Charities speak out against council decision

Several national charities have accused West Sussex County Council of not making reasonable adjustments for disabled people wanting to speak at the council meeting tomorrow (Friday).

In what has been called ‘an unprecedented move to silence the elderly and disabled from speaking out about the crisis in care support’ that has followed the £31 million cuts to West Sussex County Council’s Adult Services budget, senior Conservative councillors are attempting to bar a short video presentation exposing the cuts, during a special debate scheduled for County Hall, Chichester.

The debate, forced on the council by a 5,000 strong petition organised by the Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign, was to be presented by Peter Adams, a severe multiple dystrophy sufferer who has lost £300 a week in care support.

Don’t Cut Us Out Campaigners requested on September 17 that a disabled person affected by the Cuts in Care, be allowed to use audio/visual aids to make an introductory five minute presentation to open the debate, which was accepted.

However, senior councillors got wind of the hard hitting nature of this video presentation, which sets out to expose the magnitude of the cuts in care, that Mike Coleman, chairman of the WSCC decreed on October 3, that the video could not be shown ‘as the preparations for this would be disruptive to other proceedings on the day’.

The ban was heavily criticised by national charities including Disability UK, MENCAP, SCOPE and Action Duchenne which supports people with Muscular Dystrophy. Andy Soar, the Charity’s Campaign Officer, wrote to the Council saying “

It is understood by Action Duchenne that Mr Peter Adams, a man with Muscular Dystrophy, will be unable to present his views via the use of visual aids.

To not allow people with severe disabilities to have their voices heard on issues which highly impact their quality of life, is very worrying.

Muscular Dystrophy severely hampers people’s ability to travel - with any trip taking a great deal of organisation. It also affects people’s ability to communicate in long, spoken presentations, given their breathing complications. Please be aware of the effort Mr Adams is putting in to speak to you about his experiences.”

SCOPE sought legal advice and were told that WSCC is obliged to make a reasonable adjustment, that the DCUO proposed “adjustment” is reasonable, and that the council would be in breach of the Equality Act if they refused to allow a disabled person to use simple audio/visual aids to address the council.

James Hodge, the Regional Partnership Officer at Royal Mencap is equally disturbed by events. “We are shocked and appalled to hear of this late decision by WSCC. It can be very difficult for individuals with disabilities to present their case in person. They may find it impossible to travel to the meeting or need extra time to communicate their views clearly. Equality Law requires the council to make reasonable adjustment in order to not put disabled people at a disadvantage. The video is a very reasonable adjustment to ensure that disabled people are not disadvantaged. Disabled people are constituents too,” he said this week.

On Tuesday October 9, WSCC reversed their ban, but three days later attempted to set such stringent restrictions on the video, suggesting that the subject matter can only be of “Mr Adams speaking and should not feature other people and cannot include words or representations about other people”

With just days to go to the debate, Peter Adams from Bognor Regis, does not have the energy to re-make this video, and the disabled and elderly who have participated in the video refuse to allow their message to county councillors to be censored in any way.

“This is a disgraceful abuse of power”, says Margaret Guest, a former senior care manager within West Sussex County Council, and now chairman of the Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign. “Nowhere within the council’s petitions scheme does it state that audio/visual aids cannot be used to aid the disabled to address the council, or limit the content of a video to the petitioner speaking.

“The presentation simply has to address the wording of the Petition. Senior officials within the Council must be so worried about what this video will reveal that they do not want Councillors to see it.”

This week The Don’t Cut Us Out Campaign issued a robust response to the council, refusing to allow the presentation to be censored in any way.

If the council do not relent a second time, then the video presentation will be released to the media at 00:00hrs on Friday October 19, ahead of the debate.

A full interview with WSCC leader Louise Goldsmith responding to this can be seen here.