Clockhouse Indian restaurant is another on-street location with a step to go in. Once again, the owner and manager together made short work of helping me both in and out of the building. Inside, everything is one level but facilities for the disabled do need improving. I discussed the issues with the owner and was pleased to hear that he already had plans to address both of them.

In the past year, my wife and I have also dined at more than 10 restaurants in Honolulu, New York City and Spain. All had level entrances or gentle ramps, the ones with dining rooms not on the ground floor had elevators. All washroom facilities were perfect. A lesson worth learning.

Back in Colwyn Bay, The Toad restaurant is in a prime location with sea views from its first floor restaurant. But there lies the problem, access is by external stone stairs while inside there is a staircase going down to the toilets on the ground floor. When I asked about facilities for customers with disabilities, I was told nothing could be done as it is a Grade 2 Listed building. That’s a building of special interest.

However, to say nothing can be done to such a property is not true. Any alteration would need listed building consent but even if such consent was denied a service provider would still need to take whatever other steps that are reasonable to provide the service.

And to underline that, Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG 15) issued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions makes it clear that “it is important in principle that disabled people should have dignified easy access to and within historic buildings” and that with a proper approach “it should normally be possible to plan suitable access for disabled people without compromising a building’s special interest”.

So, alterations should still be possible – even to listed buildings.

Access laws in America seem more strict than in the UK. Lisa told me about a Florida restaurant that had an upstairs bar and entertainment venue with no access for people with disabilities. The owners were told to make such access available or to close their business. No messing.