When it comes to disabled peoples’ interests in the election, politicians will focus on welfare and social care, but here are a few things I’d like to be considered:
- Communication Aids
Communication aids, often called Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, are often essential for people with speech impairments or no speech throughout their lives to be able to communicate with others. Getting an appropriate device, and more importantly, having them renewed when the device becomes obsolete, can be a postcode lottery. While under NHS England, provision of a communication aid is now routine practice, improvements to the assessment and allocation process could be made.
- Wheelchair Services
NHS Wheelchair Services can be frustrating to use and navigate, especially when obtaining an electric wheelchair. Eligibility guidelines can be stuck in the medical model, looking solely at function, and ignoring the social benefits that an electric wheelchair could provide, forcing many people to self-fund equipment which might not be suitable. A more thoughtful approach to providing electric wheelchairs could give a lot of people more personal freedom and this could have knock on benefits to other services.
- Personal (Health) Budgets
Personal budgets in social care and Personal Health Budgets in NHS Continuing Care are regarded as being embedded as a right of service users to have, but their take up as well as their meaningfulness in terms of providing full personal autonomy has not been as successful as hoped. If personal (health) budgets are going to go beyond mere rhetoric and achieve proper benefits to the maximum number of service users, there needs to be a greater commitment from local and national government to provide first time employers of Personal Assistants and people searching for local services with the information and support they need to make it work.
- Changing Places
A ‘Changing Place’ toilet is a toilet designed to meet the toileting and continence needs of children and adults with a wide range of impairments, including people who require nappies or pads changing. It has gradually become the new standard in accessible toilets and can be found in many airports, shopping centres and other public places. While there may not be the demand or practical possibility to convert every accessible toilet to a Changing Place, there should a commitment to provide a legal duty to provide them in all large public places.
- Support in hospitals
It is often not mentioned that currently when you enter any NHS building, the requirement for social care provided by local authorities ceases and your care and support needs become the responsibility of the NHS, even if you are visiting your GP. If you employ personal assistants or have paid care workers and you go into hospital, this can be a very important issue. While your own staff are not permitted to perform personal care tasks for insurance reasons, despite what some nurses may say, hospitals often do not have sufficient capacity on wards to for nurses to spend the necessary amount of time with a patient or the necessary knowledge and experience to provide for their non-clinical needs. Legislation and guidance need to tackle this issue.
- Development of Disability Sports
Whilst it is great to recognise the achievements of our Paralympians, it is important to understand that every great athlete started at the beginning, which sometimes includes at a ‘have a try’ event. Performing any kind of sport at any level is good for physical and emotional health, and it is important that all people with impairments have full access to local opportunities like their non-impaired peers whether it is competitive sport or just having a good time.
- Aircraft Hoists
For people who are unable to self-transfer into a commercial aircraft seat, there is now a hoist designed to be used on aircraft to assist passengers with boarding and disembarking. While many airports and airlines are slowly purchasing the hoist, there should be a legal duty nationally and internationally.
- Subtitles and AD in new technology
Subtitles and Audio Description are now well established on most digital television platforms, not just helping people with sensory impairments, but also people with a wide range of needs, and they are services they are required by Ofcom to provide. But the delivery of television is rapidly changing with on demand services and many smart apps, where the provision of subtitles and audio description is ad hoc and patchy. There should be a legal requirement enforced by Ofcom to extend these and other accessibility services to all television platforms.
- Funding for dropped kerbs
A dropped kerb may be a vital feature a wheelchair user requires to access their local community and getting to a bus stop that connects them to the wider transport network. Currently requests to drop kerbs must be solely managed and funded as a street management issue, making requests in quiet areas less of a priority. It would therefore be helpful if dropped kerbs could be funded by private individuals or organisations, or using the Disability Facilities Grants where the individual benefit is greater than the public benefit.
- Accessibility regulation for Internet of Things
The Internet of Things is the possibility of affordable environmental control, allowing anyone to control elements of their own home like power socket, lighting, heating and their doorbell directly from their computers, tablets or phones. It has the possibility of being a huge benefit for people with a large range of impairments, but it is important as the market evolves and regulation is required to ensure that accessibility issues are considered early on as a natural part of the design.
By Simon Stevens