The story of the inaccessible assessment centre
In 2012 campaigners first raised the issue of the accessibility of St. Mary’s House assessment centre in Norwich, which is used by Atos to assess the ability of disabled people to work.
It’s a hardly believable irony at first glance, but the assessment centre is based on the second floor, making, in the words of the Department for Work and Pensions, “evacuation in the event of a fire difficult.” An MP said it was unacceptable, DWP said they were investigating and Atos (the assessor) said the building was the government’s responsibility.
Fast forward two and a half years and the situation is no less murky. In mid-2014, the then minister for disabled people said the centre would be shut down entirely, whilst DWP said they hoped to secure ground floor access by the new year (2015, that is), Atos all the while pointing the finger back at DWP.
And all of this is without mentioning the difficulties people can face in the assessments themselves, once they actually make it into the building.
And here we are, in a drizzly grey February and the centre still very much exists and is still very much on the second floor. After over two years of declaratory galumphing nothing has moved.
This includes the letter sent by disability rights campaigner and Equal Lives chief exec. Mark Harrison to the new disabilities minister Mark Harper complaining about the situation – which, it seems, has not been responded to since he sent it in October 2014.
These assessments are essential to the independence and wellbeing of the disabled people in the area. They should be made as simple, precise and accessible as possible. Sending somebody to a centre miles away in Ipswich is not acceptable. It is massively inconvenient, often expensive and, most of all, degrading. Being assessed is not a pleasant procedure in itself, and having to be shipped around the country in order to do it is only going to make it worse.
In the work I do for Livability I understand the enormous value of independence. Quality care is essential, but providing people with the space and freedom to make their own decisions and live their life in their own way is vital – it is a human right.
This issue is emblematic of a wider problem of how accessibility is becoming a can people are happy to kick down the road. Organisations have had since 1995 and the Disability Discrimination Act to make their buildings accessible and so it is embarrassing to say the least to find that, 20 years on, a government agency continues to use an inaccessible building. I hope that swift and effective action is taken here to resolve this issue which, on the face of it, can and should be easily resolved.
Stephen Springer MBE
Lead Officer, User Involvement & Independent Living at Livability
Stephan became disabled in June 1991 following a Road Traffic Accident in which he sustained a spinal cord injury. He is now tetraplaegic and requires assistance with all aspects of daily living. Stephan has been injured for 24 years and for 19 of these has been in full time employment. Currently he is employed as Lead Officer for User Involvement at Livability. Stephen was awarded the MBE for his work improving accessibility in the hospitality sector.