'Society sometimes disables us': Former Paralympian highlights issues faced by disabled people

ITV News Correspondent John Ray hears from people with disabilities over the government's new strategy

"My disabilities don't define me - I’m still a person and I want to give what I can give to society, but I do feel that society does sometimes disable us".

Although Janice Tillett once competed for Britain in the Paralympics, she told ITV News her disability means she faces avoidable barriers.

"Things are not always accessible," says Ms Tillett, who is visually impaired, partially deaf, and has joint issues.

She cites accessibility on public transport as an example, a bugbear of many disabled people.

"Because of my joint problems, I have to use the ramp. The only people that can operate the ramp are the rail officials," she said.

"Often, I've had the system booked and the people on the other end haven't met me off the train."

The government aims to improve the lives and opportunities of disabled people, like Ms Tillett, in the UK.

Some 100 immediate pledges were unveiled as part of the government's £1.6 billion strategy on Wednesday.

Janice Tillett says society sometimes hinders disabled people

But Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner, whose son is disabled, blasted the plan as inadequate.

"This government has not gone far enough and unfortunately I think many people who live with a disability have seen their standard of living decline under the Conservatives and this strategy does nothing to address those issues," she told ITV News.

Among the pledges set out in the government's 114-page document is a plan to dispel ingrained stereotypes and a taskforce examining the increased costs disabled people face are being promised in the cross-department disability strategy.

The government will also consult on whether to make it mandatory for employers with 250 or more staff to report on disability in their workforce, after a voluntary scheme did not yield enough data.

And an online access to work adjustments passport will be piloted later this year among recent education leavers, veterans and employees moving between roles to help them enter work, change job and progress their careers.

Charities representing disabled people welcomed some measures, but said the highly anticipated strategy lacks ambition, scope and funding and falls short of providing “transformational change”.

A number of groups supporting disabled people said the document is, in effect, a year-long action plan, and that it is hard to see how life will be improved for the next generation of disabled people without more concrete detail.

Richard Kramer, chief executive of the disability charity Sense, said he does not doubt the Government’s sincerity but that there is no “centrepiece announcement” to spark immediate change.

He said: “Today’s strategy represents a small step forward, but doesn’t take the strides needed to deliver transformational change for disabled people.”

Ms Rayner, whose son is registered blind and has special educational needs, said pledges on flexible working should have been made.

"The flexibility that could be provided within the work place could actually transform the lives for people who do live with a disability," she said.

"Some disabilities you're better one day, you're not so great the next, so having the flexibilty to work your hours around that would transform their lives... they've failed to address that."

She added: "I've got a disabled son - I want to see him celebrated and his world of work to be transformed because he's my little miracle.

"I don't like to see him as a disabled son, I like to see him as an enabled son to live a fruitful and fantastic life and I think he can do that and it's the inflexibility within the system at the moment that reminds him every single day of the things he can't do rather than supports him in the things he can do."

Mark Hodgkinson, chief executive of the disability equality charity Scope, said areas that look promising include the consultation on mandatory disability reporting, and improvements to public transport.

But he said families will gain little beyond tweaks to the education system and the government has not set out how it will close the disability employment gap, which stands at 28.6%.

He said: “Many of the short-term commitments made are to be welcomed, but the strategy as a whole falls short of the transformational plan that many disabled people expected and deserve.

“Unless we get clear detail beyond the next 12 months, it is difficult to see how life will be significantly different for the next generation of disabled people.”

Minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, said the strategy is a “transformational” document that will pave the way for the Government to be held accountable.

Around two thirds (65%) of the government’s Disability Unit, which is responsible for the strategy, are said to be disabled, while the government also consulted with charities, disabled people, carers and regional groups.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it provides a “clear plan”, adding: “Just as our talented Paralympians are set to take the stage in Tokyo next month, at home we are harnessing that same ambition and spirit, to build a better and fairer life for all disabled people living in the UK."

A sign for disabled access on a building in central London Credit: Philip Toscano/PA

Every 12 months, a document will be published examining progress and outlining fresh commitments.

Mr Tomlinson told a media briefing: “Crucially, this is a living document.

“So this puts into black and white the starting position, everybody will go away, they will reflect, they will like some, they will like some things but want to see it pushed faster, they will see things that they think should be done.

“And what we do is we then gather all of that up and then link it to the relevant department or departments, and that then builds for the next document in 12 months’ time.”

Disability Rights UK chief executive Kamran Mallick added: “The strategy has insufficient concrete measures to address the current inequalities that disabled people experience in living standards and life chances.”

On workforce disability reporting, Mr Tomlinson said the Government will “turbocharge some serious piloting” with employers of a range of sizes to ensure this is delivered in the right way, adding that the Government and most employers are “sold on the principle”.

He added: “We’ve tested the water with a voluntary reporting, it’s not giving us enough data and evidence so we want to go further on this.

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“We understand this is a complex area, and we’ll need to tread carefully how we do this, but the principle of it we think is an important part of that menu of driving up employment opportunities, so recruitment, retention, and crucially, which often gets overlooked, career progression.

“It’s one thing getting somebody into work, but they also want to have the same career opportunities as their colleagues.”

There is also a significant focus on housing measures such as increasing the number of accessible homes that are built, improving how they are designed and a consultation on requiring landlords to make reasonable adjustments to the common parts of leasehold and commonhold homes.

Mr Tomlinson said: “If you are looking to allow people to live fully independent lives, housing has to be integral to that.”

There are also commitments to make stations and high streets more accessible, and introduce audible-visual announcements on buses, which will be led by the Department for Transport.