A story on the Disability News Service website has reported a recent judgement that the Department for Work and Pensions failed for years to comply with its legal duties under the Equality Act by refusing to provide an accessible way for many disabled people to communicate with its staff about their benefits.
The latest court case was brought by Paul Atherton, a disabled man from London who is going through the transition process from incapacity benefit to ESA. He had argued that DWP had refused to provide an accessible way for him to communicate about his benefits by email.
Several disability organisations had provided evidence to the high court of DWP’s continuing refusal to allow disabled people to communicate via email about their benefit claims, even though they needed to do so for access reasons.
Due to an outdated-IT system, the DWP currently operates a system where it changes the home address of claimants needing reasonable adjustments to that of a central “alternative formats” team, and posts letters to that team, which then converts the correspondence into an accessible format and sends it on to the claimant.
The DWP has estimated that it would cost up to £750,000 to carry out the work necessary to allow ESA claimants to receive communications directly in alternative formats such as Braille, large print or email.
Judge Johnson said the DWP had failed for years to comply with its duties under the Disability Discrimination Act and then the Equality Act.
Although dismissing Paul Atherton’s claim for judicial review, he also suggested that DWP could still be breaching the public sector equality duty for other claimants, by failing to “appropriately signpost” them to its alternative formats team.
Providing clear, accessible information is a crucial part in supporting people with a learning disability to understand and participate in decisions that affect their lives.
Yet many people and organisations with the power to make this happen still do not understand that this is a basic human right – as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (Article 9), and enforced as a legal duty by the Equality Act (2010) (duty to make reasonable adjustments).
At Learning Disability Wales, we offer a high standard accessible information service, creating bilingual easy read information for clients including Welsh Government, local authorities, health boards, disabled people’s organisations and individuals. We have also produced Clear and Easy, the first bilingual handbook in Wales that helps organisations to make their information services accessible for people with a learning disability. Clear and Easy is now available to download for free from our website.
The recent judgement is an in important step in ensuring disabled people receive important information about their lives in a format they can understand – fully supporting the call of “nothing about us, without us!“ However, to fully include people with a learning disability in society we must do far more than what the law says.
Many people with a learning disability are locked out of an information-led society. We quite rightly focus our attention on improving the quality of accessible information in the health and social services sectors – and there are great examples of this, such as NHS England’s Accessible Information Standard, and Public Health Wales and NHS Direct Wales‘ work to update and improve their accessible resources. But what about the simple things that add to our happiness and well-being, and can make our everyday lives that little bit easier?
United Response produce some great examples of this. Their monthly #EasyNews magazine is an excellent easy read bulletin that keeps people up-to-date with global news and current affairs, while every few weeks they publish accessible recipes on their YouTube channel. Many People First and self-advocacy groups across Wales and the UK also produce regular accessible newsletters that keep their readers updated with not only news from the organisation, but also news from their community and further afield.
We need this to go even further. From bus timetables, food ingredients, and DIY and how-to videos, to sports coverage, and television and arts listings – it’s very easy to forget how much we take for granted the everyday things that enrich our lives, and how inaccessible they can be for many people with a learning disability.
We should applaud every big judgement that comes our way, but we should never stop fighting for the smaller things in life.