BBC Radio 4 In Touch
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Listener Selina Litt was told she would not qualify for disabled concessionary tickets as she is visually impaired and not a wheelchair user.
The misunderstanding has been blamed on confusion by call centre staff.
The programme seek advice from Catherine Casserley, now of the law firm Cloisters and formerly of both the RNIB and DRC (Disability Rights Commission).
Website for the law firm Cloisters.
BBC Disability website
Join the debate
Listeners can leave their opinions on the above chatboard.
The Better Connected report from Socitm (The Society of Information Technology Management) shows that nearly half of local authority websites which achieved Government set targets for accessibility last year, have failed to do so this year. The British Standards Institution is drawing up a new framework for website accessibility which it is hoped will improve the situation.
Peter spoke to Martin Greenwood from Socitm and Julie Howell, chair of the committee charged with drawing up the new standards.
The Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm) Limited
F19 Moulton Business Park
Telephone: 01604 497774 (office hours Monday to Friday 0900 - 1700).
The professional association for ICT managers working in and for the public sector.
Read the report here www.socitm.gov.uk/socitm/Library/Better+connected+2008.htm
BSI British Standards
389 Chiswick High Road
Telephone: +44 (0)20 8996 9001
An annual conference and exhibition on access to technology by people with disabilities is held on 23 April 2008.
For further information contact:
Delegate Liaison Manager
Tel: +44 (0) 1883 344799
The web design company where Julie Howell is director of accessibility.
Mani Djazmi visited Thinktank, Birmingham’s museum of science, to find out what they have done to win the first Charter Mark awarded by the Queen Alexandra College in recognition of businesses which meet the needs of people who are blind or partially sighted.
tel: 0121 202 2222
Most of Thinktanks exhibits have large print captions and large print events programmes are available on request. Guide dogs are welcome. Thinktank has four large magnifiers available for loan to visitors, please ask at the box office. Personal assistants receive free admission.
QUEEN ALEXANDRA COLLEGE
Court Oak Road
Tel: 0121 428 5050 (main switchboard)
Fax 0121 428 5048
Queen Alexandra College is a national college for people aged 16 and over with visual impairment and other disabilities.
105 Judd Street
Helpline: 0845 766 9999
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.
HENSHAWS SOCIETY FOR BLIND PEOPLE (HSBP)
John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
Tel: 0161 872 1234
Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.
THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION (GDBA)
Tel: 0118 983 5555
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.
ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE
14-16 Verney Road
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.
NATIONAL LEAGUE OF THE BLIND AND DISABLED
324 Grays Inn Road
Tel: 020 7837 6103
Textphone: 020 7837 6103
National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.
NATIONAL LIBRARY FOR THE BLIND (NLB)
RNIB Customer Services on 0845 762 6843
The NLB is a registered charity which helps visually impaired people throughout the country continue to enjoy the same access to the world of reading as people who are fully sighted.
Trustees from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and the National Library for the Blind (NLB) have agreed to merge the library services of both charities as of 1 January 2007, creating the new RNIB National Library Service.
EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION DISABILITY HELPLINE (England)
Stratford upon Avon
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
Fax: 08457 778 878
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 8:00 am-8:00 pm.
Equality and Human Rights Commission Helpline Wales
3 Callaghan Square
0845 604 8810 - Wales main number
0845 604 8820 - Wales textphone
0845 604 8830 - Wales fax
9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)
Equality and Human Rights Commission Helpline Scotland
The Optima Building
58 Robertson Street
0845 604 5510 - Scotland Main
0845 604 5520 - Scotland Textphone
0845 604 5530 - Scotland – Fax
9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)
DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
380-384 Harrow Road
Tel: 0845 130 9177
The Disabled Living Foundation provide information and advice on disability equipment.
The BBC is not responsible for external websites
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TX: 08.04.08 2040-2100
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: KAREN PIRIE
Good evening. So when is a disability not a disability, and when is a price concession, not a concession at all? We'll be trying to solve those conundrums in a moment. And, it's official - local council websites are failing visually impaired browsers and, they're getting worse, not better. But there is some good news as well and we visit the Birmingham science museum which is winning prizes for its efforts to welcome visually impaired visitors.
This is one of my favourite things we've got here - it's a shark's jaw. This is about - bigger than the size of your hand open wide.
Yeah, oh much bigger.
This jaw is just gaping wide open, doing an ahh, as if it was at the shark dentist.
So we're all intrigued, more from Birmingham later in the programme. But first: few of us can resist a price concession based on our blindness - I do know visually impaired people who spurn them, saying that they're patronising and we'll pay the full whack, thank you very much. But most of us, whether it's transport, or cinema or theatre tickets, concerts or sports events, accept them gratefully enough. So when motor racing fan Selena Litt saw that two tickets for the price of one were available to go to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone she applied to get some, only to be told ... well, Selena can tell us herself what she was told because she's on the line from Leicester. So Selena what happened when you applied?
Well I called Silverstone asking for disabled tickets and they immediately asked whether I was in a wheelchair or not. And I said - No. And they said - Oh well sorry our disabled tickets are only available for wheelchair users.
Why do you think you're entitled to them?
Well I think because I need a carer to be guided around there's no way that I could go to the Grand Prix on my own and enjoy the experience, there's no way you could take a guide dog for instance.
Well you made your protest to Ouch!, that's the disability website of the BBC, do you know of other examples of this kind of thing happening?
My boyfriend actually he rang up to go to the Ricky Hatton boxing match and he was also told the same thing about if he wasn't in a wheelchair that he'd have to pay the full price as well. And these incidents were like a couple of days of each other and I've never really had a problem before.
Right, what's the final upshot of this?
Well I wrote a letter to Silverstone, as I found out that they were breaking the DDA ...
That's the Disability Discrimination Act yeah, yeah.
Yeah. So I looked at the DDA and figured that yes they were breaking it, so I had evidence.
Well thanks very much for joining us. That's Selena Litt.
Well we also have been talking to Silverstone, this is what they told us:
Silverstone Circuit adopt a policy of giving each disabled customer, wheelchair and non-wheelchair users, an equivalent value ticket for carers on production of the appropriate DLA paperwork. We apologise that there was an initial misunderstanding regarding our position on this but we've been in touch with your listener and resolved the situation. Silverstone Circuit has undertaken, over the last few years, considerable improvements for disabled customers and is continually reviewing and updating its facilities.
And SJM, they were the promoters of the Ricky Hatton fight, also blame it on call centre confusion and Selena's boyfriend will get the tickets as well, he'll get the offer. But what's the philosophy behind these concessions, and are they potentially discriminatory?
Well we're joined by equal rights barrister Catherine Casserley, who now works at Cloisters, but has also spent time with both the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Disability Rights Commission. First of all, what do you make of this case and is Selena right in saying that they were in breach of the DDA?
Well I think generally if you look at concessions they tend to be provided for a number of different reasons, sometimes it's because a service provider actually isn't complying with their own obligations under the DDA, so for example, they're not providing assistance in a venue that they should be and they think it's easier to offer someone a free ticket so they can bring someone in to do that. Alternatively there are other situations where concessions are being offered because the service provider genuinely wants to open up its doors to disabled people and wants to encourage more disabled people. I think the important thing though is that there needs to be a very clear rationale so that people can understand why it is they're getting the concession and what the basis of it is.
I mean can you give an example of that because as Selena said she's as much at a disadvantage, isn't you, at a motor racing circuit as somebody in a wheelchair, you could argue she's more at a disadvantage because at least the person in the wheelchair can see what's going on?
Generally speaking service providers aren't required to make concessions in pricing to disabled customers under the DDA. Where they do offer concessions though they need to be very careful about offering them, for example, to one group of disabled people and not to another one. And what I'd also say though is that where a concession is challenged, where, for example, one group of disabled people are offered it, another group not, if that challenge was successful under the DDA, and it might be, it's not an area that's been tested yet though, it would of course be open to the service provider to just remove the concessions completely. So that's something that people need to bear in mind.
Yes, so they might say okay well it's caused all this trouble, we don't have to do it, so we'll just take them away.
So does the law about concessions need clarifying really because it sounds as if it's a bit of a mess at the moment?
Well I think it is a mess and I think that again I think that what I emphasises is that if you have concessions there needs to be a very clear criteria, you need to think about whether or not you're offering this because you're not providing a very good service or because you want to encourage more disabled people to attend. And then you need to make sure that you don't have differentials between different groups of disabled people who you give concessions to and those that you don't without a very clear basis for that.
Catherine Casserley thank you very much.
Now, all visually impaired browsers of the internet don't need telling that the standard of accessibility of websites is patchy, to say the least, and we've looked on this programme before at all kinds of sites - banks, airlines, newspapers, etc. But what does seem shocking is a report which suggests that local councils, who after all are responsible for most services to visually impaired people, are getting worse in terms of accessibility; in fact, only half as good as last year and that's according to a report from Socitm - The Society of IT Management - which represents Local Authority IT workers. So why is it happening and what do we need to do about it?
I'm joined by Martin Greenwood from Socitm. I mean tell me a bit more about what this research says.
Well the research says that by measured by technical accessibility local authority websites have dipped a little since last year. But I think it's important to realise that local government as a sector is probably doing better than other sectors in website accessibility.
But you say a bit but it's dipped quite a lot hasn't it, I mean the suggestion is - I've read that it's kind of only half as good as it was last year?
Well that's true but there's quite a number of - perhaps another 85 councils who are marginally failing on the ..
So there are some very bad ones and a few reasonably good ones. Why are the bad ones doing so badly?
Well I think there's a mixture of reasons. First of all many are suffering from a legacy of procurement made perhaps a few years ago when accessibility wasn't high on people's agenda and it takes time to replace software. And then we've got to accept another issue about local government websites are very diverse and complex, I can't think of another sector where they have so many different types of customers, different types of service. And that also means there's a lot of people providing content within the organisation, it could be 50, 100, 200.
Can you give an example of the kind of thing which is - you know which is very bad?
Well the most common failure is the lack or an inappropriate caption, there's alternative text behind an image on a website, when you've got sight with perhaps thousands of images it's not the easiest task perhaps to manage.
Well the BSI, that's the British Standards Institution, is in the process of developing guidelines for such websites, standards which they say should reflect not just theoretical technical standards, but which should be based on what real people want. The committee which is drawing them up is chaired by Julie Howell, who is involved with her own web company now and another fugitive from the RNIB.
First of all, what do you make of this report?
Well the report's findings are of course depressing and disappointing for those of us who have campaigned to raise awareness of the importance of web accessibility for so long. However, I really do want to stress that local government is doing an awful lot better than a lot of the other sectors out there.
But you know local authorities they run social services, social services give blind people desperately what they need.
Yes and blind people pay for that as well and the taxpayer pays for those, so you're absolutely right we should expect a better - you know you should expect some example setting from that sector. But also I think what's really missing is some measure of the usability by disabled people of these sites. And I think it's very important to make a distinction between designing a website so that a blind person's screen reader can actually reach the content but also the ability of a disabled person to visit a site, find the information they're looking for, complete a task, at the same time, at the same convenience, at the same cost as somebody who's not disabled. Perhaps what we need to do now is explain to web developers that you really need to start involving disabled people in testing your websites.
It does seem pretty obvious that, that if you want to make your website accessible to blind people and partially-sighted people you might ask a few.
Obvious to me and obvious to you and to many of the listeners of course but for many web developers it may be something they've never thought about before.
Because one of the problems is that we're working in a field that develops very quickly and people who create websites find all sorts of exciting new things they can do. Will we ever be able to keep up with technical developments or will blind people's needs always kind of lag behind technical wizardry?
You mentioned earlier that I'm involved with the British Standards Institution and indeed we're about to start work on a brand new British standard which will be all about the process of developing accessible websites. Now there's certain things, certain technical guidelines, that are already available on how you can ensure the inter-operability of a blind person or any disabled person's technology and a website. But there's a great deal more that will help web developers and website owners to really engage with disabled people.
And when are they going to be ready those guidelines?
First quarter of 2009.
Okay Martin Greenwood, Julie Howell thank you both very much indeed.
Now on last week's In Touch we talked to Steven Menary who was blinded in an IRA explosion. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority awarded him half of the £110,000 maximum amount which can be given for loss of sight in both eyes. This is because he was already blind in one eye because he'd had cancer when he was a baby. During the programme the RNIB criticised Steven's award but the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has asked us to point out that the usual tariff for loss of sight in one eye is a maximum of £22,000.
Well I think we need some good news after all of that, and we can indeed provide you with some. The Queen Alexandra College, a training college for visually impaired people in Birmingham, has introduced a charter mark for companies or organisations which make special efforts to serve the interests of blind and partially-sighted people who want to use their services and Thinktank, Birmingham's science museum; has won the first of them. So what have they done that's so good? Our reporter Mani Djazmi was shown round by trained guide Alison Giddens.
We're now in Things About Me gallery. This is how our body works, so you can feel all the way down, round your small intestine, right down there.
I reckon what I'm feeling is probably worse to feel than the actual small intestine because basically it's like just a wall display of the digestive system and how would you describe what that is Alison?
Well it is a model of villi, which are tiny folds you have inside your small intestine, they're basically like giant rubbery tubes and they move and everything when you touch them, they're really good fun. Just here we have a button [indistinct words] ...[slurping noise] [toilet flushing]
The Thinktank Museum is the first organisation to earn the charter mark from Queen Alexandra College and Sarah Adderley from the college is here with me. The fact that you've had to introduce this charter mark, what do you think that says about the Disability Discrimination Act?
Well unfortunately I think it shows that the DDA hasn't gone far enough or it's not being vetted enough to ensure that companies are complying. I think too often we see that organisations have just put a few sentences in their policy to show that they're complying but in actual fact they're not really doing anything to improve accessibility for their visually-impaired community and that's why we need to do things like the charter mark.
So what do companies and organisations have to do to earn the charter mark?
Things such as making sure that any printed material is accessible and that they can sort of issue information in formats such as large print, Braille and audio with ease to customers upon request. Also signage in public areas should be Braille and tactile signage. Things like staff training - I mean there was one instance where a colleague of mine had phoned up a hotel chain and he phoned to ask for information in Braille to be made available for him upon his arrival and the response was - Braille? And the member of staff on the other end of the phone just had no clue as to what he needed or how she could go about it or even what Braille was.
So which kind of companies and organisations have shown interest in being awarded this charter mark?
Well at the moment we're moving forward with the West Midlands Fire Service, they're very keen to progress. We've also spoken to various city councils, the pension service, banks, insurers. So we've got a whole range of people that are interested in the charter mark.
And it's not free is it, they have to pay some money don't they?
The first level of £150, that's for companies who have fewer than 150 employees. The next level takes us up to companies with 250 employees and that's £250. And any organisation that's larger than that pays £450.
So what's in it for these companies?
I strongly believe that one of the main benefits is that they are showing a commitment to the VI community and that they're accessing two million people in the UK that currently I don't think are being served very well by various companies. We also give them access to our fast track service, so if they want sort of transcription of signage done we can send them through our fast track service.
So we're sat here in the Wildlife gallery now and I'm going to take you through our sensational sea life tour. Okay this is a sword fish rostrum I'm going to give you now, just be careful because it's got quite sharp teeth.
Oh right okay. It's just like a kind of a blade isn't it.
Yeah it's like a blade - like a saw really.
That's probably why it's called a sword fish I would think.
And it's got just really sharp spikes on either side of it at about centimetre intervals.
This is one of my favourite things we've got here - it's a shark's jaw. This is about - bigger than the size of your hand open wide.
Yeah, oh much bigger. This jaw is just gaping wide open, doing an ah - as if it was at a shark dentist. From the top teeth to the bottom it's about nearly a foot, isn't it, I would say.
Yeah I would say so, yeah.
Yeah it's massive and there are just teeth everywhere.
I have to say as someone who has a phobia of fish I'm really glad that these are just models.
One of the last things that we'll show you is we've got a giant - some giant seashell here.
And is this real?
This is real, all these things that I've been showing now they're all real.
What even the fish bits?
Even the fish bits.
You're joking, they're real?
They're real. They're all real.
I thought they were models.
No, no, no they're all real.
Oh dear. So in getting this award what kind of adaptations have you actually had to make to the museum and to the service that you provide?
A lot of our staff are now trained in working with people who are blind who have visual impairments and in guiding them around the museum. We've also got signs now in the lifts, in public places and on all the fire exits and the toilets explaining where they are, they're all in large print and in Braille. And we've made sure that we have a copy of our essential information which is available at the box office on request and that's in large print and in Braille and we are getting an audio guide as well.
Well the children who come, if we have blind or partially-sighted children on the tour, we have an ocean drum which we can use to make the sound of the sea to get ourselves in the mood. Okay it's just a drum, a plastic drum, with a load of ball bearings inside and as we tip it from one side to the other - there you go, see one hand there and one hand on the other side and you just tip it gently from side to side...
So it's got beads in it.
It's got lots of ball bearings inside it. That's quite a stormy sea.
Sounds more like a drum with a lot of ball bearings in it to me but never mind. Mani Djazmi is our reporter there from Birmingham.
And that's it for today but if you want to comment on anything you've heard in today's programme, and give us examples of service, particularly good or particularly bad, whether it's websites or sports arenas or museums or anything else, we'd be delighted to hear from you. You can call us on 0800 044 044 or email In Touch via the website. And there will be a podcast of the programme from our website as from tomorrow. From me Peter White, this week's producer Karen Pirie and the rest of the team, goodbye.
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