I have recently become a Camden Disability Action (CDA) reporter and I am going to start off in the role by writing an episodic series about my ‘disability journey’ which, sadly, has led to me to conclude that not only is much of society institutionally disablist, but that many of Camden Council’s Departments are also.
This fits into a grim national picture in which key institutions such as the police and the London Fire Brigade been found to be sexist, homophobic and racist.
Not only is much of society institutionally disablist, but that many of Camden Council’s Departments are also.
By publicising the plight of many disabled people, Camden Disability Action’s story telling project will hopefully lead to change. My stories of mistreatment will, I know, be more than matched by those of others who have suffered more than me. I have been fortunate as my stories will show.
Some five or so years ago I started on my disability journey. Up until then my illnesses – malaria, hernia, twisted bowel, thyroid tumour – had been ones I’d rapidly recovered from, even if they’d resulted in me being hospitalised.
Not this time. When I consulted my GP about my breathlessness and related mobility problems, I was diagnosed with a heart disease that can lead to strokes and heart attacks. There is no cure for it, but it can be managed through medication and regular hospital monitoring. The older you are, the greater the risk. I was 75 at the time and very stressed by this.
I was visited by two Council officers who told me there was nothing wrong with me!
But the Council then introduced a policy that made matters worse for me. It brought in a new waste collection system involving new, large bins which residents were required to move to within two metres of their front gate. My 25 kg bins were stored in a shed some five metres from my gate and moving them was beyond me because of my impairment.
And so I applied for the available assistance in getting them moved and then emptied. Soon afterwards, I was visited by two Council officers who told me that there was nothing wrong with me. My application for assistance was subsequently refused and I was told that if I wanted this decision to be reversed, I would probably have to get a letter from my GP. My GP said he had more important things to do but that if a letter was really necessary I would have to pay for it.
I had thought this was a one-off situation, but more and more serious instances of disablism have followed.
I protested to the relevant Council Cabinet member and received no response, although I had offered the Council officers access to my, by then, extensive medical records. One reason given for refusal was that if assistance was given this would be very expensive!
The lessons I quickly learnt were:
- Some officers apparently have the authority to deny you access to a service. The officers concerned ignored the legal requirement for “reasonable adjustment” as required under the 2010 Equalities Act.
- Complaining to council officers gets you nowhere.
I turned to my local Councillor, Larraine Revah, who immediately got me the assistance. No apology was given nor was there any recognition of the stress I had gone through.
I had thought this was a one-off situation, but more and more serious instances of disablism – not all practised by the Council – have followed as I will explain in future episodes.