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MPs call for ‘landmark’ reform after inquiry exposes realities of life for young disabled Britons

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Both the private and public sector must act without delay if the ‘playing field is to be levelled’ for the next generation of young disabled Britons, a 15-month Parliamentary Inquiry published today has found.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Young Disabled People tells how while many barriers to completing higher education, establishing a career, leaving home and travelling and socialising freely could be removed immediately, vital infrastructure, legislative and attitudinal challenges could take years and should be addressed without delay.

The Group has also told of how higher education, employment, finding accommodation and using the public transport network are overlapping issues for young disabled people. It concludes that a concerted collaborative effort is needed to ensure the next generation of young disabled people are fully integrated with their non-disabled peers.

The Group’s report, Removing barriers, promoting independence, is the result of a 15-month long Inquiry, the first of its kind, which has seen MPs and Peers meet with over 100 young disabled people, alongside business and public sector leaders atWestminster, to discuss the social issues they face and ways to resolve them. The Metropolitan Police, Network Rail, Transport forLondon, Virgin Trains, Odeon, VUE and Cineworld cinemas, British Airways, the Civil Aviation Authority, the National Union of Students, the National Federation of Property Professionals, the Greater London Authority and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission are among those who took part.

Young disabled people from across UK co-ordinated by a campaign group of 400 disabled 16 to 30 year olds, the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, gave evidence for the inquiry. Removing barriers, promoting independence tells how:

  • lack of and difficulty in locating wheelchair accessible property is trapping young disabled people at home and preventing them from living independently, relocating for work or even moving in with partners and spouses

“I myself have had to battle to live independently with my boyfriend, now my husband. At the time I was living with my parents, in a garage conversion… I was told that as all of the local accessible properties were occupied, I would have to wait until someone died before one became available.”

  • access problems with public transport, including the lack of step-free stations, the need to book support for boarding a train at least 24 hours in advance and poor maintenance and staff-training, are leaving young disabled people struggling to go about daily life and take up career opportunities

For the thousands of disabled people who rely on public transport…even a single journey can be daunting, or exhausting.  Nobody wants to feel like a second-class citizen, but the current system of public transport fails to give disabled travellers the help they need to live as independently as possible.”

  • young disabled people are reluctant to report threatening behaviour and verbal and physical abuse in public owing to a fear that these crimes will not be taken seriously by the police or are not ‘significant enough’ to warrant police time

“They said: ‘you don’t look disabled’. I tried to explain to them that, that’s a common misconception that people have about me, but I do have a disability which may not be as obvious as you think but the blue badge is mine and I do genuinely have the right to park where I parked.  They surrounded me.  They were much bigger than me and I was quite intimidated by this. They didn’t believe me and they walked away, but they spat at me, called me names and they hurled racist abuse at me.”

  • young disabled people feel that they are at a disadvantage when they apply for a job because employers have low expectations of them and only see the negative side to disability
  • relocating to begin or develop a career holds obstacles for many, owing to difficulties moving responsibility for essential care packages between local authorities

“I, like many other young disabled people, am well qualified, determined, focused and flexible to an employer’s needs, (I recently moved 50 miles to start a job). Many disabled people feel that they are currently being seen as a burden to an employer, yet looked at in another way, the ‘can do’ attitude that many disabled people have to overcome huge barriers can make us ideal employees.”

  • financial pressures on young disabled people entering higher education are even more profound than those facing non-disabled peers. Disabled students must also consider the physical accessibility of the campus, care packages, the accessibility of  accommodation and funding options when they apply for a university course, alongside what and where it would be beneficial to study

“Why do disabled students have to pay for a larger room and a carer’s room just because it is necessary for them due to the needs of their disability? I, in particular, am paying about £9,000 a year for student accommodation, both my room and the carer’s room.”

The All Party Parliamentary Group report found that while there has been some ‘excellent progress’ in recent years towards physical accessibility and social inclusion for young disabled people, ‘significant barriers … prohibit young disabled people leading full and independent lives’. Today’s meeting will see the Group present their findings, outline their recommendations and advise on how they plan to work with Ministers and Parliamentarians to take these forward.

Young people who gave evidence to the Inquiry were concerned about a ‘box-ticking’ approach to accessibility and disability awareness within both the public and private sector. They queried how businesses’ and organisations’ accessibility measures and policies were faring at ground level, and gave evidence of people who regularly come into contact with disabled people – from bus drivers and cinema staff to estate agents and airline crew – who appeared to lack any practical knowledge of how to assist them.

Tanvi Vyas, Campaigns Officer for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers who gave evidence for the inquiry said: “Young disabled people today – many of us with very severe disabilities – are going to university, moving out of home, building careers, travelling the world, settling down with partners and having families.  Yet integrating fully with non-disabled peers and taking up the same opportunities can take enormous tenacity. Take starting a career; in order to find a job, disabled people need to find a supportive college or university where they can gain comparable qualifications to non-disabled peers. They need to find employers who can see past disability. They need to be able to physically enter the building where the job interview is held. They then need to be able to use public transport to commute to work or may need to relocate and find a wheelchair accessible rental property closer by. Issues with education, employment, public transport and accommodation are all closely connected.”

“If we are to genuinely improve quality of life and opportunity for young disabled people in theUKwe need decision-makers, businesses and institutions to get out of a ‘ticking the box’ mindset towards accessibility. Real accessibility is not putting in a lift or laying on a 15 minute disability awareness course. It is seeing people as students, customers and employees and thinking through – and asking them – how they can be part of your business or use your service just like everybody else.”

The All Party Parliamentary Group’s recommendations include:

  • the Access to Work scheme should be extended to include organised long-term voluntary work placements and internships
  • recruitment agencies and consultants should be supported with practical advice and guidance on placing disabled candidates
  • the police and Government should work with disability groups to identify and publicise the most effective methods of reporting disability hate crimes, so disabled people feel able to approach the police
  • all local authorities should set a minimum proportion of new homes to be built to wheelchair-accessible standard and should recommend that all new properties are built to the Lifetime Homes Standard
  • train operators should ensure all passengers requiring assistance receive appropriate help by trained staff, and install systems allowing disabled passengers to contact the train driver if that assistance does not arrive
  • all London Underground stations that have had portable ramps installed for the London 2012 Games should retain these
  • no bus or taxi should leave a depot to serve passengers unless it is accessible to a wheelchair user, with a fully operational electric or manual ramp.

Paul Maynard, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Young Disabled People, said: “There have been some extremely influential people in this room over the past year, and they have heard from young disabled people from all walks of life. This Inquiry has seen young disabled people come face to face with MPs, Ministers and senior business leaders, to share not only the issues they face but also, importantly, how they believe these could be resolved. We have heard some potentially tide-turning promises and seen some genuine commitment towards change. However, good intentions alone are not enough. We must act now to ensure that for the next generation, entering higher education, establishing a career, setting up a home or enjoying the same social activities as non-disabled peers need no longer be an ongoing battle.”

For more information about the work of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign please visit www.muscular-dystrophy.org

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