Posts Tagged ‘Paralympics’

Girl Whose Leg Was Amputated Not Disabled Enough for Motability Car

November 5, 2015

This is another story from Vox Political, based on a report in the online edition of the Mirror. And its shows just how brutally indifferent the DWP is to the needs of the disabled in their determination to slash benefits. Olivia Cork, an ‘A’ Level student, whose right leg was amputated five years ago due to cancer, has been told she’s not sufficiently disabled to keep the Motability car she’s been using for the past two years to get to school. She can keep the car, however, if she buys it outright at a cost of nearly £5,000. Her friends have set up a crowdfunding website to help her.

Mike’s article begins

It seems the DWP is getting devious with its ploys to take away people’s benefits – or at least the extras derived from them.

In this story, Olivia gets to keep PIP – but must lose her Motability car. The DWP then cleverly offered to let her keep the vehicle until next April in an agreement that officials knew they could change at any time – so they did.

Now she has until tomorrow (Friday, November 6) to raise the £4,900 needed to buy the car. That’s a huge task for a teenager at sixth form, as the DWP’s staff know perfectly well.

They’re just turning the screws, basically.

But they won’t get their way if people of good conscience help out. Olivia’s friends have set up a crowdfunding website called Keep Olivia’s Wheels – feel free to visit and donate, while there’s still time.

The article’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/11/05/girl-who-had-leg-amputated-told-shes-not-disabled-enough-for-motability-car/. Go there for more information, and for links to Olivia’s crowdfunding website.

In the past, Atos have been so determined to find people fit for work, that they have even passed as such the severely disabled and terminally ill. As the article states, they assume you’re fit for work if you can walk a certain distance. This isn’t the first time someone with mobility problems, who needs assistance walking, has been declared by the authorities not to need their support.

I’ve no doubt that modern artificial limbs are superb pieces of technology. There have been science programmes and features on television, such as on the BBCs science documentary series, Horizon, that have shown how far science has advanced in making artificial limbs that can give their wearers a very impressive degree of mobility. No matter how impressive it is, an artificial limb is not as good as the real, flesh and blood thing. People with artificial legs use more energy and put in greater efforts in walking than the rest of us with natural limbs. This even affects otherwise extremely fit people, like the group of former squaddies, who had lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, who went on an expedition to climb one of the mountains in Africa or South America.

This young woman is in exactly the same position. The article shows that she is an active sportswoman, who wishes to become a paralympian swimmer. Nevertheless, it’s obvious to the meanest intelligence that, despite her success in overcoming her handicap, she still needs a Motability car.

Except to the DWP.

It should also be obvious that society also benefits from her use to the vehicle. It’s enabling her to get to school, and if she gets good grades at her ‘A’ levels, then she’ll stand a better chance of getting a job, or going to university. Which, hopefully, should also allow her to get a decent job. A better paid job means that she won’t necessarily have to rely on benefits for support, or at least, not so much. It also means that her own talents won’t be wasted, and will benefit the community and her employers, when she eventually gets a job. So the grant of the Motability car is ultimately a good investment. But the DWP doesn’t see it like that.

And so disabled people lose out on opportunities for education and jobs, and society loses out by not allowing them to develop their skills, which ultimately benefit the rest of us.

Warwick Davis’ Big Little Theatre Company

February 7, 2015

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" New York City Premiere - Arrivals

Warwick Davis and Wife, Sam.

Thursday night the Beeb screened one of the few programmes that show the Corporation can still make documentaries worth showing. Modern Times followed Warwick Davis as he attempted to set up his Reduced Height Theatre Company. Davis and his wife, Sam, and their children are afflicted with dwarfism. Davis himself has had a long career in film and television, playing the mythological type of dwarf, and other creatures of legend, fantasy and Science Fiction. He’s appeared in the fantasy film, Willow, the Leprechaun series of horror flicks and, of course, Harry Potter. Star Wars aficionados will also remember him as the Ewok, Widget, who joins Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and Lando to overthrow the Empire in Return of the Jedi.

FWRO

Davis in his best-known role.

More recently he has appeared on TV with Ricky Gervaise, as a telekinetic dwarf in Psychoville, and as the Emperor of the Galaxy helping Matt Smith’s Doctor battle the Cybermen.

Davis isn’t content merely to continue playing in this restricted repertoire. He pointed out that many small people like him actually want to play the same roles played by people of normal height. And so he set up the Reduced Height Theatre Company to allow them to do just that. The intention was for the small actors to perform on a set that was scaled for people of their stature. This would create the illusion for the audience that they were actually watching normal-sized actors, so that within five minutes they would have forgotten they were watching dwarves.

See How They Run

The show followed Davis as he and his normal-sized director and producers auditioned the aspiring actors, and supervised the construction of the set. The play they chose to perform was the farce, See How They Run, written in 1942, whose cast includes seven vicars and an escaped German POW. It’s a classic British farce, of the type viewers used to be informed was playing at a theatre somewhere at the end of TV programmes in the 1970s. As the credits rolled, a voice would announce that the actors in the programme were now appearing in show X at the Odeon, Bognor, or somewhere. The cast Davis settled on were extremely talented, and from what was shown it was astonishing that they had never performed professionally before. A few, including one young lady, were drama or performing arts students. The girl was shown in her class performing the type of dance routine that way back in the 1970s was hailed as ‘movement’.

Health Problems

The show also interviewed the cast members themselves. One of the girls, and a bald guy of somewhat hippy-ish attire, spoke of their pain at being dwarves, how they hated being their height, until they finally came to terms with it, and realised those were the bodies they had. The bald bloke was a swimmer, and made the point that in the pool he was as good as anybody. Which I think was proved most definitely by the speed at which some of the disabled swimmers, including Britain’s female dwarf athlete, moved through the pool during the Paralympics.

Along with the lack of height, the disorder can bring other, far more serious problems. The condition may include problems with the spine, the hips and the legs. One of the girls recalled being told that she would eventually end up in a wheelchair by a certain age. This made her determined to live her life as she had it now. The bald fellow also described his problems with the condition.

These problems had, sadly, struck at Davis’ wife, Sam. She had suffered period where she lost sensation in her legs. The bones in her spine had fused to press on her spinal cord. If this was left untreated, she would eventually lose the use of her legs. The problem had become increasingly acute, until she needed to be taken into hospital for an operation, which would correct this and give her back some kind of normal function. If it failed, she would be confined to a wheelchair.

Panto and Financing

Davis had put his own money into setting the project up, and stated that if it failed, his house was on the line. There was added pressure from his having to perform in Panto at the same time as his wife was to have the operation. And in amongst all this, he was also unhappy with the set. The director had purchased a normal-sized set, which was nevertheless sufficiently small for it to be suitable for people of the performers’ size. Nonetheless, it was still too large, and Davis reluctantly decided on taking it to a set construction company. After examining it, they decided that it would have to be rebuilt smaller.

Success

Despite all these problems, the show was a success. Davis took it to 90 different theatres up and down Britain, including Plymouth. The theatre there had a particularly large stage, and it was feared that if they scaled down the set it would leave plenty of unused space on the stage, which would destroy the illusion of normality. The actors were shown laughing at their lines and performances as they rehearsed, with the director pushing them to get the best performance from them in the few weeks before they trod the boards for real. Sam’s operation, although it did not result in her being able to get on her feet as quickly as expected, nevertheless appeared to be a success. Her surgeon assured her that it sounded like she was well on the way to recovery.

I think the Reduced Height Theatre Company is a splendid idea. There have been other, similar specialist theatre companies for others with different types of disability. Nabil Shaban, who played the villainous Sil in the Colin Baker Dr Who stories ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Mindwarp’, suffered from brittle bone syndrome. He was a member of a disabled theatre troupe, which staged Ben Jonson’s Volpone. One of the greatest dwarf actors was David Rappoport, who starred as the leader of the time travelling dwarf gang in Terry Gilliam’s 1980s fantasy, Time Bandits. Rappoport went on to do other film and TV work. He appeared as an uptight British businessman, who gradually began to unwind through discovering rock ‘n’ roll in America in a TV series on Channel 4 in the 1990s. He brought style and swagger to his roles, but sadly committed suicide just before he was due to appear as the villain in the Star Trek TNG episode ‘The Most Toys’. Watching this, I was left wondering whether he’d still be with us, if something like the Reduced Height Theatre company had existed when he was performing.

In all of this, it inevitably raises the issue of ‘separatism’ versus ‘integration’, and it could be said that the Company acts as a kind of ghetto for people with dwarfism. They may perform the same roles as people of normal height, but they are still separate. I think it’s still great that the theatre is providing people with their disability to perform normal roles, roles which they would otherwise not get. My guess is that it will in time challenge stereotypes, and show producers that actors of this height can be realistically cast in roles other than ‘stage dwarf’.

Support Your Local Disabled Talent, Support the NHS

As so many of the actors with this condition have related health problems, the NHS also has a role in supporting this talent. At one point Davis said that he was amazed when people ask him what it’s like to be in hospital, as they’ve never been. He and his family were in there three times a week. The Tories and UKIP would love to privatise the NHS and replace it with an insurance-based service. One fifth – 20 per cent – of Americans can no longer afford medical care, and Republicans like the Koch brothers would like to end medicare/ Medicaid, the state safety net for those unable to pay. The Tories over here despise the disabled anyway, as do the Kippers. If they get in, the support currently given, if meagrely and extremely grudgingly, to the poor, sick and disabled will vanish. And that will inevitably damage Britain’s ability to nurture talented disabled artists and performers.

If we want Britain to continue produce world class performers, and initiatives that challenge and stretch audiences’ limits and expectations, this cannot go unchallenged. The artists, actors and athletes of the future deserve the support of the welfare state and NHS, along with us normal types.

As for the Reduced Theatre Company, I wish them every success and look forward to their future performances. I hope this time they come somewhere near me, and perform in Bristol or Cheltenham.

From 2011: Private Eye on the Boycott of the Paralympics because of Atos’ Sponsorship

April 10, 2014

atoskillsgraf

There was huge outrage in 2011 and 2012 at Atos’ sponsorship of the Paralympics, because of the company’s vicious, punitive and cruel treatment of the disabled claimants it assessed. Private Eye reported on this in their issue for October 28, 2011.

Paralympic Boycott

What A Bunch of Atossers …

Disability campaigners are calling on athletes to boycott next summer’s Paralympics in London in protest of the involvement of Atos, the French outsourcing company.

Atos has been slated by MP’s, charities and others over its dire record in carrying out health and capability assessments for those on disability benefits – getting it wrong in up to 40 percent of cases and causing “fear, anxiety and distress” to may disabled people. Instead of ensuring that better assessments are carried out in the first place – perhaps by ending Atos’ multimillion contract – the government is proposing to axe the benefits of anyone who challenges an Atos decision during their appeal.

One person who would lose out is Jenny, 59, who worked as a teacher in state schools in Yorkshire for almost 40 years. When her son was born with profound disabilities she worked part-time so she could care for him. But then she developed fibromyalgia, a chronic condition affecting muscles and connecting tissue, involving severe pain, fatigue and spasms.

When she became incapable of caring for her son as a young adult, he had to be admitted to a care home. She finally gave up part-time teaching in 2009 after collapsing and is now unable even to use a keyboard. Whit her GP’s backing she received some disability living allowance – until last May, when Atos decided otherwise. She is appealing an Atos doctor’s claims to have examined her and found no muscle spasms or joint swellings, saying he didn’t even look at her hands, where her swollen joints were clearly visible.

Atos claims it contract is to look at what people can do, rather than diagnosing a condition. “For this reason, a thorough physical examination is not necessarily appropriate,” it said. Whit is why, no doubt, Atos has been accused of turning down people with advanced cancers and severe mental illness – and why it loses so many appeals.
These tribunals are estimated to cost up to £50m a year – paid by taxpayers and not out of the Atos budget.

That is why Scottish-based disability group Black Triangle and others are angry that Atos is running the IT for the Paralympics. The group claims Atos decisions and actions have been identified as factors at 16 suicide inquests in recent years. Indeed, the group was set up after the death of the Scottish writer and poet Paul Reekie, who left no suicide note but instead – according to campaigners – laid out a letter informing him his incapacity benefit had been stopped.

The response of Atos to such criticism has been to resort to m’learned friends. Black Triangle said it had to relocate its web server to Iceland after its original Facebook page was closed down. Phil Lockwood of Black Triangle said: “Although we respect all those athletes who wish to take part, they should be aware that ATos may use the event as a propaganda exercise.”

I put up a later piece from the Eye yesterday about Atos, which reported that a tribunal upheld Jenny’s appeal. The appeal judges found serious flaws and inconsistencies in Atos’ account, and in the end relied on information from Jenny’s doctor instead. Unfortunately, this does not affect Atos general policy of treating the poor and disabled with absolute contempt. Stilloaks has blogged a list of 45 people – who have either taken their lives or died in misery and grinding poverty through the company’s decision to declare them fit for work. Other bloggers, such as Jayne Linney, have suggested that as many as 55,000 people per year may have died after being assessed by the company. The true figures are unknown as the DWP refuses to release them after requests have been made under the Freedom of Information Act. And the bloggers, who have tried to obtain these facts, like Mike over at Vox Political, have been accused of being ‘vexatious’ by the Information Commissioner instead.

As for Atos, I know from my own personal experience and that of the people commenting on my blog that Atos lies and distorts the truth. I’ve even reblogged a video from a nurse, who worked for the company, on the way they were told to adhere to guidelines telling them what percentage of claims should be turned down. This is disgusting, and it’s high time the whole Work Capability Assessment was scrapped.

Jeremy Hardy at the Anti-Atos Demonstrations at the London Paralympics

February 23, 2014

I’ve reblogged Mike’s article from Vox Political stating very clearly that Atos’ complaints about the death threats endured by its staff are an insult compared to the thousands that have been killed by having their benefit removed by the company. Mike compares the company to a bully, which, having had his victims turn round and stand up to him, runs snivelling to an even bigger bully – the government. This is precisely the correct description of the tactics and mentality of the Coalition, the DWP and Atos towards the unemployed and disabled. Staff at the Jobcentres have similarly suffered death threats and physical attacks. I am not remotely surprised. There are some good, sympathetic people working at the Jobcentre. They are in the minority. As a rule, the staff bully and intimidate claimants with the explicit purpose of removing them from the dole as quickly as possible. It is no wonder then that the poor and desperate should resort in turn to abuse and violence. Despite Atos’ complaints, however, there have been no reported incidence of violence against their employees, despite the fact that their decisions may have resulted in as many as 38,000 deaths per year.

Looking through the Youtube videos of anti-Atos demonstrations, I found this one from 2012 with Jeremy Hardy. Hardy’s a left-wing comedian and a long-running panellist on Radio 4’s The News Quiz. He was interviewed by the Guardian as he had joined the protests’ against Atos’ sponsorship of the Paralympics. He states that he is well aware that sportsmen and women need sponsorship, but objects to the company sponsoring the Games. He explains he dislikes them because their strategy is aimed at getting people to have very little hate those who have even less. I’d say that was a common policy of the Conservatives, particularly in the ‘mid-market’ tabloids such as the Daily Fail and the Express. These are based on getting the working and lower middle class to fear and despise the less fortunate members of those classes as a danger to them. They see them as idle scroungers, who prey on and hold back hard-working people like themselves. While there is a violent and criminal underclass in some areas, the real forces holding back the working and lower middle classes have been the Coalition’s reforms and the economic structure and constraints of post Thatcherite capitalism. Hardy also points out that many of the paralympians are so furious at Atos’ sponsorship of the Games, that they are deliberately hiding their lanyards.

Here is the video itself